Live review: Celtic Connections: James Vincent McMorrow, Siobhan Wilson at City Halls, 28/1/14

james-vincent-mcmorrowlargeCity Halls is a beautiful venue often used most often for classical concerts, when I’ve been in the white court-like room before, it has been to see orchestras perform on red carpet.

The orchestra puppets sliding bows and beaters jumping expertly to the rhythmic command of the conductor.

Tonight, it will be interesting to see the City Halls relax to the sounds of Siobhan Wilson and James Vincent McMorrow.

There’s a winter feeling to the stage Siobhan Wilson stands on; ivory papercraft tipi’s are on the floor, with frost mist gathering around, and a large white moon hung above – it’s a geometric, gentle scene and a stark change from the venue’s usual outfit.

One of Wilson’s first songs complements the snow-looking stage: “I don’t want Christmas to come again this year,” she sings in a lovely tone.

The song tells the story of being dissatisfied as time passes and questions still remain unanswered and life’s knots are still tightly tied, as she shakes the guitar throughout to create echo and add atmosphere.

Her voice has an old-fashioned feel, matching her flicking liner and sixties hair, in that theme I guess she’s somewhere between Jackie O and Janis J!

A highlight is her cover of Joni Mitchell’s ‘A Case of You’, clearly a favourite of hers, her brows furrowed and knee jerking with meaning as she sings the chorus line “I could drink a case of you”.

Some of her set has a great country tinge and there’s something Dolly about it – the brilliant voice of ‘Little Sparrow’ more than the cheese of ‘9 to 5’.

An unnamed song just recorded in Inverary is interesting, promising for the new EP and gets a big round of applause.

Lyrically, Wilson is a girl after every girl’s heart with honest lyrics like: “he did me wrong, I let him get me down, all I ever wanted was to love and be loved, shame oh-oh-on him”.

Her last song ‘All Dressed Up’ is a Jolene tale with a swingy She and Him beat, singing with real swoon, she takes us through a night of dressing up for a man that loves someone else.

When James Vincent McMorrow comes on, the stage comes to life; the pure white stage is lit up, with the pyramids turning pink, blue and green throughout the set and the moon turning from planet to galaxy – it’s a great set and absolutely mesmerizing.

Mesmerizing, too, is McMorrow himself, his voice seems to come from beyond him and he’s so wrapped on the music that he doesn’t interact with the audience until quite a way through the set.

When he does, he’s very quiet, to the point of almost being cutesy, and self-deprecating: “I haven’t even said hello yet, it’s just so nice to go from song to song”.

He talks about his last Celtic Connections appearance and how humbled he was to be amongst “luminaries”.

The onstage colours and shapes of have a chiaro scuro effect on McMorrow’s face, emphasising his sincerity and concentration.

When he belts out his lyrics in his high pitch shrill (not in a harsh way) it’s quite – cliché warning – spine tingling: “take me to the heart of his river… Sometimes my hands don’t feel my own/ I need somebody to hold”.

Work from the new album, Post-Tropical, sounds the best; the quality of acoustic songwriting with trip-hop beats and experimental dance beats.

McMorrow – early on in his tour – seems to really enjoy the music he is playing which you can feel as an audience member.

With a more elaborate stage production and more musicians onstage it would be reminiscent of Bon Iver’s last tour.

The gig stands out as being different from any other I’ve seen during Celtic Connections.

McMorrow is being creative with song structure – for example a sudden cut off after a sudden rock swell – and the audience are thrilled with it.

Instrumentally there are drums, keys, mandolin and guitar as well as harmonies and tastefully done handclaps.

The glory of being in City Halls and far from the chit-chatter of Oran Mor is that the offbeat claps and little musical quirks have their intended, surprising, impact.

Older songs sound a tad freer and rockier, the combination of a two is a good mix.

‘Higher Love’ isn’t in the main body of the set and it isn’t even in the encore, this is no bad thing and as the crowd clap and rise to their feet it’s clear it was just perfect without it.

Words: Leonie Colmar

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