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Live review: London Grammar + Guests – Riverstage, Brisbane – 23/9/17

Billed as Brisbane Festival’s “marquee music event”, the five-act line-up of London Grammar, James Vincent McMorrow, The Kite String Tangle, Mansionair and Wafia provided perfect vibes for a chilled evening at Brisbane’s Riverstage on Saturday (23rd September).

London Grammar Brisbane Riverstage September 2017

With the tunes kicking off at 4pm in scorching sunshine, and running for close to six hours, the atmosphere was not unlike a mini festival, with the comforting aroma of Dagwood dogs and mid-strength beer reinforcing the feeling.

Wafia is a rare talent whose vocal power is more than enough to fill the amphitheatre, while Mansionair play a slick set and get a big response with ‘Hold Me Down’.

Hometown boy Danny Harley of The Kite String Tangle is delighted to be playing Riverstage for the first time, as he tells us twice. The sun aptly drops over the horizon as he plays ‘Illuminate’, but it’s his final track ‘Arcadia’ which is the perfect ending to the best set of the day thus far.

But hold on, the best set of the day is immediately bested, as things get international-class with James Vincent McMorrow. The Irishman’s soulful delivery is just about perfect on ‘Get Low’ and ‘National’, while the towering ‘Cavalier’ provides a goosebump-y moment or four.

London Grammar are all darkness and mystique as they take to a sparsely-lit stage and singer Hannah Reid begins proceedings with ‘Rooting For You’. It’s a controlled start, but one that grabs the audience’s attention and ensures it stays firmly on the band for the rest of the night.

‘Rooting For You’ perfectly rolls into ‘Flickers’, and while the trio’s sound is somehow both delicate and huge simultaneously, it is, of course, Reid’s ethereal, choral tones that are the highlight of the set.

‘Wasting My Young Years’ precedes a cheery rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ for guitarist Dan Rothman, who is turning 28. A cake appears from somewhere and Reid asks the audience to confirm how young and handsome he is before pointing out how cake is bad for her vocal cords, “just like everything else delicious”. Boo hoo.

‘Hey Now’ receives perhaps the biggest response of the evening. It fills the amphitheatre from the river to the hot-dog stand and back again, as a captivated audience sings along. Conclusion: London Grammar’s music is built for big spaces.

The gig/mini festival vibes are over by the Brisbane City Council-approved 10pm, leaving plenty of time for reflecting on what was a pretty damn good day of music.

For Scenestr

James Vincent McMorrow: “It definitely took me by surprise in the most wonderful way possible”

james vincent mcmorrow

JAMES Vincent McMorrow’s music is tailor-made to fill big spaces, metaphorically and literally. Luckily for him – and us – an upcoming show at QPAC and two nights at the Sydney Opera House will allow it to do just that.

“I want [the show] to be something that’s not just song, gap, song, gap,” he says. “I want it to be something that flows and gets bigger as the set goes along. We’ve got this really expansive lighting rig that we’re bringing; it’s kind of the fifth person on-stage. Hopefully we’ll bring a booming big set.”

The 31 year-old Irishman is no stranger to Australia, having been here as recently as five months ago, but he admits the sudden demand for tickets caught him off guard, in a good way.

“I don’t really pay attention to what’s going on in particular countries unless I’m there,” he says. “We were [in Australia] in January and the reaction was brilliant. When we talked about doing these shows, the idea was to do them way later, then all of a sudden I was told things are really good here. About a week after they put them on sale, I got a call saying that the Sydney Opera House was sold out and they were adding second dates. It definitely took me by surprise in the most wonderful way possible. I mean, I’m pretty ambitious and I want to play places like that, but I didn’t expect it to happen this quickly in somewhere as far away as Australia. But then, you can’t predict everything; sometimes things just work. We just finished the US tour, and it was very much big venue to small venue to big venue, depending on which city we were in. I don’t feel any different if we go from 1600 people one night to 600 people the following; I still feel the same. Obviously Sydney Opera House is a special place; it’s like the Royal Albert Hall or Carnegie Hall or somewhere like that. There’s a resonance that goes beyond it being just another show, perhaps. I’ve looked at all the other Australian venues and they are all stunning and look amazing, so I won’t think about them any differently, and they’re all equally important.”

Released in January, Post Tropical is McMorrow’s second album, and sees his sound moving further away from his folk roots in a more soulful direction.

“This record was made for people to live with for a while,” he says. “I didn’t expect it to give itself away to people incredibly quickly. It’s been interesting going from territory to territory and seeing people’s reactions. The first record did very well in Europe, and when we played shows there we could see people starting to wrap their heads around the new sounds and new ideas. By the end of the shows we could really see people understanding it. When we went to the US, people were really into it intensely, and we could hear people singing every word. It was very soon for that for me; with the first record I spent two years working away before people really heard anything. The response to the new record was really quite compelling and drove me onwards to play the songs better and better every night. The response has been how I hoped. I never expect it; I just hope for it when I do these things.”

The first single is ‘Cavalier’, which McMorrow explains is the most accurate representation of what Post Tropical has to offer.

“I chose it because I thought it was the best song on the record, in the sense of letting people know what’s coming,” he says. “I wanted it to be a song that draws a line in the sand, or plants my flag in the ground or whatever you want to call it. It’s a definitive sound; there could have been songs that show where the last record was and where the next one is going, before we deliver something like ‘Cavalier’ further down the line, but I didn’t want to do that. I think people are smart, and I’m not in the business of trying to convince people; you either like it or you don’t, and that’s totally fine. With ‘Cavalier’, I thought people will hear it and either be in or be out. If they hear it and understand what I’m doing and what I’m going for, musically and stylistically, then they’ll like it. I don’t want to waste people’s time putting out songs that might be a little bit like something they might’ve heard before, then when they go to the record it’s different.”

JAMES VINCENT McMORROW PLAYS QPAC FRI 23 MAY. POST TROPICAL IS OUT NOW.