Live Review: James Vincent McMorrow + Gossling – Metro Theatre, Sydney (09.01.14)

Sometimes on very rare occasions an artist is so mesmerising and captivating, that all you can hear is their performance and nothing else. It’s not often that I get to be a part of shows like that, but tonight was one of those nights.

Our opener Gossling (aka Helen Croome) has a sweet sensibility about her music courtesy of her wispy dreamy vocals, but often there are some darker undertones at work if you can get past the saccharine coating. “Hazard” is a slow burning track that has a throbbing beat. This then leads us to “Songs of Summer” and sounds a bit like something The National may have penned. The moment her onstage bandmates join in on the backing vocals it just completes that haunting atmosphere. Gossling then precedes “A Lover’s Spat”, explaining that it’s a song written about inadvertently hearing a fight between a couple in the hotel room next to your own, it’s aural voyeurism. Thankfully we’re given a small reprieve from the melancholy mood by telling us a story about how she’d taken a road-trip with her sister and they decided that they would conduct a test on how long the flavour of an average piece of Hubba Bubba gum lasts. You know, for science. After some rigorous discussion and comparing of variables including saliva excretion and mouth sizes and testing, they came to the conclusion that an entire packet only has about 20 minutes worth of flavour. That’s a little disappointing when you think about it considering how pricey a packet is these days. Thankfully, “Harvest of Gold” lightens the mood with its jangly piano chords and is reminiscent of Martha Wainwright.

I’ll openly admit that I wasn’t familiar with James Vincent McMorrow before being confirmed to review his show. All I knew was that he was a singer-songwriter and since they tend to be my musical Achilles heel, I figured I’d give him a shot. I was pleasantly surprised and am now happily converted to his wonderful musicianship. Opening with “The Lakes”, it’s an ethereal dreamscape that we get thrust into, with long whiny slide guitars and softly crashing cymbals and McMorrow’s falsetto washing over us. Both “Red Dust” and “Glacier” have a very Bon Iver feel, with McMorrow singing about ice and glaciers and red dust and it’s so otherworldly that it doesn’t seem like he’s singing about things that surround us. “Follow You Down” and “Down The Burning Ropes”, both off his first record Early In The Morning, are both darker in content and mood brought forth by his band and that contrasts against McMorrow’s sweet voice. His lead single “Cavalier”, off his second record Post Tropical, elicited a slow clap of audience participation and was probably the only song that managed to garner some sound out of the room. Surprisingly, throughout McMorrow’s entire set, the crowd was transfixed by the show that there wasn’t any discernible chatter from the crowd. It’s been a long time since I’ve gone to a performance and found the crowd in a state of hushed awe and actively listening. Upon returning for his encore, McMorrow enters the stage alone and proceeds to play “Outside, Digging” and then closes the night with his cover of Steve Winwood’s hit “Higher Love” stripping away all the peppiness and turning it into an emotive folk indie ballad.

McMorrow manages to capture the audience’s attention for an entire evening which is no mean feat for somebody who has never been to these shores. The only detraction if I had any, is that his falsetto singing does make it difficult to discern his lyrics so for those of us not familiar with his material it can be tricky to work out which tracks are which as they soon all meld into one. Though in his defence it’s a unique style, and it was a sold-out evening at The Metro so clearly he’s doing things right with the locals. With other fresh UK singer songwriters like Ben Howard, Tom Odell and Michael Kiwanuka and others all forging a way in the indie-folk-balladeer field, I’m sure another entrant as distinctive as McMorrow will only benefit in adding to the various shades of that genre.

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Carina Nilma

Office lackey day-job. Journalist for The AU Review night-job. Emotionally invested fangirl.

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