OVER THE RHINE * MARCH 27, 2001, ST. LOUIS, MO

BLUEBERRY HILL’S DUCK ROOM

NOTE: This piece originally appeared in an online edition of John J. Thompson’s True Tunes News before it went belly-up. I just found it today, and decided it was worth posting, if nothing else, for its archival value.

When the piece originally ran, the band wrote me and explained that the set list I had swiped was not intended for the public’s eyes. I quickly apologized for offending the band, and they wrote back and explained that it was fine, and that they had enjoyed my review, but had been taken aback by the “Love is a MF” reference. 

I was 22 when I wrote this, and the concluding line is classic me at that age—a total throwaway. “Let’s end this thing and get out of here. Who cares about resolution?” The rest of the piece feels adequately developed, if not overblown in the enthusiasm department. 

To the members of Over the Rhine, thanks for a great night—and for not suing me!

The members of Over the Rhine probably have epiphanies everyday. In the car. In the shower. New lyrics floating to the top of each bowl of alphabet soup—perfectly arranged, complete with iambic pentameter and words that aren’t too heavy on pop or pretense.

I am positive this stuff actually happens. How else could it happen? After all, Over the Rhine’s timeless, flawless art seems to be, well … effortless.

It is no wonder then, that OTR’s live show is equally timeless, flawless and effortless. Art is as natural for these blokes from Ohio as sleep is for the average Joe.

Blueberry Hill’s Duck Room was the perfect venue for OTR to bring its black and white photos to life in glorious stereo. It was spacious enough that 400-500 people could fit into the room and still breathe, but small enough that when I got there a mere hour in advance, I was able to swipe a very choice seat in the front row.

Opening act Rose Polanzani took the stage first and caught the crowd off guard with her beautifully disturbing, otherworldly folk music. Accompanied by a free-spirited guitarist named “Goody” who added a spectrum of color and light to the soundscape, Polanzani at times recalled an edgier Joni Mitchell.

Then came Over the Rhine—art-rock superheroes.

Opening with “The World Can Wait” from their new album Films For Radio, the band came to life and their sophisticated, earthy art-pop transformed the room into a haven for all the ghosts and muses that inspire them and make their music so endearing.

Karin Bergquist, as usual, was perfect. Donning an off-the-shoulder patchwork dress that accentuated the sensual folk ‘n’ roll swagger that often characterizes OTR’s tunes, Karin vamped like a siren and an angel.

Keyboardist and band co-founder Linford Detweiler, on the other hand, handled the Hammond B3 with the wide-eyed wonder of a child. Or perhaps, more precisely, with the joy of a man who gets to be cooler than you and me (combined, I mean) everyday.

Exhibit A: The man gets paid to write songs.

Exhibit B: His band just released a brilliant new album on Virgin records and, despite the major label affiliation, the record still manages to feel really independent.

Exhibit C: He’s so artsy that, even if he messes up a keyboard part, people think he’s just being “avant-garde.”

Exhibit D: He gets to go on a rock ‘n’ roll tour with his wife (Bergquist) and a bunch of musical Picassos, etc.

Etcetera, indeed. Lucky man.

OTR’s new guitarist, Jack Henderson, played guitar that was equal parts sandpaper, soul and swoon. His Bergquist-proclaimed “porno guitar” and lap-steel playing meandered through traditional stylings and into brilliant, spontaneous psychedelia throughout the show. Not at all unlike a child at school who tries to sit still and—three minutes later—goes gangbusters and breaks everybody’s crayons. Plus, his cool, stoic stare was all rock ‘n’ roll attitude.

That’s what we like in St. Louis, Missouri.

OTR’s rhythm section featured Chris Donahue on bass and Sixpence None the Richer’s Dale Baker on drums. Donahue and Baker provided a more than adequate canvas for Berquist and Co.’s paint. Van Gogh couldn’t have done much better.

The majority of the songs performed were selected from Films for Radio, but the band also nodded to previous LPs like Eve and Patience. A resurrected version of “Birds” from the Patience LP was incendiary proof that songs, unlike fires, only burn brighter with the passage of time.

Two relatively obscure gems—a revamped version of “Bothered,” a hidden track from Eve, and a Bergquist-penned number called “Anything at All”—provided the set with the “exclusive” feeling that a limited edition boxed set usually provides (Speaking of boxed sets, where’s your Pet Sounds boxed set when you just want to hold it in your arms for a few hours?).

All songs were executed with the freedom of an impromptu jazz excursion, but with the reigns pulled tight enough that none of the songs got away from the band. Highlights of the evening included the infectious “I Radio Heaven,” the Southern swoon of “Little Blue River/In the Garden,” the extended beatnik jam of “My Love Is a Fever,” (Curiously listed on the setlist I stole as “Love Is a MF”) and the elegant “Goodbye.”

Encore, encore. A brilliant set.

The band returned to the stage with the dark trip-hop of “The Body is a Stairway of Skin” and its primed-for-top-40-single, “Give Me Strength.”

Next time I go over the Rhine, don’t expect me to come back. I would rather leave my writing behind, throw my computer out the window, and become a roadie.