Album Review – Mike and the Moonpies – “Live from the Devil’s Backbone”

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There’s a reason people come stumbling out of Mike and the Moonpies shows like their hair is on fire and they’ve just witnessed a miracle, swearing these boys from Austin are the best live band on this planet or any other, and it’s not the Kool-Aid they’re serving. Ever since bass player Omar Oyoque joined the band in 2018 right after they started to transition from a local honky tonk act to a national touring one, Mike and the Moonpies have taken it to next level, and have become perennials at the very top of Saving Country Music’s “Best Live Acts” list every year.

Mike and the Moonpies studio albums are stellar affairs themselves, and you can’t go wrong pulling any of them up and giving them a spin. Their last album One To Grow On pulled the rare 10/10 score at Saving Country Music. But there’s just no way to quantify what they do live. It’s at a whole other level that you have to experience to understand. Not even a live album can do it justice, but Live from the Devil’s Backbone will get you closer to that experience than anything else.

Often live albums feel like secondary entries into a band’s discography because they’re little more than the same studio songs you’ve heard before with slightly different arrangements and crowd noise in the background. That’s not the case for Mike and the Moonpies and Live from the Devil’s Backbone. The band’s songs are a completely different animal in the live context, and the frenetic energy of the performances comes blazing through.

Mike and the Moonpies are a Texas honky tonk band in every sense. They just happen to also have global appeal. You could put them in a stadium, and the fundamental appeal would still be how they embody the the spirit of Texas country honky tonk music. So capturing them in a true Texas honky tonk like The Devil’s Backbone is the perfect context.

Located on a picturesque limestone ridge in the Texas Hill Country just south and west of Austin, The Devil’s Backbone is built near what used to be an Native American campground. A blacksmith shop was constructed there in the 1890’s for wagons, then a liquor store in 1933 after prohibition, then a Sinclair gas station in the ’40’s. By the early ’50’s, a dance hall was added, and regulars love to tell you the location is haunted by a handful of different apparitions.

Just a few years ago, you could stop by the Devil’s Backbone for a beer, but the dance hall was basically a glorified storage area for the bar and virtually abandoned. Now it has become one of the most hopping honky tonks in central Texas, and this Mike and the Moonpies project only will help revitalize the spot, and lend to its legendary history. The Moonpies got the idea for the album while recording at the nearby Yellow Dog Studios in Wimberley and going to the Backbone for nightcaps.

About the only thing missing from Live from the Devil’s Backbone this is the visuals of seeing Mike and the Moonpies on stage, but luckily the whole Texas Music Scene TV show crew was on location to capture it all, and a concert video of the event is set to premier in November. Add Omar’s hair whips, Mike Harmeier’s magnetic stage presence, and this will be the closest thing to being in the room.

At 22 tracks, this double album probably has the songs you were hoping you’d get a live version of to enjoy at home, including the Saving Country Music 2021 Single of the Year, “Hour On The Hour.” Their show ender “We’re Gone” is also a great song to capture in the live setting, capped off by Mike’s walk-off music. Their version of “London Homesick Blues” gets a little lost in the chords though, and it would have been cool if we had a live version of the song “The Way” by the band Fastball that has become one of the Moonpies’ signature songs to play live.

If you have an opportunity to see Mike and the Moonpies live, do it. There are no good excuses why not to. The world has been slow to wake up to what it has within it’s midst with Mike and the Moonpies. But word is spreading, and some day, folks will be bragging loudly how they were there when Mike and the Moonpies played The Devil’s Backbone in Texas. Some of those people might even be telling the truth. The rest of us will just live it out vicariously through Live from the Devil’s Backbone.


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