By hmcclure | April 12th, 2012
I don’t usually review gigs for Indie Shuffle, but James Vincent McMorrow’s intimate show at Sydney’s the Vanguard last night was so good it needed to be shared. In the country for the first time to perform at Byron Bay’s Bluesfest (along with the likes of Earth, Wind and Fire, Ziggy Marley and Sublime), the Irishman also played a number of gigs on Australia’s East Coast. So high was the demand for tickets that a second, much larger Sydney show was added to his schedule earlier in the week.
The wonderful Caitlin Park performed support duties at both shows, and she was at her engaging best performing tracks from her album, Milk Annual. A very accomplished musician in her own right, she was clearly very thrilled to be playing alongside McMorrow, which only served to build anticipation for the main act.
McMorrow entered to rapturous applause, smiling humbly as he was welcomed by the seemingly already-smitten crowd. What followed was nothing short of breathtaking. Having played all the instruments and recorded his debut album Early in the Morning on his own, it was only fitting that he performed sans-band. That said, I was interested to see how his expansive music would translate into a live show.
Commencing with “Sparrow and the Wolf,” there were a few early difficulties with the sound. Rather than detract from the performance, it only commenced the humorous banter between McMorrow and his sound-technician, Adrian (who popped up in conversation a number of times throughout the night). While one of the speakers was being mended, McMorrow took the opportunity to perform “We Don’t Eat” completely unplugged. What struck me about his show was how strong his voice was. Pitch-perfect and powerful, there was no drop in quality from his recordings, something not a lot of artists can carry out. McMorrow drew comparison to Jeff Buckley live, with a truly-stunning vocal range.
I attend a lot of gigs, and despite my love of live music I often get a little restless. Not tonight, I was transfixed, and I’ll speak for the crowd in saying the feeling was mutual. Highlights included a subdued finish to “From the Woods”, and his fantastic rendition of the bluesy “Breaking Hearts.” He also took time to pay tribute to his idol Roy Orbison, with a cover of “In Dreams.” Completing his set with his single “If I had a Boat” and an encore-cover of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game,” the crowd awoke from their inevitable trances to applaud this truly brilliant performer.
I’ve seen a lot of great gigs, and I often make top-5s which are constantly changing. James Vincent McMorrow’s show is currently sitting in that exclusive list of gigs. It would take something incredible to shift him out.