Hillbilly Vegas returned to the UK after a year too long away from our shores. The hard-rocking Oklahoma band came to support Luke Morley before embarking on their headline tour. What was their last date with Thunder guitarist Morley felt more like a grand entrance into their captain’s helm limelight at the O2 Academy Islington, London.
O2 Academy Islington – 31 January 2024
Words: Monty Sewell
Photography: Antonio Giannattsio
The last time we saw our favourite southern rockers was at a more acoustic setting for the release of their album The Great Southern Hustle. Now the band is back with a fiery apatite to engorge us into the whole Hillbilly Vegas experience.
The lineup stood in all its charismatic glory: Steve Harris up front, Stacy Thornburg and Johnny Reed on guitar, and Troy Hollinger on drums. With bassist Robb Edwards not currently touring due to health reasons, their good friend Todd Ronning of Bad Company stepped in for the duration.
While we look forward to the return of Edwards in all his rhythm might, the night was nothing short of a triumph.
Opening with the sweeter than a bottle of whisky song Mason Jars & Moonlight, Hillbilly Vegas had the crowd gathering up close to get a louder whiff of their excellent time quality. It is musical precision with bounds of energetic flair. Though a long way from home, the band whisked us off into the land of open country and endless experience.
Joined onstage by producer Geraldo Dominelli on keys and guitar, the six-piece extravaganza hits the ground running with a fantastic opener. Following up with a cover of Shooting Jenner’s Steady At The Wheel, they slide us further into their string-sporting hands without fault.
“How about a party tonight!”
If Harris knows one thing, it is how to work a crowd. And by god, he does it well.
High Time For A Good Time is the epitome of doing what it says on the tin. Thornburg and Donimelli lean into each other, cascading their duel playing into one mishmash of guitar virtuoso. With Reed also coming up alongside them strong, they are as hard rocking as their playful grins into the crowd.
Harris then addresses the country music rumors in a hilariously vocal whim on being ‘run out of Nashville.’ Tough-edged and hard riffed, this music ain’t country; it is pure rock ‘n’ roll.
They swerve into Something Crazy with an insatiable blues beat and sing-along chorus. As the drinks begin flowing and feet start moving, it is already a Wednesday night better than any. Dominelli showcases his skills as a pianist with a welcomed solo as Hollinger keeps his tight beat with an unfailing heat.
Sucked into the Hillbilly Vegas way of life, we get one of Harris’ signature song backstories. A musician by trade but a showman by the likes of many, this leads into one of their more emotionally charged numbers. Long Way Back features all the elements of a ballad brought back with a pinch of fire behind its hook. Seeing it performed live was a phenomenal feel.
Renowned blues-rock soul singer Frankie Miller gets a warm appraisal from Harris as the band launches into a cover of Down the Honkytonk. Getting the Hillbilly Vegas treatment, Ronning continues his smooth bass lines. The band works as one in such a way you forget they exist as anything but.
“Now, as we end the night, we want to give you your theme song!”
It is too soon, but sadly, all good things must come to a – hopefully temporary – end. True to their name and true to their offering, the band ended with Shake It Like a Hillbilly.
The band continues their tour with a week more of headline gigs around the country. Hillbilly Vegas, we thank you and look forward to the next.