Prior to last night's show at Off Broadway, Bottle Rockets guitarist John Horton stood in the lobby and expressed nervousness about the impending concert -- which was the first show in a series of gigs backing '80s power-pop icon Marshall Crenshaw.
Horton and company had nothing to worry about.
The BoRox opened with its own set and played to a packed house, despite the weeknight snow panic. Met by a crowd filled with hardcore fans and loved ones, the band plowed through a high energy hour-long set filled with Bottle Rockets favorites.
View a slideshow of the Bottle Rockets and Marshall Crenshaw at Off Broadway
Crenshaw seemed amazed at the boisterous love and support provided to his new band from the hometown crowd. His set opened with "There She Goes Again." It was a tentative performance, much slower than the recorded version. Crenshaw's vocals remain strong, though, and they blended beautifully with bassist Keith Voegele's harmonies. The configuration of three guitarists and a bassist on stage hinted at a deep guitar wall that would grow throughout the set.
Through "Cynical Girl" and "Live and Learn," which featured John Horton on
pedal lap-steel guitar, the band found its comfort zone with the new material, and gradually relaxed into its usual confident stage presence. By the bopping "Mary Anne," everyone was loose and happy, with Henneman finally stepping up to the mic for the song's three-part harmony.
The power pop blended into "Stormy River," which maintained a jangly base under darker tones. The song could work for Crenshaw or the Bottle Rockets, with its blend of hooks and a simmering guitar storm that spun into a Neil Young-inspired instrumental ending. On this song, the Bottle Rockets emerged more as collaborators than it did a backing band.
The group continued to hold its own through Richard Thompson's "Valerie," which was full of Bottle Rockets-styled countrified guitar and Crenshaw's rockabilly tempo; the song even had a signature BoRox guitar-blast ending. Two songs later, on a cover of Buddy Holly's "Crying, Hoping, Waiting," Crenshaw channeled the late singer. Mark Ortmann's drumming built to stomping military precision while Crenshaw, Horton, Henneman and Voegele orchestrated a rich and restrained guitar assault far more complex than the Crickets' original. Henneman ventured into a Hollyesque guitar solo, but rejoined the pack of guitars for an ending that built with methodical force and then abruptly stopped. No flourish or fanfare, the musical expression of frustration and heartache.
And then band became the seamless backing band for Crenshaw's standard "Whenever You're on My Mind," which is still as full of pristine longing as it was in 1983. Same with Crenshaw's biggest hit, "Someday, Someway," despite some vocal faltering on the latter. Not that it mattered much: With the band's precision and Crenshaw's joyous energy, the song maintained its power pop perfection, leaving the crowd dancing and singing.