James Vincent McMorrow at Turner Hall Ballroom
Irish singer/songwriter James Vincent McMorrow's stunning falsetto and instrumental prowess prompted one audience member to ask, "Are you an angel?"
An overwhelming showing for a Tuesday night filled Turner Hall Ballroom on a clear yet sultry midwest night for Irish singer/songwriter James Vincent McMorrow and his band’s second stop at Milwaukee’s Turner Hall in as many years.
There’s a good reason Milwaukee showed up in force. A mixture of local legend Justin Vernon‘s vocal chops and guitarist J.Tillman (formerly of Fleet Foxes) instrumental prowess, JVM’s soundscapes evolve from subtle to invigorating.
Local darlings Juniper Tar kicked off the evening and after a series of bass guitar adjustments, McMorrow and crew took the modest stage. Despite being at the tail end of an tour, no signs of fatigue emerged from the five piece.
Kicking off the set with “If I Had a Boat” the audience got it’s first taste of JVM’s trademark sweet simplicity via polished harmonization and sweeping guitar lines. After instant audience reaction the band moved into cult favorite “Breaking Hearts.”
Sufficiently primed, the group changed gears.”Down the Burning Ropes” is a rolling, march paced balled driven by mandolin and muddled with gravelly chanting. Swooning the crowd, McMorrow pulls every ounce of range from each bellowed note. The tune’s abrupt ending jars reposed listeners, setting the stage for McMorrow’s first solo song of the evening.
Standing stage center with only a guitar to accompany, McMorrow took Turner on by his lonesome with an equally lonesome cut. The arcane “We Are Ghosts” is a soft serenade with buzzing power just below the surface.
As the crowd caught its collective breath, JVM shuffled the lineup. McMorrow resituatates at the piano while the mandolinist and guitarist swap axes for “And If My Heart Should Somehow Stop.” Vocals and instruments stumble delicately about each other culminating lengthy, engrossing trill. The effort left one audience member calling to the frontman “Are you an angel?”
McMorrow engaged the audience throughout the evening with his thick Irish twang in murmured banter. From topics “The things I can fit in my beard” (toothbrushes and pencils) to “my upcoming album” the band’s namesake seemed at ease.
“From the Woods” is JVM’s most haunting offering of the evening. This ballad digs into the depths of McMorrow’s vocal range; descending the note scale he extinguishes the song, then reignites with a sharp wail thrusting the entire band into a folk rock roll. A melancholy chorus eloquently define realities of our human condition:
“Newer ropes, stronger nets. Have us plumbing further depths. For the wolves we’ll never be. Should we go, would we die. If the weight it was to slide. Drag our secrets to the sea.”
Coaxed out quickly for an encore McMorrow took the stage solo again, this time turning out Steve Winwood’s “Higher Love.” The stunning falsetto encites attentive ears, dipping heads and dropping mouths with each gentle note.