Los Angeles – Despite spending years as the bassist of Woods and the co-leader of “super group” The Babies, singer-songwriter Kevin Morby still seems to be flying under the radar. His debut album, Harlem River, was a collection of songs he had written over the course of his early 20s and was released in 2013. Just a year later, the world was blessed with another batch of Morby tracks on the acclaimed follow-up Still Life. His performance at the freshly opened Teragram Ballroom perfectly showcased his blend of noisy rock and sublime folk.
It is not just Morby’s sound that is evocative of Bob Dylan and the early days of folk. In fact, his visual aesthetic might even be more influenced by the folk legend than his fairly diverse musicality; looking like an extra from the set of I’m Not There, he was dressed in a Western-styled, fitted collared shirt and straight-leg black jeans. But it was the bolo tie and scraggly long hair that really harkened his look back to Greenwich Village circa 1961. Jerking around on stage, Morby would occasional fling his sweaty mop-head from side to side, flinging sweat across the audience.
Morby was joined on stage by Justin Sullivan (who has also spent time in The Babies) on drums and multi-instrumentalist Megan Duffy. As the newest addition to Morby’s band, Duffy was quite the revelation, deftly switching from slide guitar leads to rhythmic finger-picking figures, and even holding down bass guitar duties on some of the band’s more rollicking numbers. Despite being few in numbers, the band created a full, lush sound that did the recorded songs a great service.
Morby’s performance was by no means a note-by-note replication of folk’s halcyon days. By blending elements of noise rock and pop, the set showcased some surprising musical diversity. This was particularly evident in the title track from his debut, “Harlem River”. While the song began with a whisper, it slowly but steadily grew into a monstrous racket that filled every inch of the Teragram’s enormous tiled ballroom.
The band followed up the grandiosity of “Harlem River” with the sparsely arranged ballad “All of My Life”. The tender love song sounds a bit like a refreshing homage to Roy Orbison’s “Anything You Want”, with a similar melody that drifts enough to differentiate it from its influences.
Other songs played during Morby’s set included the haunting set-opener “The Dead They Don’t Come Back”, the Kurt Vile-like “Sucker in the Void”, the appropriately titled up-tempo rocker “Motors Running,” the locomotive-driven murder ballad “Reign,” and the shuffling, acoustic-based epic “Amen”. Morby and his band did a nice job of mixing up the set list with songs from both of his solo releases, selecting his most powerful and impressionistic tracks.
This week’s Los Angeles appearance marks the tail end of Kevin Morby’s tour. However, there are still a few more opportunities this summer to catch his impressive live show. Kevin Morby will be heading to the East Coast for appearances in Brooklyn,NY (8/8) and New Windsor, NY (8/9). Finally, he heads back to Los Angeles for an early appearance at FYF Fest Day 1 (8/22).