The Circle Bar
February 04, 2004
BY JASON SONGE
Alex McMurray is the singer/songwriter soul of New Orleans. Proof is in the love he was showered with when he returned from a sojourn.
First, he left us for a year-long stint in Japan and returned to a welcome home party at The Circle Bar. Next, he spent all of last month in New York City playing in French dives and having surgery on his lungs for an undisclosed illness.
So, for his return performance Wednesday night at The Circle Bar friends surrounded him, offered requests frequently, and one woman shouted, “We missed you, Alex,” between songs.
For twenty minutes before the show, McMurray faced his amp to tune and practice progressions. Then, in predictable detachment, he turned to the audience and didn’t say a word before starting his set. The first song was an upbeat, accessible and funny character piece("He’s a pain in the ass/when he smokes too much grass"). McMurray played a guitar solo that was ear candy. The rest of the concert consisted of similar head-bobbing strummers and slow, drunk, pensive numbers. McMurray played heartfelt songs I got lost in.
Some had a fast pace. Some were ballads. Some were depressingly hopeful. Some were just depressing.
McMurray was good at expressing the hard to express cracks in between the human experience. One song I recognized was the classic "Hallelujah, I’m a Bum Again." He also played "Joliet," "Wedding Day," and "The Old Bar," from his 2003 release "Banjaxed."
As the set went on, McMurray opened up, and this prompted conversation between him and the audience. I wasn’t sure whether he was kidding about his surgery, but he lifted his shirt and showed his "shoddy" incisions to the crowd. After McMurray denied any problems with his feet, an audience member said, "Not yet." McMurray smiled, shook his head, and said, "I return home to threats from my friends."
McMurray celebrated the imperfections of the soul, and New Orleans has a lot of those. If he tries to leave again, he’ll have to get through me first.