Kevin Morby, the Fillmore, April 5, 2018I don't write about opening bands much anymore, partly because I'm lazy and partly because they haven't been inspiring to me. But one of the better openers I've seen in a while is Kevin Morby, first at Wilco's five-night Fillmore stand, then at Solid Sound. He was definitely the best of the rotating list of opening bands we saw that week, and even then, a friend from Los Angeles with a singer/songwriter husband said he was getting a ton of buzz in SoCal. But Solid Sound, er, solidified his standing. In short, he and his band sounded fantastic, and I knew I had to check them out when they came back around. Alas, I missed that opportunity, as his show at the Great American Music Hall sold out before I could get a ticket. Thankfully, you can often count on repeat visits to San Francisco.
Last time they came to the Fillmore, Kevin and gang squeezed in to the relatively small patch of stage available to them between Wilco's instruments, monitors, pedals, cables, and whatnot. Now they spread out across as much of the stage as they wanted, which is always a sight to behold. I don't actually remember how many people were in the band on that visit, but Kevin introduced one member (a man on violin) as new -- so that's one upgrade. Another upgrade: Kevin's fantastic custom suit. I seriously can't get enough of it.
I'm going to come clean: I don't know much of Kevin's work before the current album, though I've listened enough to recognize his song on the Volvo commercial. But combine that with the handful of live shows I've heard via podcast, I knew I had to go the show.
As you might expect, Kevin favored songs from the new record, and if you allow me to indulge for a moment in playing Spot the Influences, I'd like to mention that "Crybaby" reminds me so much of the Pixies, especially when guitarist Meg Duffy's vocals come in. I mean that in the best way! Honestly, all the songs off City Music were awesome, and we danced all over the place to them.
Regarding the aforementioned Volvo ad, it features the song "Harlem River," and of course he did it, though the crowd didn't treat it as anything special or unusual. But it got me to thinking again about what constitutes pop music and indie music. In my world, tracks such as "City Music" and "Crybaby" would be huge hits, and maybe headlining a show at the Fillmore is a pretty good mark of success. As a fan, I can't complain about getting to see the band at this point in their development, and truth be told, I don't enjoy bigger venues. Still, a part of me wants more people to know how great they are. Sigh -- it's the eternal struggle.
Though I wasn't familiar with Kevin's back catalog, I had no problem getting into the older songs he played. The two that stood out most to me were "Parade" and "Beautiful Strangers" (the latter performed as a solo acoustic track at the end of the main set). Both have a generally hopeful air and lush, developing storylines that you don't really want to end. The audience even joined in with impromptu clapping on "Beautiful Strangers" to support Kevin. (My immediate thought: Jeff Tweedy would tell them to stop.) I was smitten.
Katie Crutchfield from Waxahatchee joined the band for a couple of songs at the end of the main set. The first was "Downtown's Lights," and together, the two added extra twang to the track, sounding not unlike a modern version of Johnny Cash and June Carter. The other tune was a cover of Jason Molina's "The Dark Don't Hide It," which I understand they've been performing regularly and have released as a single for charity.
During the show, Kevin mentioned their earlier opening slots at the Fillmore, first with Real Estate and more recently with Wilco. Those of us who were there let him know when he asked if anyone had gone to the shows. Then he added that the Fillmore gig was the most tickets they've sold to a show in North America. It comes as no surprise to me that Kevin could be bigger in Europe than in the United States, as evidenced by the fellows next to me who reported that they had first seen him in Paris (France, not Texas). Though the venue wasn't completely sold out, the crowd was enthusiastic and just shy of a crush. It was the best of all worlds, and more important, we let the band understand exactly how much we loved having them in town. We even got a hallowed custom Fillmore poster at the end of the night.
Meg Duffy and her two-person band Hand Habits opened, and she was just as good on her own as she is with Kevin's group. Her guitar skills color the songs so vividly, and in some cases, she takes them past the "folk" label that many people seem to want to lazily apply to Kevin. She closed her set with "The Only Living Boy in New York." To sum up: It was a perfect night, and I can't wait to do it again.
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