marques toliver plays intimate set at the mercury lounge

May 7, 2013

The night of May 2nd, Marques Toliver brought his hypnotizing blend of R & B, soul, and classical music back to New York where he performed to a packed house at the Mercury Lounge in the LES.

by Jennifer Sefa-Boakye

Trained as a classical violinist in his native Florida, Toliver moved north a few years ago to take a chance with the bustling music scene, and like many other talented hopefuls began his career busking in the subways stations and street corners of NYC. After being discovered by Kyp Malone of TV on the Radio, he has since worked with Grizzly Bear, toured with James Blake and has a found a growing legion of fans that includes the likes of Adele and Beyoncé.

The opening act of the night was Sophie Auster, a singer/songwriter from New York who performed songs off her latest record, Red Weather in addition to a cover version of ’70s folk-pop hit “Brand New Key.” One stand out moment from Auster’s set, which was short and sweet, was a pleasantly haunting performance of “Square Moon” a track co-written by Antony Hegarty of Antony and the Johnsons that rounded out her set.

Headliner Marques Toliver then took the stage with his band, The Sometimes, to cheers and loud applause, and after a quick word of thanks to the crowd, he tucked his violin into place and launched into the first song of the night, “If Only.” Toliver is soft spoken, but it quickly became apparent that his virtuosity doesn’t just end with his violin playing as the sheer power of his vocal ability knew no bounds and kept the intimate crowd’s attention for the entire night.

Toliver had several friends in the audience, who would shout him out sporadically during the show and this made for a few humorous moments in between songs. For his next song, Toliver introduced one of such friends, Haley Dekle of the Dirty Projectors, who joined him onstage for a duet of “Magic Look,” the first single off his forthcoming debut album, Land of CanaAn.

The songs from Land of CanaAn address a myriad of themes including love, loss, homecoming and redemption. His album’s title, which was inspired by a passage in revolutionary abolitionist Fredrick Douglass’ autobiography, My Bondage, My Freedom, is referenced in the new record’s opening track (“CanaAn”) and its refrain, “oh Canaan, sweet Canaan, I am bound to the land of Canaan[…]” speaks to the loss of place and identity.

Toliver is currently based in London, but as a Southerner who found his success in New York, these are topics that he is certainly familiar with. “Big ups to you guys for being here,” he said with a smile at one point in the evening. “You could be anywhere in the city tonight, but you chose to spend it with me, so thank you.” The crowd’s enthusiastic response to his gratitude showed that New York was glad to have him back, if only for the night.

Haley Dekle then rejoined Marques on stage to perform a duet of his new single, “Control,” an upbeat track which blends lyrics from “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” in a manner that doesn’t seem contrived or self-aware and had the crowd singing along for the brief moment they appear. The last song of his set, “Stay”, interpolates a Bach sonata with Toliver’s own arrangement to produce an impressively dramatic piece that shows off Toliver’s prowess with the violin. His concentration is unshakable as he plays and after the final note died down, aware of how good of a job he has just done, Toliver celebrated with a round of high fives with his band mates as the crowd cheered and demanded an encore.

The house was rewarded with a solo rendition of “White Sails,” the song which catapulted him to fame after a 2010 performance on BBC variety show, Later with Jools Holland, received widespread critical acclaim. For this performance, Toliver’s band has left the stage and accompanied only by his trusty violin he sings, “the sun ain’t shining now/ I don’t think/ I can make this place my home,” but it is obvious that New York will always be home to this gifted musician who is sure to leave his mark on the musical palate of anyone who takes a moment to listen.

Land of CanaAN is out on May 14th in the US on Bella Union