On vacation this past week. It was my first extended stretch of time off since late last fall. I stayed put, not feeling the urge to skip town. I’ve been working extra hours regularly since landing the new apartment in January and finally hit a wall at about Memorial Day.
I’m finding I can make the math work and can handle the extra job hours as long as I don’t try to wedge in a late night of fun when the tank is empty.
Two Friday’s ago (May 31, 2019), Kevin Morby (pictured above) came to town to perform on the big stage at The Town Hall in Times Square. Touring in support of his great new two-LP release Oh My God, Morby is now playing bigger rooms in big cities. He did some 15 US dates on this stretch, almost all of them in big theatres and ballrooms – and without the super-punishing travel itinerary he usually tackles.
He started a five-week run in Europe yesterday. That itinerary appears grueling on paper. Venues with large capacities in Brussels, Amsterdam, London, Paris will begin the stretch. He’ll do the second half of the tour performing solo (accompanied only by Herman Mehari on trumpet) in smaller cities (including Toulouse).
While it’s fun seeing him pretty much in any form or place, the current band he’s put together matches expectations that coincide with bigger audiences and bigger, more majestic venues. The lush sounds from a stage with eight talented, well-rehearsed performers is bringing the fantastic record fully to life. He’s calling it the Oh My God band.
It’s this newly-assembled group of eight that was in midseason form for the New York show:
Lauren Balthrop – backing vocals/shakers/wide smiles
Cochema Gastelum – sax/flute
Alecia Chakour – backing vocals/shakers/artistic dancing
Jared Samuel – piano / organ
Sam Cohen – lead guitar
Cyrus Gengras – bass
Nick Kinsey – drums / congas
Kevin Morby – main man
They played the new record almost in its entirety. Katie Crutchfield, who Morby often introduces to the audience as his “better half,” made a special stage appearance to sing the second verse of Beautiful Strangers starting with “If you ever hear that gunshot.” Crutchfield and Morby sang the Paris part in unison which was special and put a charge into the night.
I really love the song Hail Mary from the new record. It’s such a big, image-inducing number. In it, Morby tells the story of many of the human stars in his constellation – mostly if not all real characters who come and go into a story that culminates with Morby’s declaration of victory for being alive.
The live rendition of Mary at Town Hall came in the first ten minutes of the gig and unfortunately the sound board hadn’t yet found sweet spots with levels. The brilliant Samuel organ part following “it’s all white noise – so play it boys” was lost underneath it all. Even Morby’s vocals were too low for the song’s duration which was only a bummer briefly because the mix found perfect alignment soon thereafter. The bottom line for me is that Hail Mary is an all-time great song. It’s a New York song. It references the emotion Morby has felt while watching the New York City marathon. Hearing that part really clicked for me. I’d always thought I had a peculiar sensitivity to the marathon. The way it makes me feel when I see runners pass at various points in Brooklyn and Queens has generated heavy duty internal thunder that I can’t replicate with any other stimuli except maybe certain high school athletic events. This song’s mention of the marathon – and the winding story Morby tells before getting to that point pulls me in hard every time I hear it.
Seven Devils (also on new record) was particularly powerful at this show. It’s sparely scored to start but lyrically intense. Morby sings with bigger than usual range and then gives way to a serious Sam Cohen guitar jam.
The Balthrop / Chakour backing vocals on Savannah were so cleanly projected – so perfect sounding – it almost didn’t sound real. And then Gastelum comes in with the sax pops while Morby is almost rapping his lines – and wow – what a crazy song this is. It’s an inventive stylistic twist but not completely out of left field given the progressively more ambitious creative output each of the five solo records has brought.
Tickets were $35 plus service charges. I sat in the sixth row – stage left. The audience remained seated throughout except for the very end when the energy of Harlem River prompted people to pop up. There were scattered empties among Town Hall’s 1500 seats. The crowd appeared less youthful, more WFUV-ish than previous iterations of Morby live show fandom. The set ran one hour and forty minutes with a 9 PM prompt start time. Walking out onto 43rd Street with the Broadway show-goers clogging the sidewalks and the lights pulsing was a surreal post-gig feeling.
A week later, I attended the Belmont Stakes on a beautiful afternoon at the big plant in Elmont. I sat up with Carsoni in section 3T and enjoyed watching the pick four sequence open with 18.9-1 surprise winner Hog Creek Hustle. Two logical and legitimate winners followed with Mitlole’s brilliance in the Met Mile and Bricks and Mortar in the Manhattan.
As the Belmont field paraded before the race on the main straight, Tacitus looked physically imposing and starkly the best. He was bet that way (1.95 to 1). But Tacitus (a gorgeous grey) ran extra distance on the outer paths which set the table for Mark Casse’s B actor entrant Sir Winston to win his first graded stakes race at 10.2 to 1. Winston was undercovered in the pick four pool relative to other similarly priced longshots and so the bet paid a generous $2118 on a 50-cent play. The money fattened my front pocket for about a week before I returned to the track Friday afternoon and gave a chunk of it back.
The track announced attendance on Belmont Stakes day at 56,217. Because of the manageable crowd size, there were none of the typical amenity snafus associated with this event beyond a poorly staffed and disorganized entry gate. It took a good 45 minutes to get in the place. LIRR train service was on time and effective. I brought in a deli sandwich from the outside and limited my reliance on the awful, overcrowded concession options to two single-serving plastic bottles of red wine at $15 per.
I go back to work tomorrow. I’m working in the new terminal space at LaGuardia as of June 2. My Mom visits next weekend. Will return with observations about the new airport building and much more soon – now that I’ve finally started to settle in a bit with the new apartment, new routine.