TVD Live Shots:
Kevin Morby and Cassandra Jenkins
at the Belasco, 10/1

PHOTOS: KRIS KUGANATHAN | At the intersection of folk rock, Americana, soul, and indie music, Kevin Morby as I see it sits at the helm of a cross-genre he’s made his own.

Success for the Kansas City native has been anything but overnight. A seven studio album climb that started with his debut solo album Harlem River back in 2013, Saturday night’s performance at the historic Belasco Theater in downtown Los Angeles was the arrival of something great for Morby. Touring on his newest release, This Is a Photograph, you could feel his rise in the air. Opening act, Cassandra Jenkins, who has toured with Courtney Barnett and sang backup vocals on This is a Photograph brought her serene, experimental brand of indie music and lusty vocals to the scene. The crowd was receptive.

Last year I went to see Kevin Morby open for Hamilton Leithuaser, but this year headlining his own show, the atmosphere felt different. The 18-song setlist—half This Is a Photograph and the other half playing like a Kevin Morby’s greatest hits collection—was spiritual in service. We were all there for him. We knew all of the words. We were connected and uplifted by Morby and his band as they dispelled whatever dark matter we brought with us from our frantic lives. A metallic gold fringe jacket, Midwestern grace, rhinestone lined eyes, and a unique quickstep stage gait, he reels you into his synergetic world of secular spiritual music even though one listen to “Five Easy Pieces” will tell you it ain’t no church song.

I found myself on the way to the show premeditating the older songs I NEEDED to hear. Early recordings of This Is a Photograph at the legendary Peabody Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee were prompted after his father collapsed at the kitchen table while Morby was home visiting his family. The album centers around what’s easily lost: the vigor of his father’s youth as seen through old photographs, the passionate life he has built with his longtime girlfriend Katie Crutchfield, aka Waxahatchee, and everything in between the light and the darkness. The album captures the tumultuous emotions of our time. Played live I found the new material was sustenance enough despite my lack of deep acquaintance with it.

“Wander” and “Parade” were checked off my hitlist, but the mnemonic nursery rhyming “Halo” was an addition I didn’t even know I needed. This fragmented style of vocals often found in Morby’s music is on the contrary unchildlike. Quick inflections, the repetitious lines solidify truths he’s reckoning with and contribute to his peculiar approach to music. Closing out the show with “Beautiful Strangers” and “Harlem River,” Morby told us before the encore that “we are going to leave the stage and if you clap we will come back out and play more songs for you and if you don’t, then we won’t.”

From Elizabeth Moen’s angelic voice on the newer track “Bittersweet, TN,” to the pedal steel guitar and flute appearances, and all of the superb musicians in Kevin Morby’s band, this show was one of the most unpretentious serious good music loving times I’ve had in a while. Cutting through all the bullshit is refreshing.


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