Matt Morris | 02.25.10 | Bluebird Theater
In a recent conversation Matt Morris and I had about his album, he sternly -- well, as sternly as possible; the guy's an absolute sweetheart -- deflected an assertion that his album lacked a certain continuity.
On record, Morris deftly tries on a variety of styles over the course of When Everything Breaks Open. The disc starts off strong with "Don't You Dare," a Muse-esque modern rock track, "Money," a sultry, horn-inflected R&B cut, and the dub-tinged "Love." He brings it down a few notches for "Bloodline," a subdued, contemplative ballad, and "Live Forever," an almost turnkey adult contemporary number, before bringing it back up a bit with "The Un-American," a plodding cut that helps account for the Freddie Mercury comparisons. From there, although the album kicks up briefly with the Minneapolis funk of "You Do It For Me," the rest seems to sag a bit towards the end under the weight of a few too many earnest ballads.
"You have to see it live," he insisted, and he was right. As it turns out, it's really just a question of sequencing -- although this was not readily apparent last night three songs in, when it appeared that Morris would be playing the entire album in the running order as it appears on the record. Around mid set or so, Morris played the more contemplative songs, but then wasted no time kicking things back into high gear for a strong finish.
Morris appeared on stage clad in a black leather jacket with a white deep V-neck, wearing a winsome smile that let us all know exactly what he was thinking without him even having to say a word. Watching him survey the sold out crowd, it was as if there was a word bubble above his head that read "WOW!"
The set kicked off with "Don't You Dare," which blended seamlessly into "Money," just as it does on the record. The vocals for the first two songs were especially prominent, allowing us to hear every nuance of Morris's supple vocals -- including his in-between banter, which he delivered in a sing-song fashion during the opening strains of "Love," which featured the lovely and talented Jess DiNicola (John Common & Blinding Flashes of Light, Jen Korte) on backing vocals. On this particular song, DiNicola harmonized with Morris in a lower register, presumably to suit his notably elevated range. For his part, during a few of the higher vocal runs, Morris seemed a little pitchy, but judging from the rest of his performance, this was most likely due to his excitement and perhaps even nerves. As a performer, Morris is about as seasoned as they come.
During the next song, "Just Before the Morning Comes," is when Morris noticeably switched things up. Originally an instrumental penned by guitarist Dave Preston, the song is one that Morris fell in love with and made his own. Nonetheless, it's one that Morris gladly shared the spotlight with Preston by stepping off to the side during his solo allowing him to shine.
When the song finished, Morris acknowledged his own roots in the Mile High City ("It all started here," he pointed out. "Denver. With a guitar and the will to make music") and praised Preston, and then took time to note that Denver is brimming with kindred musical talent. "We have good music here," he enthused. "People keep asking me if I need to move to New York or LA. I don't need to move."
With that, Morris launched into "Someone to Love You," which stilled a good portion of the audience (sans a few Woo! Girls making their way up the stairs to the balcony), and then brought DiNicola back up for "Bloodline," to handle Patty Griffin's parts, a role DiNicola's more than fit to play. After that somber turn, Morris unexpectedly sent the momentum skyward by calling up Jonny 5 and Brer Rabbit (Jamie Laurie and Stephen Brackett to you and I) from Flobots on stage for a fevered version of "In This House." From that point on, Morris had the crowd, which screamed in response as he showcased the finer points of his supple falsetto, in the palm of his hand.
After a few words from the Flobots dudes, who acknowledged Morris as being an early adopter of their Fight With Tools movement, Morris fittingly followed up with "The Un-American," a sneering ode to conservative preconceptions, boasting the lines "The un-American should really stop complaining/He ought to take a trip to Disney/Get his head on right," words that prompted Morris to flash a knowing grin, a hat tip to his own time in the mouse's shadow.
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The highlight of the evening came towards the end of Morris's set during "Live Forever" -- a song which Alice 105.9 will add to regular rotation on Monday -- when the bulk of the capacity crowd clapped along, an event that prompted the perpetually Flip-cam armed Morris to remark, "I hope somebody has a Flip. This needs to be on YouTube."
Overall, as the show wound down, you got the sense that this was Morris's coming out party. Upon being added to Alice next week, everything may well indeed break open for the young singer-songwriter. As far as mainstream pop goes, we could do a hell of a lot worse.
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal Bias: The only artist I've seen that has as striking as Morris is Jimmy Gnecco of Ours, and they both stand in the shadow of Jeff Buckley, who is godlike to me. Random Detail: As I was shooting the footage for the above clip, a guy kept bumping into me. Could only see him out of the corner of my eye, and so I assumed it was just a random drunk guy. Finally turned to look, and realized it was Isaac Slade from the Fray. By the Way: 1) Morris gave a shout out to his mom, who was evidently in the audience in the company of her elementary school teacher friends. 2) The sound at the Bluebird last night was exceptional. Come to find out
studio ace John Macy Tom Payetta was the man behind the board. 3) Openers John Common & Blinding Flashes of Light were in dependably fine form. 4) If you missed the show last night, Morris is playing an in-store performance tonight at 6 p.m. at Twist & Shout.