by: Thomas D. Mooney
“You’ll lie to your kids when they ask if you saw John Moreland play songs. You’ll lie like my parents when they told me they saw CCR.”–BJ Barham
40 Minutes. Forty minutes.
Lubbock, you can still be a buzzkill. You still haven’t learned when to shut the hell up and listen. It’s why singer-songwriters often don’t route through. And I things were going so great as of late.
As I walk in the front of Blue Light last night, John Moreland is already sitting on a stool in the middle of the stage. He hasn’t yet began playing his gut-wrenching acoustic ballads just yet. Some folks have gathered around in a scatter that’s slowly taking the shape of a crescent moon.
He greets the crowd with a “Hello, my name is John Moreland” that’s met with a giant roar of hoots, hollers, and applause. Sadly, this will be the largest crowd response Moreland will receive from the entire bar all night. Sure, each song is acknowledged and praised by the forty or so individuals hugging the stage and actually watching the Oklahoma songwriter pour himself into each and every word, line, and song.
It’s a damn shame.
Barham is leaning against a column near the stage. It’s the first of two shows they’ll be doing together on this small run (The other is tonight in Fort Worth at Magnolia Motor Lounge). He’s wrapped up with Moreland’s intimacy. It’s serving as an insulator from the bar hoppers ordering Fireball shots and six-packs of Bud Light for their frat cowboy bros.
It doesn’t matter how well you think you know Moreland’s songs. The simple intensity he puts into each song is beautiful. His eyes are closed for the most part while singing as though it very well could be the last time he does it. There’s wrinkling of the forehead and tightening of his eyelids as he belts out.
He begins “Nobody Gives a Damn About Songs Anymore.” How fucking relevant.
And just like that, it’s over.
Barham walks on stage. He turns, grabs his red acoustic, steps on a pedal, and begins strumming to himself. Those in front of the stage, they’re staring at the southern Springsteen begin turning those acoustic strums into “Wolves.”
One song in, Barham addresses the crowd for the first time.
The American Aquarium frontman gives a well deserved–and much-needed–ass chewing. If he speaks to any future children like this, he’ll be a hell of a father. It’s straight to the point. Fair and just.
“Let’s give John Moreland one more round of applause for John Moreland–one of the best damn songwriters going right now. For the forty or so folks over here in front of the stage, you saw that. For the rest of you talking to your buddies, you missed it. lie You’ll to your kids when they ask if you saw John Moreland play songs. You’ll lie like my parents when they told me they saw CCR. I’ll be playing a bunch of sad songs like John did so if you were expecting something else, I’m sorry. You’ll enjoy it, or if this is your party on Thursday, go get drunk. Your choice,” says Barham.
Or something like that at least.
Puzzled looks from around the room are looking towards the stage. Bewilderment. Those who came to the show for the show, they get. Mainly because if they had the power, they’d have jumped on stage and tried saying something in the same vein. Those who came to socialize, they continue. It’s just the way it’ll be for the remainder of the night.
It’ll irk Barham and Moreland, but they’re professionals who were baptized in dive bars. They’ll push through and perform for those who give a damn. They won’t dwell on it. But they’ll remember.
Who I feel most for most are those who didn’t pay the cover to listen to the white noise of a bar. You can pick them out. They’re working men who’ve changed from the day’s dress code, showered, and changed into sneakers, checkered shorts, and band t-shirts–or whatever their wife laid out on the bed. Stares at the stage and glares towards the talking a few feet away. Internally, they’re screaming to shut the fuck up.
Barham pulls back from AA early days. He goes into hidden gems like “Anne Marie.” He’s skipping the in-between songs storytelling tonight and just plowing through the set. There are times where you tries to play quieter, but has to raise his voice and guitar strums. It’s the Springsteen stomp.
“Yeah, I felt like I had to play like Evan Felker tonight with my guitar strumming,” Barham jokes after the show. He imitates the hard-strumming Turnpike lead vocalist with a laugh.
You see small flicks of spit fly from Barham’s mouth and towards the microphone as he changes his inflection on “City Lights.” It’s at these moments you see Barham not just singing the songs, but reliving the words. The images are flashing on his close eyelids as he continues to belt on.
It’s crawling towards midnight. Barham ends the night on a “positive” and “happy” song. He goes into “Losing Side of Twenty-Five.” Five minutes later, he’s finished for the night.
The posters advertising the Barham and Moreland acoustic show have been stapled on the wall next to other upcoming show posters for the better part of a month. It’s been anticipated by songwriters, music-appreciators, and the like for much of that time. For the most part–the actual music part–it was good. But it could have been great.
All across social media yesterday, you saw folks from across the country wish they were in Lubbock so they could see and hear two of the best songwriters and storytellers of the current generation perform acoustic renditions of their songs in a small, intimate room. Lubbock, you were the envy of all the land. And the uglier half, they ruined it. It’s why we can’t have nice things.
Next Thursday, another acoustic night of music will be happening with William Clark Green performing. Let’s not do this again.