By Jean-Luc Marsh
On Nov. 10, Irish singer-songwriter James Vincent McMorrow returned to New York City, playing a massive set at The Town Hall.
The unique choice of venue, a national landmark in the heart of New York City’s Theater District, allowed McMorrow to expand his set to nearly two hours of continuous music as the audience rested comfortably on velvet chairs in a large auditorium. The larger stage allowed McMorrow to bring along his three-piece band, as well as several pyramids scattered about the stage that glowed in different colors harmoniously with the music, and a large circular disk studded with geometric shapes that hung on the wall behind him.
McMorrow took full advantage of this greater space and lessened time constraint, cycling between roughly fifteen songs from both his debut album, “Early in the Morning,” and his recent sophomore follow-up, “Post Tropical.” Despite the differing instrumentation between the two records — the latter flirts with electronic textures and makes greater use of the synthesizer — the folk-underpinnings present in each song managed to unite the material, making it seems seamless and natural, as if cut from the same mellifluous cloth.
Chief in leading this unifying effort was McMorrow’s impressive vocal prowess. It would be no exaggeration to describe his voice as a force of nature. There was a raw power in his full-throated middle notes, a certain fragility in his airy falsetto, and an endearing Irish lilt that emerges most audibly in the lower register. However, there was also an unpolished nature to this range, in the best possible way, which rendered McMorrow’s delivery even more authentic.
The occasional crack when switching between octaves, a shortened word here and there, a flat note or two when getting started. Each endearing error made it clear that McMorrow was self-made rather than a manicured music industry product.
What was most impressive was how McMorrow managed to blend several genres and adapt to each throughout the night. Whether it was the percussive folk stampede of “We Don’t Eat,” the looped electronic effects of “Red Dust,” the pared-down rendition of “Higher Love” that sent several audience members swooning, or the rock-and-roll influences that came out to play on “Breaking Hearts,” McMorrow handled each sonic twist with aplomb. He drew the listener in with his lower register before exploding into his trademark falsetto.
No song was more indicative of this tendency than closer, “Cavalier,” the track that it became apparent the entire set had been devoted to building up to. Everything moved in perfect, rapturous synchrony, from the luminous pyramids to the band members and their backing vocals.
McMorrow brought his very best, starting soft and tender before pushing himself to an ecstatic crescendo with a protracted falsetto that elicited somersaults from every heart in the room. The standing ovation that followed was certainly deserved, but had it not been necessary, silence would have been more appropriate.
So strong was the spell McMorrow managed to cast, that the reverie deserved to last a bit longer.
Jean-Luc Marsh is a contributing writer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org