Morlove w/ Hannah Epperson - April 25, 2013, Merlin's Sun Theatre, Victoria, BC
Part way through her opening set, violin champion Hannah Epperson deftly noted, “Space is an important part of music and community.” She was pointing out the obvious as Merlin’s Sun Theatre, was the venue for this amazingly intimate performance. Locked deep in the heart of Fairfield, Victoria, Merlin’s Sun is a home theatre built by puppeteer Tim Gosley who began the festivities with a pretty hilarious introduction from two of his stuff compatriots. The importance of the venue on this night can hardly be overstated…it was simply the perfect place to experience Morlove.
I know nothing about the violin, really nothing. So when I realized that Epperson was alone on the stage with just her violin I was admittedly hesitant, not knowing what to expect or even how to process what I was about to see. It quickly became evident that my lack of knowledge didn’t really matter – I could tell pretty much right off the bat that Epperson is a virtuoso with her instrument. Her ability to use the instrument in such a variety of ways, combined with the use of looping technology, is magical. When I closed my eyes as she added layer upon layer to each song I could hear a group of players, all playing different but complimenting pieces. Her voice has a gentle indie whisper that is hard to ignore and her grasp of music as whole helps her incorporate a wide array of styles, sounds and textures. I certainly can’t recall a time when a single white girl tapped the strings of a violin and, for just a second, brought to mind the beat from Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “Niggas in Paris.” Impressive.
From the opening moments of Morlove’s incredible relationship study “Skeleton,” from their new album, Old Tomorrow, I was captivated. (The song also contains one of my new favourite lyrics “Every time I struggle with the clash between devotion and autonomy.”) Unplugged and seemingly hanging in the ether, the group was in super-intimate mode with the venue amplifying the closeness of the music. This was the live equivalent of listening at home with the headphones on. Singer/guitarist Corwin Fox noted that he hoped the band being unplugged would allow the small, but packed audience to hear the words and hear the words we could. Miss Emily Brown’s voice is an ethereal weapon that she wields with palpable control with Fox’s deeper, earthier voice keeping the harmonies grounded. They complement each other wonderfully. Together with the deep, emotive tones of Christina Zaenker’s cello and the aforementioned Hannah Epperson’s precision violin playing, Morlove is a quiet musical juggernaut. (Big props also go to Manj Benning’s tabla playing. I don’t listen to much tabla, but I always dig it when I do.)
Like an episode of Storytellers, the venue allowed for thoughtful, quiet conversation between Fox, Brown and their quietly rapt audience. Hearing the stories behind certain songs really did make their impact all the stronger, like knowing a movie is based on a true story. Sometimes I worry that hearing the meaning of a song straight from the horse-singer’s mouth negatively impacts my hearing of the song, like the personal meaning I may be extracting from it is being ripped away. But on this night, my enjoyment of each song was most assuredly amplified upon hearing of the origins. I don’t know if this is how Morlove approaches every show, but I can only hope for your sake it is.
Learning that my favourite song from this latest record, “Architect,” was actually built by taking the weaving pattern of Fox’s traditional family tartan and placing it over a music staff, and then interpreting it sonically, is something that augments a song that already had my attention. Or, how about learning that the supple “There’s a Light” was based on a pattern given to them by a fan who had won a contest by finding a golden ticket (“Actually it was a Caramilk wrapper,” remarked Brown). The pattern the fan submitted was actually her sequential journal of her experience during child birth. The band created a graph out of her detailed descriptions and, like the tartan weaving pattern, placed the graph onto a music staff. How fucking cool is that? Life in a song.
I won’t spoil anymore of their stories here. I’ll save them for you to hear straight from the group after you take my advice and find a place to see them. Seriously, go check out Morlove. I’m pretty sure you won’t be disappointed. Well, if you’re looking to have your face blasted off with noise and raucous energy, you might be disappointed. But if you want a thoughtful, poignant musical experience, you’ll end up like I was at the end of the night – relaxed, elated and ready for a long evening walk home.