The songwriter’s performance on Monday was a rollercoaster of emotion
Nostalgia within the scope of popular music, though often overused to the point of cliché, can add intensity to a song. A well-written song can take you back to a specific time and place. It can trigger intricate, acute memories and feelings to the point where you almost feel the air as you felt it in that moment. Following his recent sold-out gig at local favorite Bar Le “Ritz,” Los-Angeles based psychedelia-tinged folkster Kevin Morby did more than simply prove his status as a master of nostalgia; he took the crowd along with him on a journey.
Clad in a blue suit embroidered with bold white musical notes and his initials stitched on the jacket’s lapels, Morby took centre stage surrounded by his touring band. The band consisted of guitarist and backing vocalist Meg Duffy—whose solo work under the moniker Hand Habits has earned her plaudits for its lush melodies drenched in fragile sentimentality—as well as bassist Cyrus Gengras and drummer Nick Kinsey.
Running like a well-oiled machine, the musicians worked together in perfect harmony. The more energetic album cuts, such as Morby’s “1234” and barnyard garage-rock jam “Dorothy,” were reinterpreted with a punk-rock grit and intensity that was lacking from their recorded counterparts. The group often broke into sprawling CSNY-esque country rock jams with the help of Duffy’s guitar heroics. It was the more tender moments, however, that defined the show. In these moments, we heard Morby at his most earnest, his vocals unforced yet necessary and brimming with the kind of raw emotion you can’t capture with recording equipment. Morby even switched to piano once during the gig. Though the live set was less instrumentally complex than Morby’s albums, this simplicity gave it a raw sentimental ambience, acting as an avenue for him to convey his nostalgia. And this he did, but not without the help of his backing band. Kinsey played with large mallets, and Duffy oftentimes backed up Morby on slide guitar. The textures and sonic colours created by the group completely enthralled and enveloped the crowd, and gave the sold-out show a sense of intimacy.
The show reached its nostalgic climax before the encore when the band packed up and left the stage, leaving only Morby. He was now clad in a cowboy hat and gripping an acoustic guitar. Swiftly gliding into a cover of Townes Van Zandt’s “Colorado Girl,” he followed it with the show’s closer “Beautiful Strangers,” an imagery-ridden protest song. In these tracks, he let his voice convey the colours of his nostalgia, transporting the crowd to a world that was truly his, and making them forget everything about themselves. This factor is thanks to Morby’s organic instrumentation and devout influences. Throughout the night, the musician channeled the same resonant chords as Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, but provided a edge all his own. While some might have been stuck standing behind one of the venue’s ill-placed poles or sandwiched between an uncomfortably intimate couple and a man reeking of sweat and alcohol, others were with a young Morby—driving through American mountains, enveloped in fresh air and heartbreak.