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MUSIC: Crenshaw and Bottle Rockets Heat Up the Narrows

Wednesday, January 29, 2014


Marshall Crenshaw and The Bottle Rockets arrived in town for a great show last Thursday night. Given the outpouring of warmth in the crowd, and the excess heat in the old factory known as the Narrows Center, it’s appropriate to say that on the coldest night of the year, Marshall Crenshaw and the Bottle Rockets played a hot show! With the building heat running a little high, both artists stormed through great songs old and new for a great night of music in the dead of winter.

The Bottle Rockets

Alt-Country originals The Bottle Rockets opened the show. The seminal St. Louis band cruised through a 16 song set with tunes ranging from early demos to new music. Highlighting classics like “Kerosene,” “Radar Gun,” and “Welfare Music,” they set a rockin’ tone for the evening.

Their songs run the gamut from Texas two-step to Rockabilly alongside some kick ass rock and roll. Their lyrics can be catchy – “Whenever you’re ready, we’ll go steady,” (from “Every Kinda Everything”) – and, in “Smoking 100s,” pretty gloomy:

"Another cup of coffee down the hatch
Another cigarette as soon as she finds a match
Feelin’ more like a loser as each minute drags on
She’s smoking 100’s alone."

There’s an element of swamp humor in their music, too – evident in one of the longest titles of any rock song in history - "This Is What It Sounds Like When You're Listening to Lindsey Buckingham and Thinking About Your Friend's Girlfriend at the Same Time." Nuff said.

The Rockets promise a new release soon. Meanwhile, check out their recently re-released two album set here. The album, which includes bonus material, is a reissue of their first two CDs, The Bottle Rockets and Brooklyn Side.

Marshall Crenshaw

Marshall Crenshaw has been making great music since the early 1980s. After a stint playing John Lennon in the stage show Beatlemania, (and later, a bit part playing Buddy Holly in the film La Bamba), he embarked on a solo career, which included critically acclaimed albums and a few charting singles.

Crenshaw’s music is sometimes hard to categorize. On the surface, it’s power pop, with a dose of retro rock and roll, featuring great lyrics and tight arrangements. But it goes deeper - there’s a distinctive warmth to his sound. His harmonies and chord changes evoke a feeling of elation, even when the mood is melancholy.

With the Bottle Rockets backing, he opened with a new song, a beautiful mellow rocker “Stranger and Stranger.” The lyrics are poignant –

“Sad to say, I’m confronted by this fact,
She’s gone away now, never will be back,
It’s so true that time can be a cruel re-arranger,
And the weather outside is getting stranger and stranger.”

Next up was “Passing Through” a tune Crenshaw labeled “a joyful song about mortality,” from the 2009 album, Jaggedland. A couple of classic hits followed; “There She Goes Again,” at a slower tempo than the original, and “Cynical Girl,” a memorable song (“Qell I hate TV, there’s gotta be somebody other than me …”) from his self-titled debut album. Rocket’s leader Brian Henneman supplied an extra layer of harmony accompanying Crenshaw on electric sitar on both tunes. Talk about twang!

His newest song, “Driving and Dreaming” came next, a melodic 70’s style ballad. The confessional mood continued with another new one, “Live and Learn,” which featured great harmonizing from bass player Keith Voegele.

The new tunes are part of a special distribution arrangement for Crenshaw, which came about as part of a Kickstarter campaign. Instead of releasing traditional albums, he’s putting out a series of three 10’ LP’s annually. Each album contains 3-4 songs including an original, a cover and a rare live recording of an older song. Click here for further details.

Playing the Classics

“Calling Out for Love at Crying Time” was next, a tune co-written by singer/producer Don Dixon. The Buddy Holly classic “Crying, Waiting, Hoping,” came later, a beautiful version demonstrating how Crenshaw carries on the legacy of Holly. A lesser-known Everly Brothers song, “Man with Money,” was next, a nice tribute to the duo who influenced many great singer-songwriters including Crenshaw.

The show continued with Crenshaw’s biggest hit, “Someday, Someway,” a rocker that still sounds great after all these years. He closed his set with “Better Back Off,” from the 1991 release Life’s Too Short, “a happy song about anxiety” declared the singer.


The band romped through Richard Thompson’s “Valerie,” a song Crenshaw first recorded in 1989. He closed with a classic love song, “Whenever You’re on My Mind,” noting his band once dressed as pirates when he recorded the tune for an MTV video.

After 30+ years, Crenshaw is still an under-appreciated musician. He’s always been a critical favorite, and his new songs would be hits in a long lost music market. His “too cool for school” attitude comes off a little heavy sometimes, but it’s balanced alongside his serenading love songs. Although he hasn’t lost his bite, the new songs are a little smoother around the edges. At the core, he’s a hopeless romantic.

For more Marshall Crenshaw, visit his website.

Ken Abrams reviews Roots, Rock and Blues for GoLocal. He can be contacted at [email protected].


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