Josh Abbott Band (Photo by Joseph Llanes)
Lubbock sits alone in the arid plains of northwest Texas. far closer to the New Mexico border than to the populous Texas Triangle (Dallas-Houston-San Antonio) in the eastern part of the state. It’s not a small city, with a population of more than a quarter-million, one that has grown precipitously since WWII, along with the rest of the Lone Star State.
Its impact on popular music, however, far outstrips these numbers. Early rocker Buddy Holly was a native, as was country outlaw Waylon Jennings (who performed in the former’s band). Somewhat lesser known but influential country-rock and Americana acts like The Flatlanders and Terry Allen (who appears this weekend on PBS’s Austin City Limits) also hail from there. Josh Abbott, frontman of the seven-piece band that bears his name, may not be a native, but he’ s absolutely carrying the spirit of the city forward with his music.
Abbott began performing at open mics while a student at Texas Tech University; a partnership with a fraternity brother eventually led to the band’s formation. Like their predecessors and compatriots from Lubbock, they play a mix of straight-up Red Dirt country and rock ‘n’ roll. The band’s lone cover song during their recent performance at The Birchmere, Dwight Yoakam’s “Fast As You,” was representative in being completely country while rocking hard.
The Josh Abbott Band plays it loud, fast, and hard, and they always bring the party. They’ve collaborated with fellow Texan standouts like Kacey Musgraves, who is no stranger to jumping around genres. In the dozen or so years of their career, they’ve flirted with major labels and chart success, placing two of their albums in the top 10 of the country standings.
At The Birchmere on Jan. 23, the band played a lengthy set, nearly 25 songs, starting with “All of Sudden,” “Where I Wanna Be,” and “Hangin’ Around.” While he was playing “I’ll Sing About Mine,” Josh heard a few people singing along, and he asked if they were from a small town, too. When they said they weren’t, he quipped, “I sing songs like (Shania Twain’s) ‘Man, I Feel Like A Woman,’ and I’m not.”
Watch the official music video for “I’ll Sing About Mine” by Josh Abbott Band on YouTube:
As he segued into “My Texas,” he asked if anyone in the audience was from the Lone Star State, which get a strong response. The set continued with “Little Like You” and “Love It While You Got It.” “I’ve Been Known,” he said, is “always fun to sing because I’ve got to sing the girl parts.” After “I’m Your Only Flaw,” the crowd joined in to sing along with the band on “She’s Like Texas.”
Next up was “Amnesia.” “It’s been a while since we sang it,” Josh explained before “Give It Away,” after which several members of the band did shots. He told the audience that “The Luckiest,” from their latest album, The Highway Kind, is his favorite song the band’s recorded. He added that, while fans usually want to hear the old hits, as a band, they’re always more excited about their latest material. They played the title track a little later in the set.
“Real Damned Good,” he explained, “is another one about my wife,” and he described it as 95 percent true. The band left the stage, leaving Josh to alone to sing, “How About Them Cowboys,” he said, was just written last week, and he’s still working out the kinks in the performance. When he finished, he said, “That was a disaster. I’m glad all of you recorded it.” He then added, “I’m not drunk. Yet.” (Speaking of football, Josh inquired about the score of the Bills-Chiefs classic that was underway during the show.)
The evening’s most emotional moment came with “Till My Voice Gives Out.” While they were recording that album, Josh’s dad had a stroke. He was able to make it home and see him before he passed away. The song is about his parent’s marriage.
After that number, the band returned to the stage for the remainder of the set. “Taste,” one of the band’s older songs, is “about a girl I wrote in college.” This was followed by the raucous “Where’s The Party,” “Touch,” and the aforementioned Dwight Yoakam cover, before ending with “24-7-365.”
All night long, the crowd was hot, hollering and stomping along to the music. The Josh Abbott Band were, as always, a fun show.