Irish neo-soul. Cognitive dissonance? Sure, but also a reality that was validated when James Vincent McMorrow ended the US tour in support of We Move on Thursday night at The Wiltern.

After the house lights went down, McMorrow and band took their sweet time entering, allowing the house music of Roy Ayers Ubiquity’s “Everybody Loves the Sunshine” to play loud and proud, setting the stage for the soulful and sultry show that was to follow.

Photo by Katy Babcock
Photo by Katy Babcock

The opening song, “Red Dust” off of 2014’s shamefully overlooked Post Tropical, built quietly but quickly to an unexpected early show-stopping moment, as McMorrow’s soaring falsetto released over the tune’s final lyric.

Downbeat new track “I Lie Awake Every Night” drew the crowd in further with sexed up digital wobble and a collection of minimalist but effective stage lights that appeared in four horizontal rows of small and colorful squares at the musicians’ backs.

Photo by Katy Babcock
Photo by Katy Babcock

When he casually modulates between a skyscraper high register and a baritone whisper, McMorrow could be deemed Dublin’s de facto response to Justin Vernon’s curious futuristic Midwestern soul or to that of James Blake (minus a bit of Blake’s jagged edges and thump).

Single “Get Low,” one of the stand-out pieces on We Move, received much local love in response to its lyrical shout out to LA, the city in which much of the album was written. As with the opener, the song’s final section proved mesmerizing when McMorrow stepped away from the microphone to project his vocals sans amplification. The audience replied in kind. With the song still in its infancy (released only three months ago), it was impressive to see the crowd’s rapturous, spot-on reply.

A pair of more organic cuts off of JVM’s 2010 debut, Early In The Morning, evidenced just how far McMorrow has (and, in a way, hasn’t) come three albums into his career. The janglin’ “Breaking Hearts” could have been a late-90s Ben Harper track, while “Down The Burning Ropes” built theatrically. Then the band suddenly abandoned their frontman, leaving him to sing the high-wire outro without a safety net.

The final track on We Move, “Lost Angles,” provided what seems like, as of late, the requisite nightly opportunity for political lament. With McMorrow executing the song alone on piano, he begged us repeatedly, “Don’t let fear control you,” each time receiving a progressively louder response from The Wiltern.

If this built any anxiety, however, it was swiftly alleviated with a captivating solo rendition of Steve Winwood’s 1986 gem, “Higher Love,” a song McMorrow once released as a B-side and that he is known to perform live (not to mention it’s one of the best covers in recent memory).

Now at the show’s midpoint, there was a noticeable shift in gears, copped to by JVM himself: “I call this next part of the show the dance portion…well, dancing and crying.” And so it was.

A deranged, offbeat version of “Gold” contained a synth line that doubled as a muted trumpet that coaxed a massive build. There were Plinko-like percussive additions that contributed to the song sounding twice removed from its origins; it was like a remix of an elevator music version of the “Gold” released on Post Tropical. But it worked.

As did so much material from We Move. All but one song from the new album was played on Thursday. Vocal work in “Killer Whales” replicated a sample, though it was sung live, before culminating in a gorgeous ’80s synth twinkle, while layers of tasteful digital samples swelled on the excellent “Evil.”

Before “One Thousand Times,” JVM took the microphone in hand, discarded his guitar, and stepped away from his synth rig. He confidently toed a line to pull off what could’ve veered off the road and plummeted down a musical cliff into ’90s boy band trash, but instead rang true — as much of his Irish neo-soul material did throughout the evening.

The meditative, familial “We Don’t Eat” percolated from its start, eventually popping with gospel grandeur: “At dawn I would watch the sun cut ribbons through the bay. I’d remember all the things my mother wrote, ‘We don’t eat until your father’s at the table’.” This, James Vincent McMorrow’s first hit, is a sentimental killer that reflects back on maternal advice, interwoven into his own narrative.

Post Tropical’s “Cavalier” was played last, with titular strains of steel drum standing aside McMorrow’s faithful falsetto. With JVM’s arm to the sky, a beautiful walk down ending by the band appropriately sealed the show with a kiss.

Photo by Kyle Smith
Photo by Kyle Smith

James Vincent McMorrow at The Wiltern Setlist:

Red Dust
I Lie Awake Every Night
Last Story
Get Low
Breaking Hearts
Down the Burning Ropes
Lost Angles
Higher Love (Steve Winwood cover)
Hear the Noise That Moves So Soft and Low
Killer Whales
One Thousand Times
Rising Water
We Don’t Eat

If I Had a Boat

For more information:

James Vincent McMorrow