Like many performers, Morby recently hit the road after a long break, and though things are different as we continue to wind our way through the pandemic, he’s glad to be back on stage. It feels great, he says, "but it also feels different, for a few reasons. Seeing people in masks is one. Also, there are some situations where I would normally get closer to the audience or in the audience,” he continues. “So, I can't really do that as much as I could in the past, but it feels strange, and it feels the same, and it feels even more chaotic or more cathartic all at once."
Morby is sharing the bill on this tour with another singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Hamilton Leithauser. The two recently collaborated on the track “Virginia Beach,” which grew from a mutual admiration for one another’s songs.
“We’ve been friends and fans of each other’s work for quite a few years. We’ve played shows together here and there — it was fun to collaborate on something like this.” Morby says. “He wrote all the music and sent it to me. He had lyrics but wanted to take the song in a new direction. I don’t normally do that to a song that already exists, but it was fun. I wanted to write a song about traveling to all the weird corners of America you end up in on tour.”
It’s a song that grabs you before you have a second to breathe and think it over. It launches with superb fingerpicking that has a gentleness to it while never losing its intention. Even as more instruments enter the picture, it takes a back row and creates a foundation. Both singers have distinctly compelling voices that shine individually and when they mix and mingle. As it tells its traveling tale, the song’s sonic punchiness and vigor invoke the emotive spirit of classic acts like The Band.
Fun fact: If you go to the show, you’ll get to see the two acts rock this song together.
Morby wants people to prepare for an entertaining night. He likens this tour to Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue back in the mid-‘70s. “Hamilton and I are sharing a band, and they’re incredible. It’s kind of like I brought in half of my band, and he brought in half of his. It’s a big band, and we have (singer) Jess Williamson playing with us as well, sitting in with both of us. It almost feels like a variety show where different people keep taking the spotlight. It’s a really great evening, and we’ve been having a lot of fun.”
In addition to prepping for the tour, Morby has been busy with a few things lately. One is A Night at the Little Los Angeles. It’s a four-track version of his 2020 record, Sundowner. The title's "Little Los Angeles" refers to the shed at his L.A. digs where he recorded early versions of the Sundowner songs.
Unlocking those bare-bones tracks is a vulnerable move. What made Morby offer this look into his musical closet? “I was really close to those recordings — there was a time when I wanted them to be the actual record,” he says, “but then I decided to go into a studio and make them a little bit more sonically pleasing.”
But he couldn’t shake the desire for them to be heard. “I was mourning the fact that those recordings weren’t going to see the light of day, so I reached out to my label, and we put together this demos album."
He’s also a fan of hearing formative works by other musicians. “I love home recordings and demos, usually more than proper albums, so it was fun for me to get into this territory. I am glad we found a way to release these songs, and I’m really proud of them.”
Morby consistently creates songs that have a haunting, atmospheric elegance. There’s a brilliance and unpredictability in the way he uses space in his music. Getting into these demos offers an exciting listen to how the songs’ architecture developed. They’re also hypnotic in their starkness, with their wounds hanging open.
He’s also got another record in the bag, and he’s playing some of those unreleased tunes on the tour. Things seem to be pretty swell for Morby.
“My mind is blown every day that I get to do this for a living. I am so grateful that there are people who care and are coming to shows and buying my albums. I thank my lucky stars every day.”
Kevin Morby and Hamilton Leithauser. 7:30 p.m. Monday, October 25, at Crescent Ballroom, 308 North Second Avenue. Tickets are $30.