by Gargs Allard

Morningbell performed an emotionally inspired concert at the Heartwood Soundstage on Saturday, November 18 to a sold out crowd who seemed excited and pleased to see the entire band play together for the first time in four years.

“Entire band” meaning that three-fourths of Morningbell – namely guitarist and lead vocalist Travis Atria, bassist Eric Atria and drummer Chris Hillman – did play at the Wooly on February 18, 2017, but with Slims, Shitty Beatles and Darkhorse member Collin Whitlock, who played the keys in place of the band’s regular and stellar keyboardist, Stacie Atria, who is also Eric’s wife.

But on this night, Stacie was back, and in celebration of her birthday, Eric dedicated a cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Free Man in Paris,” replete with himself on the lead vocals, to her obvious delight.

Since the whole band played together last, the prolific frontman Travis Atria has moved to New York City and back, written the authorized biography of Curtis Mayfield (Traveling Soul: The Life of Curtis Mayfield) to a nice critical reception, remastered the band’s latest album Boa Noite (2013), and got married. Despite all that, Travis and the band looked happy to be back on stage in front of an appreciative audience.

“It felt good to play together again,” Travis said. “We all realized how much we miss it.”

photo by Gargs Allard

The setlist featured two new songs, which will presumably be included on their next album – one that the band played during their first set, called “Moonbrain,” whose style of soul and metal blended masterfully well together. The second one, “Jazz Cigarette,” brought tears to the eyes of many in attendance. Both songs were accompanied by the heavenly voices of special guests Ricky Kendall and Sam Moss.

Travis said in a recent Gargsville Radio Hour interview that these days he doesn’t want to write about anything except what’s on the forefront of his mind – the dire state of the world – particularly climate change, which he said terrifies him.

If these two songs are any indication, perhaps we can expect one profoundly inspired, save the whales of a concept album in the works.

On a personal note, before I checked into the beautiful Heartwood Soundstage that night, a woman in front of me pondered whether she should go to the show or not (she would have to see it outside the venue on a screen as the show was already sold out). She had never heard Morningbell play before. “How do you describe them?” she said. “What genre of music are they?” The young man working the ticket table seemed a little befuddled in his answer. 

The truth is, one of the geniuses of Travis Atria and Morningbell is their ability to play many genres, as if each genre was their forté. Whether it is psychedelic, soul, jazz, prog, hard rock, or music inspired by Motown or the Beatles, this concert proved that this is one versatile band full of accomplished musicians that plays everything they perform top notch. Even their performance of “We Are the World,” which caught the crowd by surprise and laughing at first, made the song sound closer to epic than cheesy before it was through.

Photo by Glani Lima

The band chose about 16 songs from their impressive back catalogue that displayed their eclectic nature fairly well, leading off with “You Think I Don’t Know but I know,” and then progressing through songs such as “Mars, It’s Alright,” “Marching Off to War,” “Goodbye and Goodbye and Goodbye,” “Hello, Dali” and “You Needn’t Had Bothered, Baby” among other favorites.

The brothers Atria are entertaining fellows, and in-between songs they talked about such interesting subject matters as butt-grabbing their respective wives, their mother’s knowledge of the Internet, and how many days Eric had been with and without his wife in his life, which just happened to add up to the same number as of her birthday.

Toward show’s end, the enthusiastic crowd repeated the chorus of “Let’s Not Lose Our Heads” until one concert-goer, who had closed his eyes during the chanting, claimed he had a near out-of-body experience.

The band’s rendition of “Tomorrow Never Knows” showed off the mad skills of the band’s rhythm section, and served as an impressive example of what to expect when the Shitty Beatles play the Wooly on November 30.
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Before the show, Heartwood Co-Owner Bob McPeek announced he would be taking some time off from his regular duties at heartwood after the show in order to recover from a serious illness.

photo by Glani Lima

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