The tail-end of a hot weekend had been crammed into The Media Club resulting in sweaty palms and clumpy hair. The tiny chandeliers above harvesting the condensation and dripping beads of unwelcome salty dew below. The sold-out crowd continued to stir and wait, feet stuttering in anticipation.
Touring in support of his most recent record, Singing Saw (Dead Oceans, 2016), Kevin Morby (other projects include: Woods, The Babies) walked onto the small stage dressed in Cowboy Chic ? a bolo tie, a creamy jacket, and a crisp white shirt.
“Cut Me Down”, the first song off of the new album, kick-started the night with a solemn tone. Morby’s lyrics tend to describe the sombre and lonely side of life (“throw my head and cry/as vultures circle in the sky”). His vocals pair wonderfully with his lyrics: a raspy, yet smooth, tone similar to the late Lou Reed with the unique inflections of Bob Dylan. You could throw Leonard Cohen in there, too. Rust and honey. Yet, regardless of the moody tune, the crowd’s head bobs along in approval. Because, although the content can be dark, Morby’s lyrics are simultaneously personal and universal. A trait owned by any great songwriter.
Morby offers a textured discography. Intricate rhythms almost more suited for jazz than for rock. “Harlem River”, a song off his debut album of the same name (Harlem River (Woodsist, 2013), was played early on in the set and displayed that rock/jazz vibe. The band played around with extended jams and dueling solos between Morby and his lead guitarist (Meg Duffy, extremely talented). They continued to do this for a number of other songs throughout the set. Meg Duffy impressed all the while, quietly controlling most of the guitar parts while Morby wooed the crowd with his croon.
The final two songs were played without a band. Morby and his guitar stood alone on the stage. He seemed comfortable, joking with the crowd. His rendition of Townes Van Zandt’s “No Place to Fall” stole the show. A country ballad that matched Morby’s voice perfectly. A simple song displaying how less is more.
The crowd was invested in this performance. The silences stretched for moments as Morby held his breath between verses. Besides a table of cackling drunks in the back corner, who were quickly told to shut up, Morby had the room’s undivided attention. We were absorbed by the music. A needle dropping would have killed the silence. For that hour, the room felt as if it were transported to the late ‘60s when songwriters such as Morby were commonplace. A tiny club and his guitar. That’s it. Nostalgia for those times swelled as he plucked at his guitar..
A diverse crowd of young and old makes his likeness to the Dylans, Reeds and Cohens of the world even more true. His songwriting contain many layers while remaining simple and relatable to every age. His confidence shines on stage. The bolo tie was a nice touch, I have to admit. The band was tight and complimented Morby perfectly. They managed to adapt his album — which included piano, complex percussions — into a condensed four-piece band without any issues.
The crowd roared after each song. Whistles bouncing off the chandeliers above and around the room. Wet hands smacked together to celebrate an intimate moment with a great performer.