James Vincent McMorrow’s latest album, We Move, takes a turn towards an electronic-tinged synth-driven sound that many folk artists have employed lately, including fellow falsetto Bon Iver. Though his tour celebrates this new direction, McMorrow acknowledged his guitar-driven past by bringing along Canadian singer-songwriter Dan Mangan.
People had come to pack the Paradise early, and Magnan’s opening set proved to have more than fulfilled the crowd’s desires for an acoustic sound, freeing McMorrow to focus on fresher material. McMorrow and crew effectively transitioned the crowd from Magnan’s folk rock, blending the music that played in between sets with the start of their set. The band selected Roy Ayers Ubiquity’s R&B/soul number “Everybody Loves the Sunshine” as their entrance soundtrack, which McMorrow blended into the start of “Red Dust.”
Though the set kicked off with a smooth transition, it quickly became a night punctuated with interruptions as McMorrow changed out his guitar repeatedly. Newer numbers “I Lie Awake Every Night” and “Last Story” were broken up as McMorrow’s crewmate swapped out McMorrow’s Hagstorm for a Jaguar and back again.
Four songs in, McMorrow returned to his oldest material, “Breaking Hearts,” which reminded the crowd of the reason why Magnan’s acoustic numbers fit the bill. The drums led the band in a rugged Western romp, the stomping beat blending with McMorrow’s croaky vocals—a texture that was more pronounced in his lower vocal range. There was a flurry of piano keys before the crowd joined in again to sing along to the chorus.
Soon after, McMorrow proclaimed, “This is the dance portion of the set.” One of his band mates urged him on: “Fuck that shit up James!” As the band ran through numbers from the new album, including the funky “Rising Waters,” the audience members remained relatively still—perhaps frozen in place by the cold blasts of the AC that had left the back of the crowd with their coats zipped up to their chins.
There’s no doubt that James Vincent McMorrow is a talented artist. Certainly, he displayed an ability to perform a variety of styles, his arching falsetto bridging the mix of genres. He also had done all he needed to avoid the traps electronic artists fall into: rather than using samples, he brought in a real band; his rigidness and lack of dancing was supplemented with the flashing of the squares of light behind the band; and there was a healthy dose of improvisation on older tracks, where he showed off hearty Hozier-like vocals.
But something was missing that night.
Perhaps it was the fact that one of his crew members hurried onstage after nearly every single song to hand McMorrow a new guitar, breaking the flow and distracting McMorrow enough to forgo chatting with the crowd. Given the way many of McMorrow’s songs can smoothly blend into one another, the guitar changes became an unwelcome interruption to the soothing electronica. That’s not to say it wasn’t necessary—the setlist required a variety of tunings, and it was better than waiting around for the guitar to be tuned. (If anything, the grinding guitar solo in “Get Low” was certainly worth all the swaps.)
In any case, McMorrow still shone. On “I Lie Awake Every Night,” his high falsetto shot up to graze the Paradise ceiling, a performance that demanded the same type of quiet as Milosh infamously calls for during Rhye concerts. There was a feeling of fragile delicacy—it was as if the stage floor was suddenly an icy lake, and any sudden movement or noise would cause it to crack. As all other instrumentation dropped out, McMorrrow faded out, whispering the final lines.
- Those high falsettos though
- Transition from Mangan to McMorrow
- Focus on new material without missing essential older numbers
- Guitar swaps hurt flow of show
- "Dance" portion fell flat with most of the audience