KEVIN MORBY + SHANNON LAY @ THE TERAGRAM BALLROOM
Photos by Maximilian Ho Words by Madison Desler
“It’s very surreal for us to be playing where we all live,” Kevin Morby said last night to a sold-out Teragram Ballroom. “Thank you for filling up this beautiful room.” Morby’s been on tour since releasing the excellent City Music back in June, and with countless shows planned for next year, the concept of him actually living anywhere seems somewhat inaccurate. As he put it, he “has a bed here”—hardly a description of a settled existence. It’s this wandering that inspired the album, the memory of countless places and faces that Morby has been unable to shake finding their way into song.
Taking the stage in a black suit covered in whimsical, white music notes, he began his set with City Music’s title track. The lyrical simplicity (little more than “Oh that city music/Oh that city sound”) allows the music to take center stage, forcing you to pay attention to the way the way it builds. Guided by the shimmering guitar riff, Morby took the song from tentative to euphoric, unfurling it like a night out on the town. As the tempo picked up and his voice grew wild, you could actually feel yourself cutting loose—the effect of the city streets taking hold.
Morby’s specialty is atmosphere. Sure, there are rippers that owe lineage to his days with The Babies like his ode to The Ramones (“1-2-3-4”) or “I Have Been To The Mountain,” which was performed with such a fire, it shape-shifted into a grungey, borderline-ska chugger—with Morby increasing his resemblance to a lovable, shaggy dog by shaking his curly mop around. But songs like the sexy, humid “Harlem River” and keyboard-driven “Destroyer” are a slow burn, working their way into your bloodstream until you inexplicably need more. The latter featured the dreamiest of slide guitar solos from workhorse Meg Duffy, whose inspired, blue-sky playing often took the longer songs to their most rapturous places.
What Morby and his band do is not obvious. You have to pay attention. You must be present. Anyone who is talking through the whole concert is gonna miss the fucking point. Exactly the case with a man who (very loudly) kept equating Morby’s value with the amount of people that were dancing. I don’t know what you were expecting, dude, but if you want to bust a move to “Downtown’s Lights” be my damn guest. The rest of us were content with a gentle sway, letting it wash over us like ether.
Ironically, it was Morby’s solo performance of “Beautiful Stangers” that finally shut this guy up. Inspired by the senseless violence of terrorist attacks and police brutality, Morby and his acoustic brought the whole room to a halt. It was the line “Pray for Paris/They cannot scare us/Or stop the music,” that finally illicited a roar of approval from the audience, crystallizing Morby’s ability to make even a song about dying, nothing but life-affirming.
The band returned for a three-song encore of “Dry Your Eyes”—featuring more slide from guitar-hero Duffy—the melancholy shuffle of fan favorite “Cut Me Down,” and the rambunctious “Dorothy,” sending us off with a song in our mouths as we spilled out onto the Los Angeles streets.
The show was opened by folk siren Shannon Lay—her intimate set and mood-altering abilities the perfect primer for Morby and his band. The Feels’ guitarist has a new album out Living Water on Morby’s label Mare Records.