“Rock and Roll is best played after dark…”
So says John Calvin Abney, and I believe him. Saturday night’s show while scheduled to start at 8pm, but instead was fashionably, and perhaps purposely late to start. With John Calvin Abney not taking the stage until 9pm, the delay allowed the beautiful and spacious Tower Theater to fill a bit more with patrons for this dual headliner show of two of Oklahoma’s brightest talents. During his superb set, John Calvin explained how the idea came about for Saturday night’s show. Having played pedal steel during some sessions with Horse Thief, the idea of putting on a show together was bantered about. The Tower Theater on a Saturday night was receptive to the idea, and well, there you have it. Oklahoma ingenuity and teamwork at its finest.
Abney took the stage first, encouraging the general admission crowd to move up to the stagefront, before blasting into “Get Your House In Order”. Backed by Kyle Reid on guitar, Johnny Carlton on bass and Steve Boaz on drums, Abney and band proceeded to play songs from his most recent release, “Coyote” on Black Mesa Records, as well as some older material from his previous albums. Playing to a room of friends, and family can be entertaining in and of itself, as Abney was good naturedly heckled throughout the night. He never missed a beat though, even using the opportunity of someone loudly sneezing during an acoustic “South Yale Special”, to state, “Bless you”, and followed with, “Allergies are really bad right now.” Abney has developed a great stage presence, stepping confidently from role of sideman to bandleader. Primarily playing rhythm electric guitar and harmonica while Reid took leads, Abney lead the band through an hour and a half setlist that got better and better with each song. Highlights for me were “Sundowner”, “More Than Moonlight”, a cover of J.J. Cale’s “Magnolia”, and the entire mid set solo acoustic portion. Those that have seen him play with John Moreland already know what a skilled player Abney is, but his songwriting skills are nearly as impressive. Abney’s lyrics come from personal experiences of loss, change, isolation and distance. Yet they always seem to carry a message of hope as well. John Calvin Abney will be returning to Europe on June 15th where he will be opening shows for and then joining John Moreland’s band.
Horse Thief consists of, vocalist guitarist Cameron Neal, Alex Coleman on lead guitar, Cody Fowler on bass, Zach Zeller on keys and Alberto Roubert on drums. Originally hailing from Denton, TX, Horse Thief is now based in Oklahoma City. With two albums, “Trials And Truth” and “Fear And Bliss” available through their BandCamp page, Saturday night’s show was their last show for a bit, as they’re headed to the studio to complete their new album. It’s a tough assignment to pin Horse Thief with a label, or even to describe their sound. The easy way out would be to say they’re indie rock, but I think that fails to fully encompass what they’re accomplishing. I found them to be unexpectedly unique, and enjoyed their set much more than I expected to. The best comparison I can ultimately come up with is there is a definite eighties “new wave” influence to their sound, backed up with a swagger reminiscent of Houndmouth. It’s different, it’s original, and it absolutely works.
Horse Thief know how to stage a performance. Taking the stage with perfumed incense, expansive lighting and fog, they launched into a memorable set that really entertained their audience. My picks of the night included, “Devil”, “Little Dust”, and “Come On”. But the highlight for me, was a completely re-imagined cover of Black Sabbath’s “Changes”, complete with a three piece horn section. It was really a bold and impressive feat to tackle such a song, all while making it sound fresh and new. It was really well done. I will be eagerly looking forward to the release of their forthcoming album.
In closing, Saturday night was an memorable evening of quality music. And most importantly, it was encouraging for the future of music being made here in Oklahoma.