Kevin Morby Celebrates Life at Webster Hall
October 27, 2022
Kevin Morby – Webster Hall – October 26, 2022
Kevin Morby is an artist who’s lived many places: The mountains, cities and rivers of this beautiful but crazy country seep their way into his material, and sometimes they’re even the central focus of his songs. “New York City was my home for a long time. I lived here longer than anywhere else in my adult life,” said Morby last night at a sold-out Webster Hall, before introducing his final song, “Harlem River,” about the eight-mile tidal strait separating the Bronx from Manhattan, written just before moving away from the city. His love for his former home is palpable, it rolls through his music like the repeating bass line of “Harlem River.”
“I always dedicate this song to whatever city I am in, but it’s really about New York,“ Morby said of “City Music.” (Take that, other cities!) He’s since moved many places since, most recently to Kansas City, Kan., alongside his girlfriend, the also incredibly talented singer-songwriter Katie Crutchfield of Waxahatchee and Plains. You can sense that place and Crutchfield’s influence in his most recent album, This Is a Photograph, recorded and inspired by time he spent in Memphis, Tenn. The LP was printed on his backdrop and the title track opened last night’s set. The song’s refrain, “This is what I’ll miss about being alive,” was the night’s overall vibe, a true celebration shaking off years we’ve all spent perhaps too much time meditating on our own mortality.
You’d think Morby, donning a flashy fringe gold jacket, was hitting his Graceland era. If nothing else, the outfit highlighted his constant motion, showcasing that even onstage, Morby is not a man who can sit still. Softer moments in the set, like the gorgeously arranged “Bittersweet, TN,” still had him shifting his weight between his feet. The song featured a gorgeous back-and-forth trading of singing with backing vocalist Elizabeth Moen, a welcome touring member of Morby’s band who really elevated the arrangement with her gorgeous vocals. The new songs shined as bright as some of the best of his career. The jaunty “Rock Bottom,” is an absolute bop that had the Webster Hall balconies bouncing. “Stop Before I Cry,” is an incredibly sweet and moving love letter to Crutchfield. The way his arrangements traced every lyric made them dynamic and alive. Even toward the end of the set, with just Morby and Liam Kazar on slide guitar, it was the slide guitar following along, bringing out the heavy sentiments of the song.
The encore featured frequent collaborator, past tour mate and New York City’s own Hamilton Leithauser to join in on a cover of (also NYC’s own) Velvet Underground’s “What Goes On.” Leithauser stayed to sing through a verse of “Beautiful Strangers,” as well as Elizabeth Moen taking another. The track is not only one of Morby’s best but maybe one of the best songs by anyone over the past several years, perfectly encapsulating a yearning for an end to these anxious times. Morality weighs heavily on the song but punching through is a sense that love and music is always the antidote. It’s what I’ll miss most about being alive. —Dan Rickershauser | @D4nRicksJ
Photos courtesy of Toby Tenenbaum | @Tobytenenbaum