Kevin Morby Gets Spiritual at 9:30 Club

Kevin Morby is more poet than lyricist. With songs that feel more like spoken word, the bluesy rocker has a way of commanding attention with words that punch deep.

While his 2016 album City Music played like a love letter to his New York roots, the 2019 release Oh My God has a newfound spirituality attached to it that can even be seen at first glance, with song titles like “O Behold”, “No Halo”, and “Hail Mary”. While Morby’s music typically contains religious imagery, he fully embraced the spiritual language on this latest release. However, make no mistake — despite the language and performing with vocalists that sound akin to a gospel choir — these tracks are full of contradicting messages and imagery on religion and spirituality.

Exuding a vibe and sound that can only be described as Lou Reed meets Mac DeMarco, Morby played a cohesive set that spanned the entirety of his discography. Although he has five albums under his belt, there are similar motifs throughout them all, resulting in a performance that felt compatible and consistent. Kicking the night off with “Congratulations”, the night began with upbeat, dramatic flair.

“No Halo”, accompanied by audience hand-clapping that sounded like pattering rain, signified a shift in tone. The speedy claps and eerie undertones lent themselves to a celestial song with vivid imagery. Morby took the time to address the audience, reflecting on his many past stops in DC, saying that his total number of trips to the city totaled nearly a month, and as a result he, “feels very comfortable when [he] play[s] here.”

Morby played the Rock 'n' Roll Hotel back in 2017 and recalled that only about 100 people came. What a difference two years makes, for Morby and opening act Sam Cohen had the 9:30 Club packed nearly to capacity. Cohen, who recently released his own LP The Future’s Still Ringing in My Ears, also produced and played on Morby’s Oh My God, which was released three weeks earlier. Cohen, jumpstarted the night with a contagious optimism, proclaiming that Saturday was, “just gonna be a perfect night.”

And it was. With Cohen’s Bob Dylan esque vocals backed by gnarly guitar shreds and a Tame Impala like synth, the New York-based artist set the bar high for the night. Performing with a passion that surged throughout his entire body, Cohen kept the energy levels high as he transitioned flawlessly from his set to Morby’s.

Toward the end of the night, Morby asked for quiet, as he sang “Nothing Sacred/All Things Wild.” Accompanied only by congo drums, Morby’s sultry vocals washed over the hushed crowd. As the song carried on, more instruments chimed in, with Morby’s vocals growing stronger and louder with the progression.

The solemn mood continued with “Beautiful Strangers,” a protest song that calls out police brutality, the Pulse shooting in Florida, and asks listeners to “pray for Paris.” On Saturday night, however, Morby made a lyric change so subtle that it would’ve been lost on you had you not been paying full attention. In light of the recent shooting at Virginia Beach, Morby tweaked the numbers in the lyric, “Oh, flying overhead, forty-nine dead,” to “12 dead.” The song felt peaceful — Bob Dylan-esque almost with it's protest element — but the lyrics are anything but lighthearted.

Love my mama and my papa
Love my sister, can't stand the coppers up in their choppers
Oh, flying overhead, forty-nine dead
Singing, oh, my Lord, come carry me home
Oh, my Lord, come carry me home
I'm singing oh, my God, oh, my Lord
Oh, my God, oh, my Lord
Oh, my God, oh, my Lord
Oh, my Lord

And if I die too young for something I ain't done
Carry my name every day
Oh, I'm sorry
Oh, I'm sorry
Freddie Gray
But sleep easy like baby Jesus in a manger
Oh, sleep easy like little Jesus, beautiful stranger
Oh, beautiful stranger

// "Beautiful Strangers"  by Kevin Morby

Morby’s set was both multidimensional and peaceful, but above all else, respectful. There was a camaraderie among the band that transcended to the crowd. Whenever a musician had a solo, the others would turn, often with their backs to the crowd, to give that person their undivided attention.

Kevin Morby and Sam Cohen put on a helluva show. With their charm, and indisputable stage presence, these two are a tranquil force of rock ‘n roll to be reckoned with.

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About the author

Abbie Ginis

Abbie Ginis has been a music junkie for as long as she can remember. Hailing from Michigan (Go Blue!), she is eager to continue to explore and be immersed in the DMV music scene. When she's not at concerts, Abbie can be found at the movies or longingly ogling at puppies.