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Live Review: James Vincent McMorrow, 23rd May @ QPAC Concert Hall

Words by Scenewave Australia - Published on May 29, 2014

Words by Sam Weston

There’s something strangely nondescript about James Vincent McMorrow, his band and the way they go about things. McMorrow is the kind of person you can see play for an hour and a half and then immediately forget what he looks like, other than that finely cultivated beard. He epitomises understated, keeping any stage banter at a minimum. When he does talk, he seems nervous – even though he has played venues plenty bigger than Brisbane’s QPAC concert hall. Mind you, as McMorrow tries to recall, it was only two years ago the band was playing at Black Bear Lodge. Since then, his popularity has fairly exploded. Tonight, at the curiously all-seated venue of choice, the crowd watches on in quiet anticipation for him to take the stage. Brisbane local Hannah Shepherd opens under her Airling guise – a pleasingly dark take on the dream pop that is so abundant in the current Australian scene.

When McMorrow and co. do take to the stage, they launch into the excellently understated The Lakes, before running seamlessly through some crowd- pleasing older cuts from 2010’s Early in the Morning. Not being a diehard fan, I can’t help but keep being reminding of little nods to McMorrow’s most obvious counterpart, Bon Iver. I feel bad for even raising it in a review but it’s simply something you can’t easily ignore. A good 10{6dc52fbdce2f0f97cf8a089cc5e2946dca963f75b53e76b06e4c7d8acf27faad} of the comments on all McMorrow’s YouTube videos are along the lines of:


As a writer for The Guardian rightly said, his voice is so angelic and his lyrics so “sweetly sentimental it makes Alt-J sound like NWA”. When I saw Justin Vernon and co. in their prime in 2012, the beauty in their music was in the gritty undercurrent behind Vernon’s high-pitched warble. None – really, none – of this rawness will you find in McMorrow’s band. The clean, crisp and cold (is he a beer?) sound of his new studio tracks have been meticulously translated – almost to the letter – into the live setting. McMorrow’s clearly quite proud of the light show that surrounds the band – little (and bigger) glowing pyramids scattered around, Aptly, it quite looks like a forest (er – an Irish one though – definitely not a Wisconsin forest).

The standout track for the evening is perhaps unexpected. Gold, a cut off his 2014 release, is characteristic of what his (and his band’s) new direction so arresting. Regal synths swell; McMorrow’s falsetto is without flaw; the band reaches a stately crescendo; and, I almost cry real tears. Cavalier, their newest single, builds in a similar vein. But in the last minute of the song, where Justin Vernon might have deliberately crashed the song down in a clamour of cymbals and howls, McMorrow finds emotion in stark control – the rhythm is almost formulaic, but it somehow only increases the sheer loveliness of it all. Even the rock-ier cuts like From The Woods! and the title track from Post Tropical are typically measured. The silence is almost reverent  as McMorrow gently taps out his biggest hit, a sparse cover of Steve Winwood’s 1986 blue-eyed soul hit, Higher Love, before closing his encore with a rousing rendition of And If My Heart Should Somehow Stop.

McMorrow, it seems, is slowly but surely mastering his own brand of stately swagger – finding confidence in un-confidence. He is clearly much- loved and well-received down under,  but his real longevity will come from how well he can continue to distinguish himself from Bon Iver and his ilk – as much as that may grate.

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