Material: In 1999, Mark Sandman, lead singer of Morphine, died on stage in Italy of a heart attack. A decade later, the remaining members of the groundbreaking alternative delta blues/ psychedelic jazz outfit reunited (with vocalist Jeremy Lyons taking Sandman’s place), cycling through multiple names before settling on Vapors of Morphine. As one might expect, their sound is not just similar but overlapping, incorporating classic Morphine tunes like “Sheila” and “Candy” into their set.
Musicianship: It’s no surprise a critically acclaimed band signed to DreamWorks would bleed impressive skill. Every note undulates with shimmering grace, sinister in undertone yet imbued with a gentle, soothing feel that persistently threatens to break loose. Sandman’s lyrics sport a beat poet’s sensibility, laden with existential imagesboth abstract and personal, and Lyons’ vocal intonations trod a similar path.
Performance: Vapors of Morphine’s waking dream aesthetic lends itself to their understated presentation. Dressing conservatively and remaining virtually still, they’re content with letting their music speak for itself. When they do address the audience, it’s Colley who does so via monotone, deadpan humor, which oddly works.
Besides calling out the group’s name and spotlighting the individual players, amusing interludes include games like “Where Are You From?,” which, you might accurately assume, involves posing that very question to a random audience member. Some form of branding, namely a logo, would help spice their mild visual presence.
Summary: Vapors of Morphine carry on the vision paved by Sandman, whose unusual oeuvre some would argue created an entire subgenre, one the Cambridge, MA band labeled “low rock.” In a way, it is equally beautiful and inspiring to observe such devotion to their late friend, evangelizing his brilliance with unmatchable finesse.
Simultaneously, it’s mildly heartbreaking to witness insanely talented players hemmed in by their past. An imminent album may dispel the curse of this double-edged sword, but the final outcome, good or bad, won’t change the fact that great material endures forever.
The Players: Dana Colley, electric baritone sax, harmonica, vocals; Jeremy Lyons, vocals, guitar, 2-string slide bass, electric bouzouki; Jerome Deupree, drums.
Photo by Apple Kaufmann
Venue: Atwood’s Tavern
City: Cambridge, MA
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