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Kevin Morby at The El Rey, Thursday December 4th 2014

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Kevin Morby

Before Angel Olsen, I should mention that Kevin Morby was opening the night at the El Rey on Thursday night, and this was a really unexpected good surprise coming from the former bassist of Woods and the songwriter-guitarist of Babies (that he co-founded with Cassie Ramone of Vivian Girls). He has recently gone solo and was playing just accompanied by a drummer, getting a well-deserved attention with a bluesy-rocking set. I am actually talking about the first rows where I was standing, because there was still a bunch of talkers in the back, close to the bar, who didn’t shut up during the whole night…why do these people even bother going to shows is still a mystery to me, but I was too far away to shush at them as I do all day long to my students.

But back to Kevin, he was giving an impressive and captivating performance, and if I have been to shows during which I couldn’t wait for the first act to be done, it was not the case at all this time, every song got me hooked. His songs started often quietly then were exploding into some thunderous meanders, as he was getting the most of his guitar, but not like a Jack White or a Dan Auerbach, rather in a more subtle way, getting closer to the big classics, evoking Lou Reed or certainly Bob Dylan, and the harmonica added on one song wasn’t the only element.

With two albums under his sleeve, ‘Harlem River (2013) and ‘Still Life (2014), songs telling stories and a personal style built around minimalist guitar loops turning into catchy ballads or even furious experimentations, the set was infused with an old vintage sound of blues, rock, folk and alt country as if Ryan Adams had listened to more Dylan and Velvet Underground. There was a real atmosphere in his songs, as if Morby seemed to know exactly where he wass going, even though he sings the opposite during the dramatic and climatic mood of the title track ‘Harlem River’, a hypnotic slow burn building an uneasy tension à la Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, that he was playing with crafted back-and-forth moves and his curly hair sweeping his face.

Why I haven’t heard about Kevin Morby before? He has a strong voice and some outstanding songs, some are as breezy as a Dylan-esque dream and I even smelt some weed in the air at this precise moment or i may be I was really dreaming. He also added a Bill Fay cover to his set, ‘I Hear you Calling’, which perfectly suited the mood of his own songs, some ballads with surprising endings that he sang in a classic drawl, while stamping his head in rhythm… one song sounded muddier and swampier than the rest, while I still have the catchy and sweet ‘All of My Life’ stuck in my head. Since he just made the move from Brooklyn to Los Angeles, my guess is that I will hear of Kevin Morby very soon!

More pictures of the show here.

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