Show Review: Over the Rhine at Great American Music Hall, 11/15/11

by Jason LeRoy on November 18, 2011

San Francisco’s disproportionately large population of ex-Ohioans once again flocked to Great American Music Hall to see the Buckeye State’s finest cultural ambassadors – Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist of Over the Rhine – perform another exquisitely drowsy set of their infinitely soothing jazzy Americana.

There is something profoundly comforting about seeing OtR for ex-Ohioans and other Midwestern refugees. With their innately calming NPR-personality speaking voices and warmly familiar long-married stories (I will personally never tire of hearing them talk about coming from tiny coal-mining towns in southernmost Ohio or how they met at Malone), it feels like a comforts-of-home traveling roadshow.

They are currently touring in celebration of their 20th year of recording – their first album, Till We Have Faces, was released in 1991 – as well as their accomplished latest album, The Long Surrender, which was produced by Joe Henry and features guest vocals from Lucinda Williams. Bergquist was kind enough to demonstrate the correct way of pronouncing the album’s title: as an exasperated, weary exclamation, “the loooong surrender.” After the bebop exuberance of The Trumpet Child and the bleeding-heart fragility of Drunkard’s Prayer, this is arguably the most confident, cohesive album they’ve ever released.

In keeping with their NPR-ready “This Ohioan Life” personae, Detweiler and Bergquist are not prone to keeping the stories behind their songs to themselves. Before “The King Knows How”, Bergquist told the story of how her agnostic step-grandfather was the first man to take her to church when she asked about God as a little girl. Dedicating the song to him, she confided, “I have since left the church, but I haven’t left God, and I haven’t left music.” Detweiler said that “All My Favorite People,” a standout from The Long Surrender which lyrically and musically sounds like the ultimate OtR manifesto, was an undertaking nearly five years in the making “to get it just right.” It shows.

On a lighter note, he also noted that fan favorite “I Want You To Be My Love” was the result of a contest between himself and Bergquist. “We’re very competitive,” he explained. “So we challenged each other over who could write the simplest song. Karin won.” And in her introduction to the saucy “Trouble,” which usually brings out the sexpot in Bergquist, she explained that she wrote the song under the arousing influence of her husband’s five o’clock shadow. “Although you have more than that tonight,” she mused, “That’s scruff. I may have to write a new song.” Emboldened, she went into over-sharing married-person mode, declaring of Detweiler, “I’ve always said, don’t get behind the wheel if you can’t handle the curves. And you can quote me on that.” The audience’s delighted reaction seemed to indicate the quote would be going home with many of them.

In general, Bergquist seemed a bit rawer and edgier than usual, more forceful and muscular in her performance. Coming to the west coast seems to bring out a somewhat less inhibited side of the band. Or at least by their admittedly mellow standards; she didn’t suddenly transform into Wendy O. Williams or anything like that. But her gorgeously burnished, evocatively husky voice remains every bit the treasure it’s always been; each time I see her, it sounds like she’s somehow in even greater and fuller command of it. It was a perfect performance that gave the fans every last bit of satisfaction for which we could have hoped.

Setlist:

“The Laugh of Recognition”

“Rave On”

“Undamned”

“The King Knows How”

“Suitcase”

“Oh Yeah By The Way”

“I’m On A Roll”

“I Want You To Be My Love”

“Infamous Love Song”

“Love Me” [new song]

“Days Like This”

“Trouble”

“All My Favorite People”

[encore]

“Hallelujah” [cover]

“Drunkard’s Prayer”

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