We Went To A Show | James Vincent McMorrow at Alix Goolden

Review Colin Crawford  Photos Daniel Tolsma

At the end of November, Holy Smokes had the opportunity to see Irish singer-songwriter James Vincent McMorrow with special guest Allan Rayman. As a general rule, we will take any excuse to spend time in Alix Goolden Performance Hall, and this night did not disappoint. The pattering of rain on the stained glass windows, the high vaulted ceiling and the low-lighting set the atmosphere for this sold out audience of 800 eager fans.

The murmur of the crowd dimmed with the house lights as the silhouette of a hooded figure emerged onto the stage. Lit only by the glow of his pedalboard, Rayman’s sole band member looped heavily effected guitar layers on top of a cinematic backing track. After this introduction, Rayman himself confidently made his entrance sporting a long trench coat and at least five rings. Enveloped by a thick layer of smoke and subtle warm shades of underlighting, Rayman got into his unique brand of experimental soul/R&B. With unapologetic guitar epics backing Rayman’s voice, the set felt like a dark, slow, suspenseful film from the ‘80s. Rayman’s enigmatic, heavy hearted, vagabond persona Mr. Roadhouse has been carefully crafted through his lyrics, low social media profile and arthouse music videos. Rayman’s character commands attention with impassioned dancing, cringing and cackling, intoxicated by the stage. Masterfully oscillating between soft melancholy crooning and soulful growling, Rayman’s unconventional vocal style and range back up the swagger and theatrics he brings to his music. Check out his latest single 25.22 and keep an ear to the ground for this mysterious independent artist.

Drastically shifting the mood, James Vincent McMorrow and his four touring band members took the stage to Roy Ayer’s ‘Everybody Loves the Sunshine’. This Dublin native showcases his stylistic range by fusing folk, soul, gospel and jazz into a powerful live performance. Opening with a few upbeat and poppier tracks from his new record We Move, McMorrow and company filled the hall with catchy rhythms and layered instrumental and vocal harmonies. Once warmed up, we got some tuning chatter from McMorrow about how happy he was to return to Alix Goolden with a full band this go-round, as well as the fried chicken french toast he had to wait an hour for at Jam Cafe. The second section of this set featured four solo songs, including Lost Angles and a heart-wrenching piano cover of Steve Winwood’s ‘80s pop-gospel banger Higher Love. After serenading the audience alone, McMorrow called his band back to the stage to delve into crowd pleasers from his previous releases Early in the Morning and Post Tropical. In the final leg of this wonderfully lengthy set, McMorrow left the comfort of his keyboards and guitars for a few songs and got out on the front edge of the stage to just sing. Here more than ever we heard the raw power of this artist’s voice, sustaining incredible falsettos and reaching every note you hear on his records. Coming as no surprise to anyone, McMorrow closed out the night in the beautiful cathedral with his hit track Cavalier. The dramatic, crescendoing structure of this song lends itself to a feeling of closure, and with the final echo of his voice ringing in the hall, the crowd rose to their feet to say thank you.

Thanks to Atomique Productions for having us and thanks to you for reading!

-Colin Crawford