Bottle Rockets – Duck Room (St. Louis, MO)
Nearly two years had passed since the Bottle Rockets last played a full-on electric set in their near-native St. Louis. Their last appearance at the Duck Room (the remodeled basement bar once known as Cicero’s, where a band called Chicken Truck slashed and burned through Southern rock covers and original songs such as “I Drink Stag!”) was as an acoustic three-piece. But on two consecutive sold-out nights in early March, the Bottle Rockets were indisputably back, thanking both the audience and Doug Sahm for all those “beautiful vibrations,” and sending out cascade after cascade of their own, all culminating in a final Friday night set of madly overdriven Telecasters, spontaneous singalongs, clarinet squawks, and guitar solos from a special guest affectionately known to the band as “Superstar”.
Opening with wide smiles and their now standard leadoff number, “Mendocino”, the Bottle Rockets pushed, purposeful but loose, through some seven songs before pausing for breath, banter, or tuning. Sahm songs flowed into and out of their own: “Mendocino” rocked into “Gravity Fails”, into “Kit Kat Klock”, into “Get Down River”, then back into Sahm’s “Be Real”, then back to “Every Kinda Everything”, then “Floataway” and “Crossroads”, which segued into “Slo Toms”.
The pacing wasn’t just relentless; it was revealing. Sahm was a Bottle Rocket and the Bottle Rockets were Sahm. The addition of Sir Doug’s material also kept the band focused on the cream of their own work: No numbers from Brand New Year made the set; no new Henneman compositions either. Bassist Robert Kearns’ harmonies on “Indianapolis” and “Welfare Music” refreshed those old favorites, and Tom Parr picked up a clarinet for a freak-out, feedback duel with Henneman on “Song Of Everything”. (It turned out to be Parr’s last hometown performance with the band, as he left the band a week later in the midst of South By Southwest in Austin.)
The evening closed with “Stoned Faces Don’t Lie”, a singalong competition between St. Louis and other cities on the tour: even if the fix was in, 300 people howling the chorus was as hysterical as it was heart-warming. With the first encore, Jay Farrar, who had been waiting in the green room, slipped shyly on stage, picked up a guitar, and joined the band, along with opening act Bob Reuter, local DJ and spoon player Fred Friction, and a drunken cowgirl dancer for a bouncing, bluesy “She’s About A Mover”. Then Henneman called an audible, Parr turned up Farrar’s amp, and they were off into “Is Anybody Going To San Antone”. Even if Farrar didn’t take a verse, he laid down an inspired slide solo, which was more than enough to complete a night when everyone felt at home and no one wanted to go there.