Marshall Crenshaw and the Bottle Rockets Blow Up the Birchmere
Alchemy, the mythical chemistry by which base elements were transmuted into gold, is a common practice in Virginia. In fact, on any given night at The Birchmere, it happens live on stage, in one of the nation’s most historic venues. Often referred to as the last of the listening rooms, the roster of artists who have graced the stage here represent the roots of American music. If the Smithsonian Museum were to open a new building dedicated to the history of American musical forms, they might call it The Birchmere.
One of the reasons magical happenings are a common occurrence at The Birchmere is that the staff goes to great lengths to create an environment that is supportive of the artist. This is not your typical rock club, but rather a place where you are encouraged to get into your seat and listen, switch off that cell phone, and pay attention. Perhaps the best thing about The Birchmere is that it is a place that musicians want to play. The environment is always right for creativity, and the sound is always crystal clear and spectacular.
So, on a nearly sold-out Friday night, the Bottle Rockets made their big noise, opening for Marshall Crenshaw. Brian Henneman, Mark Ortmann, John Horton, and Keith Voegele served to remind the audience that they were right there at the epicenter of the seismic shift that birthed Americana, along with Uncle Tupelo. The St. Louis-based quartet was solid and steady, and at the top of their game. As opening sets go, the Bottle Rockets delivered a solid sixty-minute set, featuring fourteen songs, spanning their career. The performance showcased Henneman’s sardonic wit, and the songwriting strengths of the band. The set list was a wealth of favorites, including “Radar Gun,” “Kerosene,” and “1000 Dollar Car.” Scattered throughout their set were some fine new songs that will appear on their upcoming new album, although no release date was mentioned.
Ortmann displayed the worthy qualities of a human metronome on drums, and Horton provided excellent solos on Telecaster, slide guitar and lap steel. Voegele laid down a solid bass line and provided harmony vocals alongside Henneman. One of the highlights of the new material was “My Dog.” Introduced by Henneman as a masterpiece of Zen thought, “You’ll be thinking about this one on your way home,” the song proclaimed his love for his canine companion. “I don’t care if you love him, he’s my dog.” They closed with the crowd pleasing “Welfare Music,” but they weren’t gone long because they returned as the backing band for Marshall Crenshaw.
After a short intermission, Marshall Crenshaw walked on stage and launched into a ninety-minute, nineteen song set that included a Buddy Holly cover, and plenty of Crenshaw gems. Henneman’s jangly guitar added a bit of twang to Crenshaw’s pop-rock sensibilities, and gave the material a little heartland edginess. As a songwriter, Crenshaw displays excellent chops, wry lyrical observations, and plenty of melodic hooks. His streak of cynicism keeps the pop side of things from getting too sticky sweet and grounds the sentiments in the real world we have to live in. Kicking off with “Calling Out For Love,” Crenshaw took the audience for a ride through his catalog, including new works from the recent spate of vinyl EPs he has been releasing over the last couple of years. The newer tunes are evidence that he has lost none of the qualities that made him an important songwriter, one who carried the fire of early rock and roll into the eighties and the post-disco era. Capitalizing on the simplicity of three chord rock and its youthful exuberance, Crenshaw revealed an uncanny knack for the kind of three minute gems that artists like Buddy Holly and the Lovin’ Spoonful once tossed off with regularity.
Last night, at The Birchmere, Crenshaw’s newer material sat just fine alongside his radio friendly hits. Ortmann’s steady beat anchored “Cynical Girl,” to the delight of the ticket holders. The classic “Whenever You’re on my Mind” was followed by “Move Now” and “Red Wine,” both of which are title tracks to four song EPs. A cover of Richard Thompson’s “Valerie” gave way to “You’re My Favorite Waste of Time.” Crenshaw was in fine voice and seemed to be enjoying himself and his band. The audience responded enthusiastically, bringing Crenshaw and the Bottle Rockets back for what turned out to be a four song encore that included “Someday, Someway,” and “Mary Anne.” Last night, The Birchmere was once again a magical place to be.
See Marshall Crenshaw and the Bottle Rockets below…