Words by Mike Emerson
So it’s the first time in a while that i’ve attended a gig knowing next to nothing about the artist in question. James Vincent McMorrow is his name, and the complete extent of my knowledge is that he’s released one of the most beautiful singles of the past few months. Couple that with the fact that he’s playing in Manchester Cathedral at a show that’s been sold out for months, and you can understand my curiosity. Let it be said though, that curiosity is sometimes better left alone.
We get to the venue a little late and it’s already filled up. With this being my first visit to the cities main church come music venue, I decide to have a little wander to find the best vantage point. There isn’t one. How those blasted christian architects never had the foresight to consider the views of drunken teenagers stood watching their favourite singer songwriter…I just don’t know. You’d imagine someone would have mentioned it when they erected the 500th pillar bang infront of the stage. We settle for a toenail sized wedge of space at the back of the hall, our view restricted to a few backs of heads and an overarching moon type installation going on up top. Oh well, at least the sound will be good.
Now, James Vincent Mcmorrow is *not* a bad music artist. In fact, he’s a brilliant one. His voice makes me green with envy, harbouring a falsetto that climbs the very heavens themselves. His songwriting is none too shabby either – detailing (slightly expected) whispers of women, whiskey and woe. Hell, the worst part of it all, the one that really really makes me want to like him, is that he genuinely seems to be a brilliant man. He tells funny jokes, he recites funny stories, he even raves about Kanye. However, I am not one to mistake the man for the music (unless it’s Kanye) and this it where it all tumbles uncontrollably into the blackened pit of bland.
Whilst accumulating evidence to form this opinion, the first half of the show has zipped right on by. As mentioned, there are moments of true bliss as his voice reaches the very peaks of the cathedral roof, but the music itself just doesn’t transmit. I think I recognise a couple of tracks from adverts here and there, and judging by the crowds reception, these are the pretty highly ranked numbers. It’s all dismally safe, though. Granted, it never verges on all out Mumford/Ben Howard shit splattering, but you can’t help but wonder why he presents his music in such a way. Surely, a more atmospheric, James Blake style effort would be more interesting for everyone involved. All of a sudden, on the precipice of no return, he reveals that he’s going to play the title track from the new album, and things take a gargantuan turn for the better.
Like the gods themselves were looking down upon me, those fey, weedy chimes make way for huge, sweeping synths, layer upon layer cascading against that vocal. It’s absolutely great stuff, with a genuine beat to get soaked up by. I believe it is called ‘Post Tropical,’ The visuals igniting in time with the samples. The show seems like an entirely different place from the one I was in ten minutes ago, albeit with pillars still intact. The whole set seems more effective from hereon out, with numerous loops dropping in the place of those paint drying campfire moments.
He reaches ‘Cavalier‘ – the single I was talking about earlier – and I stand firmly by the claim that this is one of the best songs released in recent months. The tempo feels just about in tune with the flow of your thoughts, the atmosphere hair raising. By the time those little electronic bleeps fade beneath the horn section, my mood is lifted tenfold – If the majority of the set was simple simon, this is outstanding Oscar. The vocal harmonies at the finale between McMorrow and his female guitarist are nothing short of mind blowing, and for the first time in the night, I can completely understand why the show was sold out.
The final track of the set is quite beautiful too, although as with the ones before it, it doesn’t come close to the heights of Cavalier. If this sort of composition can be replicated, utilising the world of electronics over acoustic guitars, I believe James Vincent McMorrow could truly set the pace for those similar artists around him. If he instead decides to go down the oft-trotted path of banjo, snare drum and whistle – I’m afraid his name won’t be remembered for long. With a voice like that, I whole heartedly hope its the former.