Kevin Morby's approach to his show at Longboat Hall was unexpected in a few ways. The singer-songwriter and guitarist (and Woods and Babies alum, though I think it's almost time we drop those references) did not preview material from his just-announced upcoming album, City Music (out June 16 on Dead Oceans) but instead focused on songs from 2014's Still Life and last year's acclaimed Singing Saw. Secondly, he did not bring a band to flesh out the songs, which benefited so beautifully on the record from the input of Sam Cohen and Marco Benevento (and many others).
Instead, Morby did the show in a much folkier fashion, perhaps closer to the songs' beginnings: alone on stage dressed all in white with an acoustic guitar (opener Waxahatchee, aka Katie Crutchfield, adopted the same uniform and setup). "This is the most people I've ever played my acoustic guitar for," he said to the 400-ish crowd, whom he spent part of the set cajoling into attentive silence, though he hardly had to. There'd been an unfortunately loud din over Mary Lattimore's concert harp and looping pedal opening set improvisations (which I'd love to see at a quieter venue). The crowd, somewhat less chatty during Waxahatchee's emotional campfire-like set, were actually pretty rapt for Morby, even mouthing along to many of his words.
Morby is a formidable force on his own, as a guitarist (some of his bigger tunes, like "Dorothy" and "I Have Been To The Mountain" maintained their oomph, sans band) and as a songwriter ("The Parade" off of Still Life, made you want to sing along). And while "All Of My Life" felt smaller, more fragile, Morby harnessed the quiet for a powerful rendition of "Destroyer" with Lattimore joining in at the end on the harp (this time, people were listening).
While the strongest part of Waxahatchee's set was arguably her haunting Lucinda Williams cover ("Greenville," off Car Wheels On A Gravel Road) the weakest part of Morby's set may have been his Townes Van Zandt cover (the oft-covered "If I Needed You"). Thankfully he came back out for an encore of "Oh Sweet Nuthin'," truncated rhythmically so it was more in the vein of "Rock & Roll" and then Bob Dylan's "Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You," which was absolutely charming. Seeing as Dylan's busy singing Sinatra, someone's gotta do Dylan.
Morby is a very good songwriter (his hour-long set felt woefully short) and clearly indebted to both Reed and Dylan. His prayer-like single "Beautiful Strangers" was a weather-appropriate set highlight in a set rather full of highlights, soft-rhyming "easy" with "Jesus." It was rainy day music that actually managed to bring the rain on, cause that's what you get for loving Dylan. I just wonder — and I'm not impatient for it — when Morby, like Cass McCombs for example, will start sounding like Morby, and not a blend of his impeccable influences.