Virgin Mobile Mod Club in Toronto, ON
July 12, 2012
Review by: Colton Eddy
Photos by: Julie Lavelle
Almost anybody can get an audience cheering and roaring, but it takes a real artist to captivate in complete silence.
For an entire hour, James Vincent McMorrow proved that.
The good-humoured Irishman flourished with his melancholy melodies, (having to only compete with the sometimes bothersome bartenders clanging their change in the registers), despite his set starting a half-hour early, as the Mod Club Theatre explained that they're hosting a DJ set after him.
"Stick around, I'm going to drop some sick beats. It's going to be crazy," joked the softly-spoken artist. "I always feel insulted for DJs - not just people with iPods. I'm not a DJ if I'm just pressing play. That's called me hanging out at my house. What do I know? Except for my guitar."
He recognized how unusual the venue was, having familiarized himself with capacity-filled concert halls with hundreds and sometimes thousands of audience members. Lucky for us, that meant he abandoned his outfit and stripped down his instrumentation to nothing except his acoustic and his hitherto vocals, which wasn't a crutch - it allowed a glimpse into his poetic verses and it was remarkable to watch him lose himself in the songs.
"I want to 'Dick Van Dyke' this with a big kickdrum," McMorrow explained, referring toward the iconic chimney-sweeping Bert in Mary Poppins. "But, when I watched Chris Cornell perform Soundgarden songs by himself, I thought 'If he could do it...' "
It is too easy to draw comparisons to another bearded balladeer, Justin Vernon of Bon Iver. Both sing heavy-hearted songs and, to record his album, McMorrow banished himself to isolation in an Ireland beach house for six-months - very similar to the story of Vernon's self-titled LP. His sound also forms parallels to a cavalcade of Canadian troubadours like Neil Young and Dallas Green, along with other folk artists like Tallest Man On Earth or Marcus Mumford at times.
The only thing that could have been more beautiful than McMorrow's performance or the pyramid lights that chased his chord changes was the instrumentation provided by the crowd. Clashing accents sang only the choruses and built on each other for every refrain, and clapping was provided to fill instrumental bits. And best of all, there was only one 'woo' guy, who challenged McMorrow by demanding, "I can't hear you, speak louder," to which he replied: "Listen harder."
Stepping away from the microphones to end the set, he strummed the chords to "If I Had A Boat", the first track off Early In The Morning as the audience slurred the harmonies for the chorus. Couples embraced and he was in complete control. A few chants of "Ole" clapped him out, before his beautifully subtle one-song encore - a cover of The National.
Be sure to find James Vincent McMorrow in these smaller venues before he runs off into solitude for another six-months, bound to craft a sophomore album that'll elevate him to bigger stages.