James Vincent McMorrow // Leeds Town Hall // 13.10.16
“I’m about to drop some fire.” – fire being a blend of indie folk roots and electronic rhythms from Irish musician James Vincent McMorrow’s third evolutionary album We Move that’s filling the corners of Leeds’ Town Hall. It’s a departure of sorts; his first record Early in the Morning nervously taps you on the shoulder and whispers delicate folk nothings through raw poetical musings, whereas his second, Post Tropical, throws similar metaphorical lines into a pool of electronica. Usually when my favourite artists attempt a renaissance it leaves me filled with despair: yet McMorrow’s electronic experiment proved my ‘second album suicide’ theory completely wrong. His falsetto-driven lyrics aren’t sacrificed to the plethora of sound; if anything they work together harmoniously, especially in ‘The Lakes’ and the popular single ‘Cavalier’. Finally, after an agonising 2 year wait for We Move’s release, Early In The Morning’s timidity is counteracted with one which smacks you round the face with deep electronic synths and hip-hop beats. In the midst of McMorrow’s liminal phase, I grasped the chance to see his fleshed-out live show brought to Leeds.
As I entered the grandiose town hall from an outdoor drizzle, my first thought was similar to McMorrow’s on stage; “Fuck, this place is proper!”. The space was cathedral-like – a huge organ dominated the wall behind centre stage, although it was later dwarfed by the impressive ‘pipes’ shown on stage. (I apologise, just couldn’t help myself).
The arrangement hit me first. ‘Breaking Hearts’ was given a figurative pace-maker; the debut album cut was given a taste of We Move with livelier electronic drums throughout. At least it was until the mic awkwardly lost power and the vocals disappeared. But hey, as McMorrow offered in apology, at least it wasn’t “backing track shit”.
Mid-set, the supporting band members quietly exited the stage, leaving McMorrow literally alone in the spotlight. He then played my favourite song from We Move, ‘Lost Angles’. The repeated line “don’t let fear control you” echoed around the hall, its vocals shining through minimalist piano chords and leaving a pensive silence in the grand room.
Considering that the majority of We Move possesses an upbeat, punchy sound, it was a shame the venue only provided seated tickets. The song ‘Evil’ had drops which begged for some spur-of-the-moment dancing, but sadly we were left stationary with only tapping feet to hold company with. Jealousy erupted in me a few days later after seeing photos of the packed standing show in London. Following McMorrow’s own lines, “we move or we don’t”, but those of us in Leeds unfortunately didn’t have the option. Yet that didn’t take away from the ethereal atmosphere the band concocted, aided by the spaceship-esque lighting rig looming over the stage. Stripped back tracks such as ‘We Don’t Eat’ also found a space within the new electronic movement, showing the changeable nature of Mcmorrow’s music throughout his career.
Essentially, James Vincent McMorrow carries the air of that kid in school that was good at everything. He switches from delivering the most chilling lyrics in unearthly falsetto to flawlessly encompassing hip-hop vibes as easily as flicking a light switch – but what remains buoyant throughout this change is the heavily considered words behind each song. Each track could easily be a single in itself. They act autonomously as self-sustained pieces, and yet each separate record flows with ease, sharing a common style. McMorrow’s performance truly illuminated the individuality of each song – the set had no fillers, and if it were possible I would have happily have sheltered from the rain longer, staying by the fire inside.