It was a packed, hot Saturday night at Mohawk in downtown Austin when Kevin Morby — with his long curly hair and an eccentric suit adorned with musical notes — took to the venue’s outdoor stage. His band followed, and Morby strapped on his candy apple red Fender Jaguar guitar and held his head to the ground as playback of a spoken word passage from a Flannery O'Connor poem began to play:
"Look!" Tarwater said suddenly, sitting forward his face close to the windshield. "We're headed in the wrong direction. We're going back where we came from. There's the fire again. The fire we left." Ahead of them in the sky was a faint glow, steady and not made from lightning. "That's the same fire we came from," the boy said in a high voice. "Boy, you must be nuts," the sailsman said, "that's the city we're coming to, that's the glow from the city lights."
And just as the passage ended on “city lights,” the band rolled into “City Music,” exactly as Morby’s latest, stellar record does. The slow burning song’s dual chiming guitar melodies offered their prelude, and by the end of seven minutes the band was moving the entire crowd along into its awesome, rolling conclusion.
While a majority of the set was soothingly downtempo, it wasn’t all mellow vibes. Several of Morby’s edgier songs like the Ramones-esque “1234”, “I Have Been to the Mountain,” and “Crybaby” were aptly amped up in the live set into rock n’ roll territory. The band, which consisted of Meg Duffy on guitar and backup vocals, Cyrus Gengras on bass and Nick Kinsey on drums, was noticeably tight.
However, it was Duffy (who has her own great side project, Hand Habits) who had several wonderful, big moments of musicianship. The performances of “All Aboard My Train” and “Destroyer” featured absolutely delightful sections of improvisation from Duffy. Her lead playing went from Wilco-like country lead lines and later into George Harrison quality slide guitar playing. The crowd rightfully went wild during her solos.
Morby pulled off a modern troubadour persona with his iconic looks and a cool, assured stage presence. As the set rolled on, Morby bounced around, shook and whipped his long hair back and forth and grabbed the mic with gusto, linking eye contact with anyone brave enough to lock eyes with him. Clearly, he’s a confident frontman.
One of the best moments for the night came at the end of set, where the band left the stage and Morby remained with an acoustic guitar. He donned a white cowboy hat, and he thanked the crowd for the high turnout.
“I think this is the biggest crowd we’ve played for on this tour,” he said. “We love you all.”
With that, he went into a somber, yet lovely, performance of “Beautiful Strangers.” Fans could be heard singing along to the song’s inspiring words aimed at the tragedies and shooting deaths of 2016. One line especially, “Pray for Paris / They cannot scare us / Or stop the music / You got a sweet voice, child / Why don't you use it? / If I die too young, if the gunmen come, I'm full of love / So release me, every piece of me, up above,” was hard not to feel emotional during.
Despite most of the hour and a half set being slower and somewhat sleepy, the group did a good job balancing the slower numbers with attention-grabbing moments during the performances. Unfortunately, “Come to me Now,” and the Townes Van Zandt cover “Colorado Girl” were a bit of drag toward the end of the set. However, the encore picked right back up and ended on “Dorothy,” which is arguably Morby’s best song.
So while there were some songs that definitely rocked, the show is probably best seen in a listening room or club setting where you can fully take it all in. That being said, the group definitely steps up the energy of the music in the live setting, something all of us were thankful for.
14. Dry Your Eyes
15. Cut Me Down