Live Review: John Moreland – Town Hall, NYC

When John Moreland takes the stage he possesses a certain power over everyone in the room and completely captures the spotlight. His stage presence is as prominent as his vivid, captivating lyrics and his fierce guitar strumming is as bold as his tremendous vocal power. This Tulsa, Oklahoma singer/songwriter has a lot of heart and this energy is immediately relatable as soon as the first raw, rock vocal notes traipse into your ears.

As the opening act for Iron & Wine this past holiday season, John performed an intimate acoustic set with an accompanying lead guitarist John Calvin Abney to color over his brilliant, honest work. A weeknight crowd at NYC’s Town Hall most definitely could use a bit of a wake up jolt after a long day at the office. And there could not have been a better way to ignite this energy and set the mood for Iron & Wine than to hear John unleash his heart and soul in front of an attentive, excited audience.

Some set highlights included a stellar rendition of Old Wounds, track two from John’s most recent and finest album to date Big Bad Luv. The blending of the rhythm and lead guitars along with John’s big, full voice provided all the energy and key notes necessary to captivate the fans attention. Although the album version conveys louder volume and a richer vibe, the John Moreland acoustic live experience is a must see for any contemporary folk music enthusiast.

It was interesting to hear John’s stripped back take of Sallisaw Blue. This song displays heavy southern rock attitude and energy and it’s hard to transcend this vibe onto an audience when it’s only acoustic singer/songwriter night. But with the help of some sharp, supporting lead guitar licks and heavy rhythm/dynamics, John pulled off an interesting and unique alternate acoustic version of one of his more country-electrified tunes.

A significant amount of gut is involved in composing a love song, and John Moreland’s humble and confident songwriting is more than up for the challenge. Lies I Chose To Believe, track five on the new album is memorable because of the catchy, jumpy chords, melody and easy listening feel. The title holds a lot of weight in a folk world of heartbreak, and it shows unashamed character to get up on stage and express true emotion.

Another magical song from the show was 3:59 A.M. Although the mood shifted towards borderline sleep mode, the fast paced pluck and go fingerpicking pattern injected a lot of life into the attentive eyes and ears of the audience. John’s heavy vocal control of his power and range is beautifully displayed on this song, and throughout each and every climax where it’s evident he’s bringing his all, chills electrify your brain as this captivating presence on stage continues to launch his soul deep throughout the concert hall.

John Moreland has quietly grown into the indie folk spotlight and there’s nothing stopping his unafraid and maturing style from reaching the top. Go see him live ASAP.

Scott J. Herman