White Sea's Morgan Kibby Makes Waves: Concert Review

Collin Citron
M83 collaborator takes her solo album to intense, emotional heights during small theater show.

Morgan Kibby’s powerhouse vocals surge with evocative weight on record, and are just as impressively forceful in a live setting.

When you listen to an album, it’s tough to know if what you’re hearing is real or augmented by studio tricks, the sounds reimagined through various technologies to become something other than their original state. This is particularly true on an album like White Sea’s new release In Cold Blood, a collection of ethereal, emotionally gripping songs that collect around primarily synthetic sounds. The record, which was released via Crush Music last month, was written and produced by M83 collaborator Morgan Kibby, whose powerhouse vocals surge with evocative weight on the recordings. As it turns out, Kibby’s voice is just as impressively forceful in a live setting as she displayed last night at the Bootleg Theater in one of White Sea’s first L.A. shows in support of the new album.

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Book-ended between up-and-coming Danish pop artist Nabiha and U.K. electro act Until the Ribbon Breaks, White Sea offered an abridged set to a packed room, which included several of Kibby’s musician friends and her recording engineer on In Cold Blood. Backed by bassist/guitarist Daniel Deblanke and drummer Anthony Burulcich, who employed their tangible rock accompaniment to bolster her layered piles of synth, Kibby launched into the buoyant single, “Future Husbands Past Lives,” a standout from the new release. It soon became clear, however, that these instruments are merely a vehicle for her voice. The song, as it’s recorded, features an intense, soaring operatic breakdown — one that Kibby recreated live, her voice echoing through a room that was far too small to contain that sort of visceral intensity. The crowd, mouths agape, burst into impressed applause after she finished the song.

Kibby herself has the aura of someone who belongs in a bigger venue. Dressed in a wildly low-cut black gown, the singer writhed about the stage as she wailed through songs like “NYC Loves You” and “Flash.” At one point the breathless musician, who beamed with a infectious smile between each number, paused and said, “I gotta tuck my boobs in,” as she readjusted the dress. On “They Don’t Know,” perhaps the most intoxicating track on In Cold Blood, Kibby loosed her hair from its tie, her brown waves cascading down in unison with the song’s triumphant chorus. That song, the set’s penultimate, revealed that Kibby can become a truly fierce stage presence given the right venue and a longer set time.

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Her album, the first as White Sea following a 2010 EP, has fallen slightly under the radar, deserving of far more praise and attention than it’s received, both because of its musical quality and Kibby’s intricate work as a producer. White Sea opened some dates of The Naked and Famous’ U.S. tour earlier this year and will play Bardot next Monday, but the project deserves a wider platform, one that allows for visual production that aptly augments the otherworldly pull of the music. Kibby seemed unphased last night, telling the audience, “Such a good crowd on a Monday. You guys are brave.” She concluded the performance with “Prague,” a glittering electro number that features the climatic line, “Can I stop, can I stop the want/For anyone in my bed/Anyone, anyone I fuck.” As Kibby howled that last lyric, she punctuated the final word with searing intensity, her emotions translating to become the crowd’s own. Everything she had recorded was present here in this room, which is a testament to both the album and to White Sea’s potential as a live act. 

Set list:

Future Husbands Past Lives
It Will End in Disaster
New York Loves You
They Don't Know