Novak (novak) wrote,
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Musical: Over The Rhine's Show; Distracting Sex

Over The Rhine appeared at the Miramar Theatre in Milwaukee on Wednesday night, the 28th of November, and in the more than a decade that I've been taking in their shows, I think this was the most fun I'd ever had seeing them live. They were in a pretty giddy mood, themselves, light-hearted and relaxed. I was there with Mike and Donna, Dan and Amy having ended up not being able to join us. (Like me, Mike's been a fan all the way back since the release of Patience in 1992, while Donna has more recently fallen in love with them.) I tried to wheedle Julie into coming, but she had taken a week-long vow of socializing celibacy, and was cloistered with her doctoral program applications for the duration. Pity. With a bar out front, the Theatre was an older, run-down affair, but it only seated 300 people, making for an intimate show. Even after all these years, Over The Rhine remains more of a musical secret than recognized as the national treasure they are. Their music is something increasingly being heard on television soundtracks, but their dogged refusal to sign the big contracts and lose artistic control keeps them more of a word-of-mouth phenomenon without the big marketing and airplay machines behind them. About 200 had gathered there, which is a shame for artists the trades regularly name in the top 100 songwriters in America, but all the better for us attending. The sound was quite clear, the staff relaxed, and I was soon kicking myself for not thinking to bring my camera or, better yet, my digital recorder. (I borrowed these photos from the internets. We were actually sitting straight back from the drummer.)

The band behind Karin Berquist was a trio, mostly feeling like a jazz trio, with husband Lindord Detweiler on keyboards and playing with them bassist/guitarist Jake Bradley and drummer Mickey Grimm. Karin in skirt and the lads in suits, the show quickly had an old-time nightclub or cabaret feel to it, although the leanings toward jazz sounds of late did not block the outbreaks of rock, thick Americana, or, as we saw, spontaneous television jingle-singing. As the walked on stage to the taped sounds of the brass-and-woodwinds opening sounds of "I Don't Wanna Waste Your Time," the audience erupted into enthusiastic cheering, and suddenly a mood descended, a sense of something special as though this all have been saved up just for us. As the band took up the music when the recorded overture ended, the song quickly became something of an invocation, and perhaps a contract with the audience in recognizing the sacredness of what can be accomplished in gathering together to share the gift of music:
But I don’t wanna waste the words
That you don’t seem to need
When it comes to wanting what’s real
There’s no such thing as greed
I hope this night puts down deep roots
I hope we plant a seed
‘Cause I don’t wanna waste your time
With music you don’t need
The audience picked up immediately on what was being said, and responded strongly to these lines. This was in light of an unfortunate incident where, after a first (and good) local opening artist, another local group took to the stage, and after a time began to wear out their welcome. It was already 9:15pm by that point on a Wednesday night, and they had to be invited to leave the stage by a soundman trying to be a discrete and polite as possible after the end of a song. More on these two acts later. Suffice it to say, people had gathered for Over The Rhine, and had been gracious and receptive to some newer acts trying their material on the stage, but not to the point of wanting to surrender the night to them. The hour getting late on this workweek evening, tensions eased once Over The Rhine began their set.


The setlist for the evening was what one might expect, given the four-CD output the duo had over twelve months, drawing heavily from their two studio efforts Snow Angels and The Trumpet Child, as well as elements in their mood revealed in the past year's annual collection of live selections in Live From Nowhere, Vol. 2. (They also released a career retrospective, Discount Fireworks.) So, planned and unplanned, the night included:
I Don't Wanna Waste Your Time
Fever
All I Ever Get For Christmas Is Blue
Trouble
Nothing Is Innocent
The Trumpet Child
Who'm I Kiddin' But Me
Oscar Mayer Weiner Jingle
Darlin' (Christmas is Coming)
North Pole Man
Goodbye Charles
Linus And Lucy
Snow Angel
Ohio
Orphan Girl

(encore)
Hush Now (Stella's Tarantella)
Drunkard's Prayer
If A Song Could Be President
Don't Wait For Tom
Hmpf. I stopped writing the above last night at this point. The previous night, the guys who live next door to me this year had started playing loud rap music at 2:45am. Now, at a similarly late hour as I was writing about the concert, the sound of a young woman climaxing suddenly came through the wall. This was very quickly followed by her voice chastizing someone about "following the rules" in the tones one would expect a teacher to scold a five year-old. This rather threw my concentration. As I retreated to read in the living room, having decided against pounding on the wall and complicating the mood, the stereo started up with too-loud sounds of Neil Young....

So now I'm back, without distraction. More notes on the show. After Karin had introduced "Nothing Is Innocent"as a song with a "heavier message," but had broken off and declined to say more, Linford, a sort of born straight-man with the driest delivery I might have ever heard, broke the dramatic tension by announcing that we could "dance descretely in the aisles" to the slightly seductive rhythm of the music. And this after the absolutely seductive sounds of the fun-filled "Trouble." After speaking of the broad spiritual roots of "The Trumpet Child," and the vast hymn heritage it drew from, Karin then introduced "Who'm I Kiddin' But Me?" with simply "Well, this is just a trashy song I wrote," which provoked a lot of laughter. It was after this song, that Linford speculated about evolving their shows into something more spectacular, like having a meet-n-greet in the back alley after shows, with a grill and a weenie roast. This image lead Karin to remark on their surprise of finding the Oscar Mayer Weinermobile parked in front of their hotel tonight, which then had Linford fantasizing about a corporate tour sponsorship: The Over The Rhine Oscar Mayer Weiner Tour. And suddenly we found ourselves being lead by Karin, with the band joining in, in a rousing chorus of the Oscar Mayer Weiner jingle from our collective childhoods. I know, I know, these anecdotes lose everything in the telling, "You had to be there," etc., etc.... But I still wanted to make a point of remembering the details of how light-hearted and fun the show was: the music occasionally lifting us to Joy, the unpretentious humanity of the artists giving it the feel of a private living room concert among friends.

It was after the Vince Guaraldi Trio-inspired "Goodbye Charles" (in the Trio's style, of what Linford acknowledged – rightly, I say – was the greatest Christmas album of all time: A Charlie Brown Christmas) that a bad cable going in and out brought the show momentarily to a halt. I had a moment of personal drama at this point. I stood up to step out to the lobby and tripped over the step up to the ramp, falling sidewise in the classic, this-would-have-broken-my-grandma's-hip fashion. As my own hips were damaged from steroid use, I've long feared this particular fall, and some distant part of my brain idly wondered what would come of all this. I've had a vividly bruised feeling for the last day, but mercifully no broken bone. The Harrises, too, were quite relieved. Once the offending cable was replaced on Linford's keyboard setup, he soundchecked to a rendition of "Linus and Lucy," with Karin dancing in the background in the styles of the various kids from the classic Christmas cartoon. This lead us back to some of their recent Christmas material, with Karin singing "Snow Angel" to solo piano. She then spoke of her memories of moving in her youth to small-town Ohio, which she eagerly left behind at 17 only to find it deep inside her, and then launched into her "Ohio" to great audience approval. She played piano on that one, with Linford moving over to bass (maybe the first time I'd seen him on bass since the original Over The Rhine four-piece rock band), and Jake to guitar. They then spoke of being fans first, themselves, before being performers. And this served as the intro to their cover of Gillian Welch's "Orphan Girl," which they opened in four-part a capella harmony, again to shouts of approval by the crowd. For this Karin was now playing acoustic guitar as rhythm behind Jake's raucous rockabilly lead electric. And that proved to be their sudden closer.

They came back out for a three-song encore which turned into four at the shouted request for "Drunkard's Prayer." That provoked other shouts, including mine for "Last Night," but it was first come, first served. I was really struck by "Drunkard's Prayer," which suddenly hit me as more strongly than it ever had, maybe because it was live. Maybe because she was praying. Like last year with Erik, seeing Michelangelo's David (if in a much more low-key way), I was unprepared for its power. Linford introduced their protest-song-inspired "If A Song Could Be President" with a story of being at a festival in Belgium this year when a guy from the old East Germany invited them to a festival he was organizing. He observed to Linford that his last name, Detweiler, must be German and Linford acknowledged that he did indeed have German blood, though he admitted he was more an American-style mongrel. This apparently provoked a sudden comment from the German about America being an imperialistic country, half humourously and have with an edge, and Linford told us that suddenly the conversation was teetering on an edge where it could stay friendly or get kind of hostile. And so Linford replied to the fellow that yes, indeed, America was a land of contradictions: peace-loving and military, worldly and provincial, secularized and deeply religious: and that it was the only country in the world that could have produced Johnny Cash. The German blinked at this sudden turn, and then smiled and agreed that this was undoubtedly so, and all was well. So the night ended with Karin beating on an old scarred and burned cookie pan with a large mallet ("I don't bring out my cookie pan for just any show," she assured us) and took us on the Tom Waits-inspired "Don't Wait For Tom," which was a delightfully fun way to end the evening. I give the show seven stars out of five.
Tags: friends-marquette era, milwaukee, musical, mysticism/spirituality, over the rhine, setlists, sexuality
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