John Moreland. Swallow Hill. 03.06.16

JM4John Moreland. Swallow Hill. 03.06.16

Yesterday I wrote about my experience taking a couple teenagers to see Carly Rae Jepsen in concert. A few hours later, I found myself in a completely different situation altogether. Witnessing John Moreland perform for a silent, seated room of 300 people at Swallow Hill was nothing like seeing Carly Rae Jepsen lead a multi-generational dance party at the Gothic Theatre. Both artists are 30 years old, and they each rely on an emotional connection with their audiences, but they come from very, very different places. I’m not talking about Canada and Oklahoma either. While Carly Rae encourages her fans to dance away their boy problems, Moreland subscribes to the school of drowning burnt memories in whiskey while contemplating life through a lens covered in some Old Testament type shit. Different medicine, but for someone who can appreciate both pop music and honest-to-goodness bare-your-soul songwriting, the results are the same. Each show drew an extremely diverse, sold-out crowd to their respective venues and each artist left their audience feeling extremely satisfied.

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I like Denver a lot. The first time I played here was at a Mexican restaurant named Illegal Pete’s. There were about ten people there. It was really cool. This is really cool too.” Moreland was about halfway through his set when he addressed his surroundings for the first time. His recollection of that first show caused a tinge of regret to run through me. In the Throes was on constant rotation in early 2014, so I was pretty disappointed when I found out about that show too late. Luckily I have been able to make up for lost time since then. Having seen the man pour his heart out from stools in dive bars, burrito joints, the Sunset Strip, and just last week at Noise Pop in San Francisco, I can assure you there is nothing tedious about hearing the same songs performed over and over again. And ‘hearing’ is the proper word. When it comes to a John Moreland show, a bad spot in a quiet space is preferable to a front-row seat in a room where people won’t shut the fuck up. That’s why last night was one of the best Moreland shows I have ever experienced. Not only did we have great seats, the audience was (almost) 100% silent and respectful of the artist on the stage.

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Silent and respectful don’t mean stuffy though. Moreland is as serious as they come when his tattooed fingers go to work on his guitar, and while he isn’t above an amusing line here and there, his lyrics lean toward depression, heartache, biblical tragedy, and the darker corners of the mind one explores when deprived of sleep. He also keeps his face in the shadows; hidden under his beard, trucker cap, and glasses. But his dry sense of humor comes through when he feels comfortable with a crowd. Sometimes, in loud bars like 3 Kings or Hi-Dive, it takes a while for him to warm up, but he was on it from the get-go last night. As soon as he sat down and discovered the feedback on his mic was sending piercing sounds through the small room, he decided to introduce himself with “My name in John Moreland and I think the show is going pretty well so far.” When some guy yelled “YEAH!” in the middle of “Hang Me in the Tulsa County Stars”, he responded with a “well, thank you” without missing a beat. A little later, when the same guy yelled “Tulsa!” for no apparent reason, Moreland confirmed “yeah, that’s a place.” Most of the time he just sipped a bottle of water between songs, but after taking us back to Earthbound Blues with a welcomed rendition of “Avalon”, he confessed to performing it in “a different key than usual” which caused him to “fuck up that last chord…making it a little jazzy.

JM5Writing about a John Moreland show is hard to do, especially since I’ve already done it a few times before. If you know his music, just know he performed it perfectly. He is a big man, with an extremely powerful voice, and he’ll send shivers down your spine as he delivers one genius lyric after another. With nothing more than an acoustic guitar and a microphone, the man will prove the existence of a soul. He performed that miracle eighteen times throughout his set at Daniels Hall. Seven of those sermons came from the book of High on Tulsa Heat, while nine of them came from In the Throes. Only one had yet to be released and it just might be my favorite yet. “No Glory in Regret” represents everything I love about John Moreland’s music. So much so, that I’m just going to leave the lyrics here for you to mull over…

Did you hear the Devil laughing,
from the ambulance passing?
Or was that just my troubled mind?
Don’t you want to shake the ground,
and tear Heaven down?
Raise your fist to the guilty sky.

Well I’ve been pouring whiskey in the wind,
burning pictures of my best friends,
until ashes cover me like rain.
And you meant something to me then,
and you mean something to me now,
but some things ain’t meant to stay the same.

Well bless our busted hearts,
just sinking into the dark,
mourning these wasted old sparks that all disappear.
I never meant to be, your woe is me emergency,
but I ain’t dead yet and I know there ain’t no glory in regret.

Well don’t it feel like the truth,
comes at the price of your youth,
when the Hell you’ve paid ain’t quite enough?
God’s been making deals,
while we’re down here spinning our wheels,
and using up our little share of love.

Well you beg the world to know your name,
and you get glitter spilling out your veins,
well turn turn turn baby I guess it’s true.
Cause I was standing on a dead end drive,
with my pride thumbing for a ride,
and somehow I ended up next to you.

Well bless our busted hearts,
just sinking into the dark,
mourning these wasted old sparks that all disappear.
I never meant to be, your woe is me emergency,
but I ain’t dead yet and I know there ain’t no glory in regret.

Well don’t it feel like the truth,
comes at the price of your youth?

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The set ended as it usually does, with Moreland promising some girl a ring made of the stars themselves, before giving a shy wave to the crowd before him. Not one for encores, he couldn’t deny the request of those still standing in ovation, so he came back with “Gospel”…thus leaving us with a little hope as we made our way into the Sunday night.

I wanna set fear on fire, and give dreaming a fair shot…and never give up whether anyone cares or not.

John Moreland doesn’t have an easy life. A late night television spot isn’t going to catapult him into one either. But that last line comforts me in the fact that he loves what he does and will continue to do it no matter how hard it is. And that’s all those of us who also love what he does can hope for. I’m just glad there seem to be more and more of us every time he comes through town.

Lilly Hiatt opened for Moreland. I don’t have to time to write about her set tonight, but do yourself a favor and check out her music. Her stories are worth hearing.

Lilly Hiatt:
Too Bad
Off Track
Get This Right
People Don’t Change
3 Days
Jesus Would’ve Let Me Pick the Restaurant
Royal Blue
Let Down
New Song
Knew You Were Coming
Somebody’s Daughter

John Moreland:
Hang Me in the Tulsa County Stars
Blacklist
No Glory In Regret
Your Spell
You Don’t Care Enough for Me to Cry
Heart’s Too Heavy
God’s Medicine
Losing Sleep Tonight
Avalon
Sad Baptist Rain
American Flags In Black & White
I Need You To Tell Me Who I Am
Cherokee
Oh Julia
Break My Heart Sweetly
Nobody Gives A Damn About Songs Anymore
3:59am

Gospel

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  1 comment for “John Moreland. Swallow Hill. 03.06.16

  1. Titus
    March 10, 2016 at 1:34 pm

    Kickass guy performing a kickass show at a kickass venue.

    Between the YEAH! guy and the medical emergency complete with EMTs and cops at intermission, it was a pretty dramatic show- at least by John Moreland standards.

    Great writing, btw.

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