Music

Review: Kevin Morby Successfully Reached For Heavenly Heights at Thalia Hall

It’s easy to get enveloped in Kevin Morby’s music.  His songs are masterfully written takes on the world and emotion that make him a unique songwriter. Those words are then underlined by gentle instrumentation that never overwhelms but always impresses. Throughout his work there is a semblance of reverence that brings up an almost religious feeling.  Morby’s latest release brings that religious sentiment to the forefront. With a title like Oh My God, how could it not. Nearly ever song references religion, but in a way that isn’t preachy. In fact its meaning is often leaning more secular, bringing all the weight of the religious iconography but non of its baggage. During the last stop of the North American tour at Thalia Hall earlier this month, he showed off that how well that line is blurred and put on an amazing show.

Sam Cohen, who produced Oh My God, started off the night with a delectable set list of rock songs. It’s actually hard to pin down just where Cohen’s music is coming from. Elements of psychedelic, even experimental, noise are featured throughout. But Cohen’s voice eludes that sound, instead going for more of a traditional singer songwriter croon that pairs nicely with it. And yet, alternative rock noise sneaks its way in and becomes the highlight of song. Long jam sessions delight the crowd as Cohen and the band rock out with precision. They were a well honed band delivering Cohen’s songs with all the intensity they needed.

That precision extended onto Kevin Morby’s set as Sam Cohen and the rest of band backed him the entire night. Morby’s set began with voices of children and adults alike asking God for forgiveness before he and the band broke into “Congratulations”. The stage was decorated with bright cotton clouds lining the edges, giving it a heavenly vibe.  Morby looked and sounded pristine, moving around stage showing off his emblazoned suit featuring golden morning stars, folded hands, candles, and “OH MY GOD” across his back. I could immediately tell this show was going to be something special.

First nine songs of the night centered on Oh My God, which Morby referred to as Oh My Goodness a few times, giving it a lot of room to breathe and show off its deep messages. The album manages to make the holy sound grounded, letting the religious terms and visages feel attainable rather than far away. Take “Hail Mary” which uses the phrase’s long shot meaning but let’s it take the spotlight; allowing the line play with the more religious inclination in the song. So many of the tracks from Oh My God masterfully play with that duality that truly gives the album a hook that rarely let’s go.

Morby and the band were on fire the entire night as they blazed through Morby’s back catalogue. Tons of highlights of his career were touched upon, from the more recent “City Music” .to “I Have Been to the Mountain”. Katie Crutchfield of Waxahatchee joined Morby on stage late into the show to duet with him on “Beautiful Strangers”, another fantastic moment,  and performed select backing vocals throughout out the rest of the night.

One of the biggest highlights of the night was “Dry Your Eyes” off Morby’s album City Music. Morby presented it to the crowd as a dedication to Richard Swift. Swift, who passed away early last year, helped get this song to the place where it currently is. “Dry Your Eyes” is a track that reaches emotion heights like few other do. Morby and the band settle on the song for quite a while, dancing around the arrangement wonderfully as Morby asked the crowd to dance along. Towards the end of the song he split the audience down the middle (I’ll refrain from the obvious allusion) and let those that wanted to slow dance into the opened space, letting the song move people the way it was intended. It a great display of what an amazing song can do to a crowd.

Kevin Morby ended the night with the one two punch of “Parade” and “Harlem River”. “Parade” in the live setting made the dissonance between the morbid lyricism and grand instrumentation even greater. It sounded like such a joyful song, everyone playing at their best to send of the crowd that it just sounded like such a joyful song. “Harlem River”, the earliest songs of Morby’s that was performed that night, felt perfectly placed in the set. The song rides along with such an alluring rhythm, detailing life’s oft perilous journey through a river metaphor. It’s an excellent swan song of sorts and Morby sang the crowd away with the ending line “Ride on that easy rider, flow like that Harlem River, I ride for you”. It was an idyllic end to a sublime evening.

 

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