Show Review: Over the Rhine with Katie Herzig at Great American Music Hall, 11/10/09

by Jason LeRoy on November 11, 2009


San Francisco’s Midwestern transplants flocked to the Great American Music Hall on Tuesday night to bask in the soothing siren song of Ohio-based indie stalwarts Over the Rhine. The band, consisting primarily of smug marrieds Linford Detweiler (bass/piano/vocals) and Karin Bergquist (vocals/piano) and currently celebrating its twentieth year, treated its Bay Area fans to a nearly two-hour set spanning a vast array of fan favorites.

From the moment I walked into GAMH, I knew I’d entered the kind of strange parallel universe that only occurs in San Francisco when Over the Rhine are in town. First, this was one of Great American’s elusive “partially seated” shows, in which the majority of the concertgoers were contentedly seated (on chairs! at tables! with food!) in front of the stage. Those who didn’t spring for tables were abandoned to crowd into the significantly reduced floor space behind the plethora of tables. Seated people being closest to the stage at a concert in San Francisco? Clearly this was some kind of time warp.

Most significantly, though, an Over the Rhine concert attracts a very different kind of San Franciscan than your average show. Specifically, people from the Midwest. And while we Midwesterners are generally self-conscious about showing our roots in this heathen city of ours, all those self-imposed inhibitions are cast off like chains in the presence of other Over the Rhine fans. Damning phrases like “I’m from Akron” and “I met them at my church” are tossed around willy-nilly, unconcerned about incurring the wrath of California natives.

Bergquist, who was born in San Jose but raised in a very tiny Ohio town (“You’ve never been there,” she assured a shrieking Ohio-based fan), knew right away that this difference should be called out. “We’re from the Midwest,” she announced after their opening song. Greeted by a deafening chorus of cheers, she playfully scolded us for abandoning our roots and moving west. It was a mildly shaming moment, as the audience collectively imagined all the family and friends we’ve abandoned. But then again, Karin and Linford live on a beautiful farm in rural Ohio with its own recording studio, so maybe if we had their digs, we wouldn’t mind living there either. Okay, we still wouldn’t live there.

Over the Rhine hasn’t released a new album since 2007’s jazzy, upbeat The Trumpet Child, so they weren’t bound to tiresomely promote new material. Instead, they dipped evenly into Trumpet and their masterful 2003 double-album Ohio, along with a few tracks from Drunkard’s Prayer (2005) and early fan favorite Good Dog Bad Dog (1996), the oldest material they touched upon. They closed their encore with “New Redemption Song,” from their second holiday-themed album, Snow Angels (2007), and promised that another holiday album (as well as a disc of new material) are on their way in 2010.

The band was in excellent form musically. Detweiler and Bergquist, whose sultry voice never fails to enrapture, were joined by Jake Bradley (upright bass, electric bass, electric guitar), Kenny Hutson (electric guitar, mandolin, pedal steel, dobro), and breakout star Mickey Grimm (drums), whom Bergquist informed the audience is the Guinness World Record holder for longest drum roll (he did it to save the clock tower in his town, which: adorable!).

Over the Rhine are masters at creating a sense of intimacy at their shows, as though we’re all sipping wine in their living room. This is especially true when Linford and Karin share intimate personal stories about their songs, which they did tonight. And their voices are so soothing and NPR-ready, one wouldn’t be surprised to see the crowd gradually curling up into little balls of contentment on the floor.

Opening act Katie Herzig perfectly set the mood with her quietly spellbinding baroque folk. Joined onstage by a cellist and a multi-instrumentalist alternating between an accordion and a clarinet, Herzig and her all-female band charmed the audience with beautiful three-part harmonies and earnest melodies. All in all, the evening was a gorgeously soothing balm to the Midwestern transplant soul.

Set List

“I Don’t Wanna Waste Your Time”
“Jesus in New Orleans”
“Desperate For Love”
“I’m On A Roll”
“The Trumpet Child”
“Who’m I Kiddin’ But Me”
“Professional Daydreamer”
“Etcetera Whatever”
“Don’t Wait For Tom”
“Cruel and Pretty”
“All I Need Is Everything”
“I Want You To Be My Love”
“New Redemption Song”

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