A Funny Thing Happened To James Vincent McMorrow on the Way To the Rio

jvmAs excuses go, “exploding tour bus” is a pretty memorable one. It might sound improbable, but this was the reason behind James Vincent McMorrow being over an hour late for his sold out Rio Theatre show last Friday. Fortunately, McMorrow and band were rescued from the roadside by a member of the supporting act, Aidan Knight. Hailing from Victoria, Aidan Knight and his band kept the crowd entertained with their experimental folk music and witty banter. With a lesser crowd, the mood could have turned sour after such a long delay, but it felt like everyone knew that McMorrow was going to be worth the wait. The relief was palpable when McMorrow and his crew finally arrived on the scene.

McMorrow understandably looked a bit frazzled but rapidly got down to the business at hand, the business being performing a lush set of songs from his new album Post Tropical. His sound on this album is quite different from his full-length debut, Early in the Morning, which placed him in the folksy/singer-songwriter pigeon hole. His new songs feel more soulful, almost like alternative slow jams. What has not changed is McMorrow’s voice: It truly is a thing of beauty. Throughout the show, the audience held a reverential silence while his falsetto voice vacillated from powerful heights to a fragile, broken whisper.

Special mention must go to the lighting design which really elevated the experience above the ordinary. Various-sized pyramids containing LED lights were interspersed on stage around McMorrow and his band members. A kaleidoscope of colours swirled and moved with the music but not in a way that was distracting. At times, McMorrow looked like he was surrounded by little glowing tents in the darkness, which was the perfect backdrop for lyrics like, “I wanna go south of the river, glacier slow in the heart of the winter.”

McMorrow finished with “Cavalier”, his outstanding first single from Post Tropical. This song drips with emotion and builds around the mantra, “I remember my first love.” At this point, time was running out quickly as the Rio had a movie scheduled after the concert. Like a trooper, McMorrow powered through with no break to the encore. We were treated to his version of the Steve Winwood classic “Higher Love”and “We Don’t Eat” from his debut album.

Overall, it was an intimate and beautiful show. An exploding tour bus would unnerve the best of us, but McMorrow remained a true professional, engaged with the crowd, and gave them the great show they waited so patiently to see.

Jessica O'Brien

Jessica O'Brien

Jessica O'Brien fills many the happy hour as contributing editor and writer for the Vancouver Weekly. She can be found eating all the nibbles at book launches or getting lost in tiny secondhand book stores. Follow her on twitter @jesso_brien