John Moreland’s devastatingly beautiful songs are best enjoyed at a live show, if you’re so lucky. Moreland released the phenomenal Big Bad Luv back in May, and has been on a steady stream of gigs since. And while he’s always amazing with just his Tom Waits-ian rasp and his acoustic guitar, his current tour pairs him with John Calvin Abney, a fellow Tulsa, OK musician who is, basically, a one-man band. Abney adds electric guitar, harmonica and keyboard to Moreland’s arrangements, giving them depth and richness.
Moreland opened the show at Rough Trade in Brooklyn on November 14th with “Sallisaw Blue”, the opening track off his new record, which was pure rock and roll, even without percussion or bass. The guitars were heavy-duty and Moreland is a master of melody, so nothing else was needed. Abney delivered some fiery harmonica right out of the gate, which gives this song a down-home bluesy-ness, and got the audience amped up for the rest of the set. Moreland played a mix of songs off his three LPs, not just sticking to the latest release, and definitely making longtime fans happy. He even honored a request for “Break My Heart Sweetly”. And if you’ve been to a Moreland show, you know he doesn’t chat much with the crowd, so requests feel like a special treat.
Standouts from the set included the gut punch beauty “Lies I Chose to Believe”, to which Abney contributed some gorgeous keys, “Amen, So Be It” and “It Don’t Suit Me (Like Before)”, all off Big Bad Luv and all clear audience favorites. Moreland plowed through what felt like well over a dozen of his songs, including “Cherokee”, “American Flags in Black and White”, and “Heart’s Too Heavy” (all off 2015’s High on Tulsa Heat); “I Need You To Tell Me Who I Am”, “Nobody Gives a Damn About Songs Anymore”, and “Oh Julia” (off 2013’s In the Throes).
Moreland’s shows are really meant for true listening. They’re not social events, and most of the time you can hear a pin drop during his quieter songs. He doesn’t say much, keeping the focus on his lyrics, and the audience usually abides and remains engaged – it’s nearly impossible not to. If given the chance, a Moreland performance should not be missed. There aren’t too many like it these days.