Kevin Morby / Jessica Pratt / Malcolm Jack

Electric Owl, Vancouver BC, February 21

Kevin Morby / Jessica Pratt / Malcolm JackElectric Owl, Vancouver BC, February 21
Photo: Steve Louie
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This was a cool bill from start to finish. Vancouver's Malcolm Jack opened with selections from his dreamy Dada Plan project, all jangly solo electric guitar with modulated vocals, dreamy in the kind of way where you can't shut off your brain at night and it keeps asking all those difficult, "meaning of life" questions.
 
Jessica Pratt followed as a duet with Cyrus Gengras on electric guitar, herself on acoustic. Her slightly demented, quivering, throaty vocals sat at the forefront of the sparse, haunting freak-folk backdrop like a lost dream from Greenwich Village in the '60s, somewhere between Malvina Reynolds, Joni Mitchell, Tim Buckley, Donovan and Skip Spence, or like Portishead's Beth Gibbons channelling Fred Neil. She has an inimitable voice, able to lull you into her world and then cut right through you.
 
They love Kevin Morby in Vancouver. As the Babies' frontman and former Woods bassist hit the stage, a vision in white with a button-up western shirt and matching pants, people yelled out praise for his talent and welcomes to Vancouver. Paired with drummer Justin Sullivan and guitarist Meg Duffy, Morby's set of folk-infused, lightly psychedelic indie rock had a sweet flow throughout. Sullivan mostly stuck to brushes on his kit throughout, while Morby was on an acoustic guitar for the first few tracks. The set settled at a simmer, but a few moments boiled over brilliantly.
 
For the title track from his 2013 solo debut Harlem River, Duffy switched to bass and Morby to electric guitar, which pushed the intensity up for the lengthy, progressive track. At its peak, Morby stepped back from the mic and tipped at the hip like a little teapot pouring out rock steeped in the tradition of Lou Reed and Bob Dylan. Similarly, the momentum would almost come to a complete stop in "Motors Running," from his 2014 sophomore release Still Life, before snapping into a jaunty head-bobber.
 
The blending of 3/4 and 4/4 time on "Amen" and "Miles, Miles, Miles" certainly enhanced this sense of changing gears, but that wasn't all. Sullivan and Duffy were so committed to the performance of "Amen" that they closed their eyes for much of it, playing from somewhere deep within, while the lonely traveler tune "Miles, Miles, Miles" featured Morby's most dextrous soloing. The power of Morby's conviction was never clearer than when he was left alone for "My Name" with only his guitar and his Dylan-esque drawl, then asked for the lights to be lowered as he channelled a bit of John Fahey in his acoustic picking for "If You Leave and If You Marry."
 
While their set was barely an hour, they did push well past curfew to deliver it, bringing back Duffy and Sullivan for a powerful cover of "I Hear You Calling" by Bill Fay, the perfect show-stopper to end their set on a high.
 
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