In an old assembly hall in Islington on Tuesday night, whilst rain was lashing outside and an even bigger storm was raging on the other side of the Atlantic, eight hundred Londoners took shelter in the beautiful music of Kevin Morby.
It seemed fitting and bittersweet it took place on election night, as Morby’s live show is the exact opposite of the Trump campaign. Refreshing, warm, and – in the steady drums that pulsed reassuringly through delicate opener, ‘Cut Me Down’ – hopeful. Each song rose up like a buoy, with the energy sailing through second track ‘Dorothy’ and remaining high from that point on, uplifting even the slowest ballads.
Previously of Woods and The Babies, Kansas-raised New Yorker Morby blends lo-fi, Americana and folk rock into a unique sound that will appeal to fans of Mac Demarco and Kurt Vile. His influences are clearly perceptible: Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and Lou Reed are all present in the tone of his voice and the perceptive observations weaved through his lyrics, particularly in tracks like ‘All Of My Life’ and ‘Black Flowers’.
The intensity was cranked up in this live setting, with ‘Harlem River’ and ‘Singing Saw’ ending in long, invigorated solos that roamed into soulful psychedelia, backed up by his supremely cool band comprised of Meg Duffy on electric guitar, Cyrus Gengras on bass and former Babies bandmate Justin Sullivan on drums.
On ‘Destroyer’, Duffy’s soulful guitar licks and backing vocals stirred a cathartic touch of the blues into a dreamy lament of an ex-lover. The band left the stage leaving Morby alone to play a poignant rendition of Townes Van Zandt’s ‘No Place To Fall’, and stirring new single ‘Beautiful Strangers’, proceeds of both dedicated to Everytown For Gun Safety. The latter was written for, in Morby’s words, all the beautiful strangers “who were out living their lives and one day, without warning, had them taken away from them”, including victims of the Paris attacks and 25-year-old African American Freddie Gray who died in police custody in 2015. While addressing some of the darkest issues of the hour, Morby’s message is one of love and peace.
When the band returned to play ‘Parade’ in the encore, resounding guitars replaced the horns on the record to build up a swelling crescendo, before finishing with the propulsive, fast-paced folk number ‘The Ballad of Arlo Jones’. The audience left on a high, invigorated, and, in some indefinable way, better prepared to go and face the storm outside.