ACL Fest: Even a loud crowd can’t sour sweet James Vincent McMorrow

Irish singer-songwriter James Vincent McMorrow’s afternoon set at ACL Fest 2017 was marred by a common culprit that can hold back softer and folk acts playing fest sets: crowd noise.

Even through the outer-ring sprawl of blankets and folding chairs and into the thick of it mere feet away from the stage, McMorrow’s unfaltering falsetto struggled to break through a wall of chit-chat from selfie-takers and day-drinkers. McMorrow’s backing band banged, but his voice really took flight over sparse arrangements, an unfortunate thing when facing a young crowd that seemed to have a disregard for concert etiquette only rivaled by their disinterest in wearing undergarments. (Insert old-man fist shake.)

A large crowd is reflected in Irish singer-songwriter James Vincent McMorrow’s glasses as he performs on the HomeAway Stage during weekend one of the 2017 Austin City Limits Festival at Zilker Park Oct. 6, 2017.

Crowd noise complaints aside, McMorrow’s set soared. There’s a short list of artists who successfully pull off falsetto live in a meaningful way, and McMorrow pushes his powerful high-pitched voice out with a breath-taking passion and earnestness few can. His songs feel vulnerable but sexy, like Bon Iver tunes for the bedroom—somewhere between Rhye and The Bee Gees.

The bespeckled, bearded and… be-hatted McMorrow looked sharp on stage swapping between a stunning twinkling turquoise ax and a shiny all-black guitar. He also seemed to be having a blast on stage, laughing about Reptar and Golden Girls flags waving in the crowd and inadvertently (he claims) throwing his diamond in the sky, a la Jay-Z.

The crooner reeled in the rowdy crowd some as he stepped out from behind his keyboard and moved around the stage later in  his performance and began digging into a pair of people-pleasing hits: “Rising Water,” with its opening wobbly, funk-filled Stevie Wonder keys and synchronized hand claps, and set-closer “Cavalier,” with its anticipated high refrain of “I remember my first love,” which hit like a sledgehammer and sent the crowd into cheers on that first sweet delivery.

Today’s set comes at the end of roughly 16 months of touring, McMorrow said, and marked a rare Austin appearance for the band. If soulful folk with an R&B edges moves you, get it while the getting’s good: You can catch James Vincent McMorrow again this week at Scoot Inn and back at Zilker Park for Weekend Two of ACL.

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