Over the Rhine Flow Beautifully Over the St Giles’s Fields
This gig was a double first for me.
I went into St Giles in the Fields church in central London for the first time ever, despite having passed by it innumerable times, and been impressed with its Palladian style, in the more than 30 years I’ve lived here.
The other first was seeing Over the Rhine. I discovered them back in 2003. I read a rave review of their Ohio album in Paste magazine and decided it sounded the sort of thing I would like, so ordered it. It was a leap of faith that paid off.
The vagaries of the music business mean that OTR have had little publicity in the music press over the years and probably even less exposure on radio, and I’d guess none on TV, with the result that this excellent band have very little recognition in the UK. That harsh equation that success has little to do with high quality and everything to do with dumb luck is borne out here.
The fact that they are so little known had me wondering how many would turn up for this gig. The only person I know who is aware of them is my wife, which is hardly surprising. As it turned out the gig was sold out, though the crowd couldn’t have been more than around 200. In St Giles, this left plenty of room. Had it taken place somewhere else such as the compact basement club that is the Borderline, which lies only a couple of minutes walk from this venue, it would have been fairly uncomfortable.
This, they claim, is their first visit for eight years. Somehow I missed them back then, because I’m sure I’d have gone if I’d known and had the chance.
It is a lovely venue, from both the outside and the inside. Much brighter and airier than the Union Chapel, further north in Islington, where I see a fair number of gigs, and also quite a bit more spacious.
I turned up just in time. I was surprised to see the pews were full, but still got an excellent place standing at the back. They came on at 8:15, a couple of minutes after I’d arrived. Transport delays meant I was later than I’d wanted to be. Thankfully for me, the delay wasn’t worse.
I’m immediately struck by the lovely, slightly smoky tone Karin Bergquist has to her voice when she sings live, that isn’t so apparent on record. Her musical partner Linford Detweiler, after starting on guitar, switched to piano after half a dozen songs He was really impressive. I can’t speak to his technical prowess, but there was a gorgeous melodic flow to his playing that I just found to be entrancing and enveloping.
They open with “Meet Me at the Edge of the World,” and for the most part the set was taken from later albums, though most of us in the audience, I would guess, have never heard older material performed live. I’m not suggesting that’s a bad thing but allowance for the rarity of their UK appearances could have been made, resulting in a broader mix of material.
A downside for me was they played “Gonna Let My Soul Catch My Body,” the only OTR song I actively dislike. But that’s me and it went down well with everyone else. Bergquist’s introduction to “Only God Can Save Us Now” was longer than the song — something I thought only veteran British songwriter Roy Harper did. We did get “Suitcase,” “Latter Days,” and “All I Need Is Everything,” but the highlight of the set was “Born” — one of the most gorgeous musical moments I’ve heard this year. It was on a par with Frazey Ford’s performance of Indian Ocean, which I reviewed here a couple of weeks ago. It was one of those moments that you want to just carry on and on, elevating us to a higher plane before dropping us back into the humdrum of everyday life.
As a rule of thumb, a measure of how good a gig has been is that as soon as I’m up and out of bed for the mornings following the gig, I’m humming one of the tunes I’ve heard. Another is the desire for days after to play their albums pretty much to the exclusion of everything else. Both of these apply to Over the Rhine. (The Long Surrender is playing as I type).
This was another excellent musical evening. Not quite perfect, but it more than met my expectations. I think this has been a classic year for gig-going for me.
They said they’d like to come back soon. Please do. Whatever happens, don’t leave it for another eight years.