I’ve often written that you really never know what you’re going to see when you go to a show in Columbus. You will often find the musically abstract and the visually bizarre. And in the case of Spacebar on High Street, you will usually be treated to the atmospherically serene.
However, from time to time you will be subjected to outside forces that weave their way into your mind and help you remember specific events in the musical world.
Amusingly enough, Saturday night was one of those times where something unexpected happened. We showed up at Spacebar at 8 p.m. to get a feel for the evening and found that the doors were still locked. Apparently the bar had double-booked the evening and would not be open for music until 9.
Where this initially felt like an encumbrance, it ended up working to our benefit, as we had a chance to meet and chat with Nick McKenzie and Jenelle Rowland, guitarist and vocalist for Morning Theft.
Morning Theft is a four-piece outfit that initially began as an acoustic project between McKenzie and Rowland, who had met doing open mic nights. They ended up winning a battle of the bands event to open for national act Company of Thieves. While making waves as a duo, they met bassist J.D. Johnston and drummer Cody Reynolds of Vessels, and the four merged their abilities and now comprise the current lineup for Morning Theft.
We were finally able to enter Spacebar at 9 p.m. and were treated to the soulful, bluesy sound of The Low Vibes. The duo even threw in a tribute to Chris Cornell (RIP, man. Much love) and totally made it their own gem. The next act was the ever-intriguing Coya Hill, and then it was time for the headliners to take the stage.
The group just recently released their EP “…these terraformed ends”, and I had a chance to preview the EP before seeing the group live.
The opening track on the EP is titled Decry, and it was also the first song they played for us. McKenzie told me that he worked hard to capture the emotion of Morning Theft and Jenelle’s voice for the EP, and played live it was immediately evident that she was the genuine element. In fact, when I first heard the song, I immediately felt a similarity between her voice and Genevieve Schatz, lead singer of Company of Thieves.
You wouldn’t know by the booming power of her voice, but Rowland had been struggling with bronchitis in the weeks leading up to this show. She persevered and poured herself into the song. Decry was also the perfect song for McKenzie to use almost every pedal effect he had in his arsenal.
The second song was their newest effort, a politically charged, high energy number titled The Soot Your Lungs Carry. It featured a screaming solo by McKenzie that washed away anything else I had heard so far that evening. Both McKenzie and Rowland expressed that this was their favorite song to play live, and you could definitely feel that in the energy that they exuded.
After that we had Skeleton Twins, which was unquestionably the best song on the new EP. It has a slower feel to it, and the more I listened to it the more I found that it was tugging at a very personal part of my heart. “I woke up like this, with my fingers already in fists. With bourbon breath, and a wish for death. I’m ready to swing”. The lyrics are deep, and especially poignant after Cornell’s suicide. You could definitely feel every ounce of angst she had inside of her as Rowland belted out the final lines. It was truly a beautiful thing to behold.
The next song in the set was the second song from the EP, Embedded, which featured lyrics about falling in love with a serial killer. There were a lot of heads around me nodding to the bumpy bass and drum combo in the song, but I felt like it could have been a lot better. I honestly thought that the music was overshadowing the singer, almost putting the front-woman on the backburner for the song.
McKenzie and Johnston later told me that they actually were playing louder in case they needed to cover up the fact that Rowland was struggling with her voice throughout the night. Regardless of that fact, I felt as though the guitars and bass just jumped around too much and didn’t mesh as well as in the other songs.
That jumble only lasted for one song, as the band resumed their normal cohesive sound on another new track, From The Depths To Your Veins. You could tell that McKenzie and Rowland had been working together for a while, as they would often be jamming and jump around and be back-to-back without even looking at each other for cues. On From The Depths, the highlight was definitely the chorus, which slowed things down and had big crunchy bass riffs from Johnston.
As midnight rolled around, we found the group with just one last song to perform. The last remaining people in Spacebar were treated to another new jam, Kaleidoscope, which truly showed the strength of the quartet from a songwriting perspective. Once again it was Rowland’s dynamic presence that tied it all together and put a perfect bow on a fantastic evening of rock’n’roll.
There was one song off of the EP that wasn’t featured in their live performance, titled The Fates. The song showcases Reynolds best work behind the kit, and has a few very interesting timing changes, as it speeds up and slows down on numerous occasions. I would say the band showcased their five best songs as it was during the night, and probably felt there was no need to include this track on their set.
Listening to the EP, I found it difficult to put my finger on one specific genre. It’s easy to pigeonhole bands that sound “different” into the category of “alternative”, but you could feel a vast array of influences in McKenzie’s guitar work. He cited groups like The Mars Volta and Glassjaw as making the most impact on him musically, and it showed in the diversity of both the EP and the live show.
You can definitely feel the musical maturation between their first EP “Joile Laide” and “…these terraformed ends”, which draws its name from a poem written by McKenzie on the inside sleeve. As a whole, they seem to be finding a comfort level in their songwriting that produces a wonderfully tight and solid sound.
The band informed me that the three new songs they played would be featured on the next EP they put out, and you can believe that after seeing their performance, I will definitely want to check that out when it is released!
- The Soot That Your Lungs Carry*
- Skeleton Twins
- From The Depths To Your Veins*
*denotes new song
Morning Theft – The Fates