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Kevin Morby At The Belasco Theatre, Saturday October 1st 2022

Kevin Morby

With Kevin Morby, it’s a family affair: his mother (surrounded by friends) was standing front row during his entire show, friendly chatting with fans and generously sharing anecdotes about her son before he took the stage. “My mom is right there!” he said in the middle of the luminous “Parade” while pointing to her with a large smile. This could even have become slightly embarrassing when Kevin sang “When my mother was 19/She’d dance to Tina” at the end of the show during the song “Goodbye to Good Times” as Morby was publicly sharing his vision of his mother’s rock & roll happy times in front of her. However, she was more touched and emotional than embarrassed.

After touring Europe, Kevin Morby is touring non-stop in support of his seventh studio album, “This Is a Photograph,” and he seems to be booked till the end of the year. Last night, I had the chance to see him deliver his new songs with electrifying energy inside the vintage Belasco theatre.

Native New Yorker Cassandra Jenkins, who sings on two of Morby’s new songs, opened the show with her slowly sprawling pieces. Her soothing style was both serene and emotional, while her peaceful voice was surrounded by drum loops, acoustic instruments, quiet guitars, and saxophone, something she had in common with Morby. Her tone could even be conversational and recorded dialogues often filled the beginning of the lush compositions. Many of her songs – mostly from her 2021 album, “An Overview on Phenomenal Nature” – had an ambient flow while a few tunes, like the last one entitled “Hard Drive,” had a more upbeat drive. She was certainly a Zen opener for an overall rocking night.

With a full and layered sound, Kevin Morby opened the show with the title track of his new album and its dynamic bouncy folksy loop made the crowd scream and cheer for the whole song. The energy was palpable, and the hard-bursting rendition of the song was executed with plenty of enthusiasm coming from the entire band which included a saxophonist and a backup vocalist. Little by little, Morby shared with us his series of reimagined photographs, working like time-machine vignettes, or “windows to the past” as he calls them. In 2022, Morby is still attached to a concept album, with a theme around a dreamed photo book as the idea originated when he was staring at a picture of his father, young and shirtless. Photographs are reinvented through songwriting, only inspired by short bursts of text such as: “This is a photograph of Memphis, Tennessee,” or “This is a photograph of your mother in a skirt.”

With storytelling based on pictures, it made sense that visuals were part of the show: roses were wrapped around the mics on stage, Kevin had put some glitter on his cheeks and he was wearing a golden fringe jacket that made him look like a very glamorous country star. Several of the album’s songs/photographs were grouped together at the beginning of the show: the ascending “A Random Act of Kindness” erupted into bombast with a powerful saxophone, a slower “Bittersweet, Tn” had beautiful back-up vocals dialoguing with Morby’s slightly dragging voice, “Five Easy Pieces” almost demonstrated a jazz/hip hop inspiration, the rocking retro feel of “Rock Bottom” almost sounded like a Ramones-inspired country song, while “Stop Before I Cry” was a sweet love song addressed to his partner Katie Crutchfield, Waxahatchee’s frontwoman. How couldn’t you be touched by lines like “Katie, if I hide/Then I can live in your songs forever, and you can live in mine/’Cause Katie when you sing to me/It’s like a melody/Comin’ off the mountain/Comin’ out the sea/Stoppin’ at the plains/Up into a Mеmphis sky/Katie, stop the song now/Stop beforе I cry.” The saxophone brought an original touch and unlocked another dimension to the classic guitar-drum-bass-keys combo while carrying Morby’s compositions into unclassifiable territory

Each second, you could tell that Morby and the band were excited to play these new songs live, and the show didn’t lack stage action. Kevin’s wardrobe turned out to be a great choice as each one of his movements was amplifying the pink golden light, that was reflecting on his jacket.

“Wander,” off the album “Sundowner” was the occasion for a tempestuous guitar-drums battle with bandmate and guitarist Cyrus Gengras and during the song “City Music,” Morby’s former guitarist Meg Duffy – they are the musician behind Hand Habits who also played with The War on Drugs, and Weyes Blood – made a surprise appearance for a very dynamic and playful guitar trio. Duffy even ended up climbing on Morby’s back for the grand finale. Other highlights of the show also included “I Have Been to the Mountain” executed with urgency, and during a wild moment, Morby jumped in the pit and then over the rail to sing amongst fans for a very cathartic instant. The encore brought the reflective, slow-burning (with flute) “Beautiful Strangers,” and the epic and explosive “Harlem River” with, once again, plenty of stage movement, and tumultuous saxophone solos.

Kevin Morby’s songs work like a collection of reflective time capsules that touch familiar themes like family, nostalgia, love, and death, while his sonic landscape largely exceeds his simple roots in folk and Americana. The new album, which is haunted by the Mississippi River as well as the ghosts of Martin Luther King Jr., Elvis, Jeff Buckley, or Otis Redding, is also full of heart and extremely personal. Live, the songs were executed with swagger and resonated with an epic mélange of vintage and modern touches, all coming from an artist, who, after an already prolific career, doesn’t seem to be running out of ideas.

This Is a Photograph
A Random Act of Kindness
Bittersweet, Tn
Five Easy Pieces
Rock Bottom
Stop Before I Cry
No Halo
Piss River
City Music (with Meg Duffy)
I Have Been to the Mountain
A Coat of Butterflies
Goodbye to Good Times

Beautiful Strangers
Harlem River

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