The Playmaker
Let's play
  • It's Monday
    What day is it?
  • Now
    What time is it?
  • Anywhere in Auckland
    Where are you?
  • What do you feel like?
    What do you feel like?
  • And what else?
    And what else?
By Jasmine Crittenden
June 04, 2014
By Jasmine Crittenden
June 04, 2014

Illuminated by pyramids and backdropped by an enormous chameleonic moon, the Opera House Concert Hall stage was transformed into some enigmatic extraterrestrial woodland last week. James Vincent McMorrow emerged from the shadows like a creature born of such a setting — bearded like a werewolf yet singing at a pitch to touch the lower rungs of heaven. The Irishman's stories of "harrow winds", "desolate love" and hearts like "unending tombs" are those of a man who’s spent long periods in cold, lonely places.

Over the course of sixteen or so songs, McMorrow mixes up tunes from his folksy breakthough album Early in the Morning (2010) with those from recent release Post Tropical (2014). One minute he’s yearning his way though 'Glacier', filled out by mellifluous harmonies; the next McMorrow’s dropped an octave or two (as you do) and picked up the drum sticks to power through a rousing version of 'We Don’t Eat'.

Although the sophomore album represented a significant departure from the first, the structural soundness of the songwriting on both makes for a seamless live show. McMorrow's band creates an even more intense dynamic than that captured on his albums, delivering mournful clarinet solos, drum beats that range from tribal to all-out rock and ethereal counter melodies.

McMorrow doesn’t speak until he’s at least five songs in. Not because he’s deliberately reserved — but because he’s overwhelmed and nervous. "This is crazy, just crazy," he mutters, referring to the fact that he’s playing to a packed-out Opera House. Towards the end of the set, McMorrow introduces a song by explaining his last New Year’s Eve; when excited messages flooded his inbox informing him that he was sound-tracking Sydney’s midnight fireworks.

What the organisers might not have known at the time is that they were inadvertently facilitating two of McMorrow’s teenage ambitions. "If I hadn’t become a musician," he confesses, "I would have loved to have worked with explosives." He then launches into his famously fragile, solo version of 'Higher Love'.

Support came in the form of Airling, moniker of Brisbane-based artist Hannah Shepherd. Her gorgeous vocals glided over some ultra-smooth grooves and lush electronic arrangements.


Images by Prudence Upton.

Published on June 04, 2014 by Jasmine Crittenden


Tap and select Add to Home Screen to access Concrete Playground easily next time. x
Counter Pixel