Cate Le Bon, Kevin Morby Fitzgerald's Downstairs January 8, 2014
Cate Le Bon didn't dare wearing out her welcome Wednesday, but then again, it doesn't seem she would have been able to.
Around 8:30 p.m., the crowd was still scattered with groups and couples engrossed in various conversations, waiting for the show to begin. But once opener Kevin Morby took the stage, the room's attention shifted without hesitation.
As the band jumped into "Miles, Miles, Miles," the audience huddled around the stage and applauded the transition into "Sucker In the Void (The Lone Mile)." By just the second track, it was clear that Morby's set would prove to be more than just a cleverly constructed group of songs.
Because Morby is known for his work with The Babies and Woods, his ability as a songwriter isn't in question. Even so, because this is Morby's first tour in support of his debut solo album, Harlem River, it was hard to deny the importance of this performance.
Luckily, Morby's experience seemed to lend knowledge to how he should perform his solo work live, and he opted to utlilize the help of Babies' drummer, Justin Sullivan, as well as Le Bon's bandmate, Hugh Hawkline, on bass. Additionally, Morby made the decision to play every song on electric guitar, despite his album featuring more laid-back acoustic tracks.
Regardless, the Lubbock native was flawless in his execution. With tracks could be pop, and other times psychedelic or straight rock, he has the chops to combine influence from the likes of Bob Dylan and Lou Reed without sounding kitschy or forced.
As Will Canzoneri joined in on organ for "Harlem River," it was apparent that, while Morby has also been influenced by his everyday life experience, he's not someone who sits down with the intent to mimic those he admires. Instead, his performance felt original and refreshing in a time where music seems to be defined by fads.
Throughout his set, Morby proved himself to be soulful with an edge as he worked through tracks including "Wild Side (Oh The Places You'll Go,)" and "Slow Train," which features Cate Le Bon on the album version.
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But despite having recorded with Morby, Le Bon didn't make an appearance onstage until her set began.
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Dressed in a silver lamé gown, the Welsh singer-songwriter jumped straight into her set with "No God" and "Are You With Me Now?," two tracks off of her most recent album, Mug Museum. Right away, her natural talent as a musician shone through.
But despite a voice that isn't easily compared to other artists, Le Bon's greatest feature is yet to be determined. Sure, she can croon like Nico, and it's no problem for her to channel the grit and raw power of Martha Wainwright, but too much focus on her voice would take away from her obvious ability to play guitar.
That said, Le Bon felt most powerful when staring down her band in a way that seemed to challenge them to play better than they ever have. It's an intensity that isn't easily channeled, but Le Bon did so in between picking off riffs.
Because Morby "borrowed" Hawkline and Canzoneri from Le Bon's band for his set, both members felt familiar enough to the crowd. But instead of acting as organist, Canzoneri took over bass, while Hawkline switched between playing keys and guitar as drummer Nick Murray kept the pace of each song.
What was most surprising, however, was how well Hawkline was able to harmonize with Le Bon on tracks like "Duke" and "Puts Me to Work." It was so spot-on, in fact, that smiles could be seen exchanged between the two at times.
Because Le Bon spent much of her time onstage bewitching a crowd that danced and sang along, she rarely made time for small talk, and even turned down the opportunity to "tell a joke or story" while Hawkline tuned his guitar in between songs.
While this might not seem noteworthy, it was interesting to watch Le Bon in action.
When it comes to live music, some females play a persona while others will mimic the actions of their male counterparts. It's rare to see a woman stand onstage and be charming without trying to be, opting instead to get down to business and play her music. But that's exactly what Le Bon did; she was so certain of her abilities that she kept a flirtatious distance as she focused on her performance rather than wooing the crowd, and it worked to her advantage.
By the time she made it to "Sisters," it was apparent that any of the tracks that Le Bon performed live could be switched out with the album version and nobody would notice a difference. But like any enjoyable set, it seemed as though she was calling it quits too early when she departed with "Wild."
Of course she didn't make the crowd wait long at all before returning to the stage asking if they had "one more" in them before closing out the set with "Fold The Cloth" and "What Is Worse."
Not every audience walks away from a concert feeling satisfied, but Le Bon and Morby managed to make this one feel complete.
The Crowd: About three-fourths of the crowd were women, while nearly everyone in the room looked to be in their twenties.
Overheard In the Crowd: "She's dark in an endearing way." "Well I'm fat in an endearing way."
Random Notebook Dump: There's a brave girl to my right who abandoned her purse to dance. Note to self: never do that. Ever.
No God Are You With Me Now? Duke Puts Me to Work Eyes So Bright Mirror Me Sisters I Can't Help You He's Leaving Wild
Fold the Cloth What Is Worse
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