Maren Morris (Photo: by Daniel Kielman)
She may be rising quickly in thanks to the insane popularity of being the featured vocalist on the Zedd track “The Middle” last year, but Maren Morris‘ solo work is reason enough to warrant her ascension in the pop/country genre.
She has played in and around the Bay Area a few times in the last few years, but always opening for other country acts, making her sold-out show at the Masonic her first headlining gig in San Francisco and one of the first stops on her GIRL The World Tour 2019. When the show started, she rose from the back of the stage with guitar in hand, starting with the self-titled track from her latest album GIRL. She immediately showed that she’s always had enough experience under her belt to headline. That this was the Masonic is an impressive accomplishment this early into her career, and as the night continued, Morris proved that she’s earned her passionate crowd beyond just one insanely popular track.
The night leaned heavily on selections from her latest album, and while this reviewer would have preferred a more evenly-balanced load that included more songs from her debut album Hero, Morris’ new tracks showed a good translation to the live setting this early into their release. Some songs definitely feel like instant classics, like the charmingly goofy rock take of “The Feels” and the subdued ballad “The Bones,” while other tracks that leaned heavier into the pop side of things did little to make them feel like they should continue into subsequent tours. “RSVP” is an odd one I can’t quite get into, and even though she brought out opener Cassadee Pope to fill the guest spot provided by Brothers Osborne on “All My Favorite People,” it still leans too heavily into the corny to endure (despite both artists great vocal takes on the song).
On that same note, Morris’ voice sounds absolutely fantastic live. Her voice fills the room, sounding just as smooth as she does on her albums, both powerful and intoxicating. When she offered up some stories between songs they were charming, as she stammered and got lost talking about how grateful for her one-year anniversary to her husband Ryan Hurd and how the origins of her new song “To Hell & Back” was for him, or when she talked about how lucky she was to finally top the top 100 Country Songs when few women are doing so. Sometimes she seemed nervous offering these stories, but when the riffs started and her singing voice took over, you could hear no hint of nervousness.
Some other tracks translated well to the stage, such as the blunt “Make Out With Me,” which Morris sang as she laid down on a staircase, singing the song towards the ceiling, as one would if they were singing into their cell phone to a distant lover late at night. “Common” may have lacked Brandi Carlile in person to assist, but didn’t need it, as the song already packs a punch with Morris’ powerful vocals and the booming drums that made for a great live take. “I Could Use a Love Song” got a stripped-down makeover, with one of her bandmates on cello duties, and she brought out deep cuts from the first album like “Great Ones” or “Once” which were nice to get some fresh love. Her big hits sounded great as always, especially the rocking and silly “80s Mercedes” as images of, of course, a Mercedes, flew across the screen behind her.
Morris has something a lot of pop artists crave: a few songs under her belt that the audience is avidly ready to sing along to. All were buried deep in the set, “Rich,” where Morris and her band provided the music while the crowd took on chorus duties near the end of the song, or “My Church,” which converted everyone as they again belted out the already-memorable lyrics. But of course, it was her closer of the night, “The Middle,” that will be hard to un-mantle, the song clearly getting the whole crowd excited and ready for each break and burst of the catchy chorus as she closed out the night. This may have been Morris’ first headlining show in San Francisco, but it’ll probably be her smallest also for some time to come.