British Columbia-based Aidan Knight and his band opening for James Vincent McMorrow at the Crocodile. His LP, “Small Reveal,” is back in print on vinyl. His intense aesthetic is the perfect counterpoint to McMorrow, with his spiraling, layered long-playing songs. Both of his LPs, on vinyl, can be had at the live shows. A songwriter and performer to watch.
It’s buried, for some unknown reason, the detail that James Vincent McMorrow contributed a song, “Follow You Down to the Red Oak Tree,” off his debut “Early in the Morning” LP (Vagrant Records, 2013), for use on the soundtrack for the movie “Third Star,” starring Benedict Cumberbatch. The critics didn’t like the movie much, but I did. Cumberbatch wasn’t as hot in 2010 as he is now. But I especially keyed in the McMorrow song as being something special, and tried to buy the vinyl LP, which at the time was only available in the UK. It’s now available in the US, and for sale at McMorrow’s live shows, signed by McMorrow himself.
His current tour is playing to some large venues, but I caught up with him at the Crocodile in Seattle, a venue that holds 560 people. So the setting was small and intimate. And dark. The stage lighting was kept to just a few spots at any one time, so that the glowing pyramids on stage, part of his tour lighting, could glow in the smoke pouring out of the smoke machine. The last time McMorrow played Seattle he played the Triple Door, a venue I’ve not been attracted to because it’s an uptight dinner theatre. Yes, audiences sit at tables and eat while artists play. Makes no sense to me. Dinner theaters were big in the 1970s, mostly for amateur theater plays. The Triple Door has great acoustics, I’m told, but it’s odd. Even McMorrow acknowledged at the Croc that he found it distracting to have people eating while he played. He mentioned being particularly distracted by chili popcorn, which I still don’t quite understand, as a food.
There’s an uneasy tension in sets played by artists like McMorrow in the bar setting. Bars are noisy and audiences are buzzed, so the quieter passages played by an artist like McMorrow get frequently disrupted by noisy patrons. The tradeoff is that the Croc is a small place and you can get close to the artists, which is rewarding in these days of a restructuring music industry. McMorrow’s new record also draws heavily on electric piano and synth components. I always thought of the electric piano and an odd instrument, again because there are so many bad examples of its use. I’ve seen many YouTube performances by McMorrow with just him and his guitars. I had hoped we’d get that this time around, with his new record, “Post Tropical.”
The gear on stage made the space crowded, keeping the artists locked into their places, with three keyboards, drums, slide guitar, amp stacks, etc. The overall feeling with the smoke, low lighting, glowing pyramids, and miles of cables made the show feel claustrophobic, and restricted, which was a shame. McMorrow’s expansive voice and sensitive songwriting made it work anyway. And the signed copies of both of his records is the perfect treat for obsessional collectors like me, though I saw very few LPs walking out the door. Still, a great moment with a talented artist, and a rare sighting in Seattle. My photos were taken less than five feet from McMorrow, so I think they reflect the restricted physical space and bar setting.
Well, these photos of James Vincent McMorrow are super cool, but emerging slowly. It was a very dark show, and I was insanely close to the man. Music is life.