Musical Instrument Museum Music Theater
May 23, 2013
Before belting into "Compartir," Carla Morrison addressed the crowd: "I never thought this was gonna happen. I'm so happy to be playing here tonight. I didn't grow up here, but I lived here for six years, and I consider this place my hometown, too."
After that, she moved into "Tu Orgullo" and moved across the stage doing her own version of the moonwalk: the high-heel-wearing type. Accompanied by a versatile four-piece band -- a bassist, a drummer, and two multi-instrumentalists who covered ukeleles, guitars, keyboards, samplers, trumpets, and background vocals -- Carla Morrison skirted across the stage dancing and singing, swiftly, but never without missing a beat; sometimes the spotlight wasn't able to catch up with her as she danced her way from one side to the other.
Hearing Carla Morrison sing is spiritual -- her voice rose from her small frame to conquer the world-class acoustics of the MIM, which made a perfect fit for the erstwhile hometown crooner. Seeing her live is bearing witness to a true force: Her energy is infectious. She sings without fear, almost as if she were alone in a room, with just her voice and her instruments. She's not one to stand still, though, and all night she worked the stage with sweet two-step dance moves in rhythm with the beat of the music while playing one of multiple instruments. She played the tambourine, the ukulele, the guitar, the drum, and used that voice of hers to capture the whole crowd.
The way she moved sometimes felt spiritual, as if she was engaged in prayer, and this was her worship. She would raise her arms, or wave her arms in tune with the music, as though she were channeling some special musical source.
Before she launched into, "Pajaritos del Amor," she said, by way of an introduction, "If the world is shaking, it's not because it's happy; it's because it's out of fear. The world needs our love, and it's not just because I'm a girl, and I believe in that stuff. It's because it's true." She encouraged the crowd to "Be free like los pajaritos del amor," which made the crowd yell in excitement. She dove into whistling like a lovebird for parts of the song. Who else can get away with mimicking a bird's song during a concert?
"I have plenty of messages throughout my concert, sorry," she said at one point, laughing. "I try to remind the public that we're all the same. It doesn't matter if you're gay or if you're not gay. You can't really manage the way your heart beats or the direction it takes. So please do not hate what you do not know. It's just love, and love is love."
She then started playing the familiar strumming pattern to her song, "Eres Tu." The music video for the song features Carla helping to organize a wedding for a gay couple. She mentioned that in her country, most people are still unwilling to accept gays, but if people put themselves in another person's shoes, they can understand each other better.
After shouts of "Otra! Otra! Otra!" she went into an encore.
She talked about how her family in the U.S. and the U.K. are always asking her when she's going to make a song in English, and she jokingly answered, "Never!" She said she listens to a lot of English speaking music, so she wanted to give it a try. She mentioned writing with her former band in Tempe, Babaluca, where she used to write English songs.
At the mention of Babaluca, the room clapped and screamed in support. Her solo project has never included any music in English, so she wrote the song, "The Truth," as an experiment. A song which was "inspired by a really, really hot guy," she said. She strummed alone with a ukulele, and a spotlight fell on her at the front of stage.
"Yes, it's true, it's you," she sang, "I want to come every night and love you. Yes, it's true, its only you; I want to grow old and have babies with you." The crowd laughed and clapped along; she giggled and turned red, but kept singing. "I was very clear," she said, laughing. "I am so sorry. I am very direct."
She talked about the six years she lived in Tempe, which were "the hardest years of my life because I was away from home," and, jokingly, "I wasn't over 21 to go drink and get wasted." It was hard being away from her family, she said, but they were also the "best years of my life, because I met the greatest people and it made me who I am now."
She dedicated the last song of her encore, "Tragos Amargos," to Mark Erickson, the former local songwriter and musician, who played in such bands as Colorstore, Gospel Claws, Sweetbleeders, and Roar, before passing away in September 2012. Before launching into her cover of Ramon Ayala's famous anthem, she made mention of Mark's continued influence over her music.
One day, "I met a friend, a really good friend, and this guy always pushed me to be a musician. He told me: I believe in you, Carla, if you go back to Mexico, you have to make this happen." She made a promise to him she would try.
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In tears, she said, "It hurts my heart that he's not here." Her cover of "Tragos Amargos" is largely his doing; one day he organized a country show and asked her to sing a song in Spanish for it. She picked that one, and he played it with her the first time she performed it. "I play this song all the time," she said, "and it has taken me to so many places. Just last week we played a big show, and Ramon Ayala, who wrote the song, played it with me.
"Mark keeps giving me really good moments, and it breaks my heart that I couldn't be here to show him. This is for you, Mark." She launched into a beautiful rendition of the song. All that was missing in Carla Morrison's return was some tragos to clink for Mark.
Critic's notebook: Last night: Carla Morrison at the Musical Instrument Museum Personal Bias: I've been listening to her since I heard "Esta Soledad" for the first time Overheard in the crowd: "Carla! We love you!" Random Notebook Dump: Disco pants!