The Bottle Rockets, one of the bands, along with Wilco and Son Volt, that formed out of the wake of legendary alt-country group Uncle Tupelo, performed at The Birchmere on Friday. They played a set of their own songs, then, after an intermission, returned to the stage as the backing band for singer-songwriter Marshall Crenshaw.
The Bottle Rockets opened their set with “Monday (Every Time I Turn Around),” off their latest album, South Broadway Athletic Club (2015, Bloodshot Records). (Bloodshot is an independent record label in Chicago that has operated since the mid-’90s, specializing in alt-country. Their release of Ryan Adams’s hit record, Heartbreaker, put them on a stable footing for years to come at beginning of the millennium.)
Listen to South Broadway Athletic Club by the Bottle Rockets on Bandcamp:
The band played their most popular song, “Indianapolis,” from 1997’s 24 Hours A Day, which tells the true story of Uncle Tupelo’s Van breaking down in the eponymous city.
Brian Henneman, founder and lead singer of the Bottle Rockets, addressed the audience, telling them that he was concerned about his boy, who is 15, and is going to turn 16 in July, learning to drive. “We think he’s going to make it,” Brian added, which seemed odd, until he added that he was concerned because his boy is, he said, gesturing, about “this long” (a foot) and “this wide” (five inches).
Brian’s boy is Rocco, a 15-year-old Chihuahua/Corgi mix. Rocco, despite his advanced age, is in excellent health. He can still get up on the bed and suffers from no major ailments. Brian dedicated the next song, “Dog,” a very sweet, gentle song that declares that “sometimes life is just that simple,” to Rocco.
After “Dog,” Brian said that the Bottle Rockets released their first album in 1993, meaning that they’ve been together for 25 years. “There are bands that have been together for 25 years,” he continued. “ZZ Top has been together for 25 years. The Rolling Stones have been together 25 years. The difference is they have money! Try doing this for 25 years without money! What I’m saying is, I can’t tell you that we’re a great band, but we know how to stretch a dollar.”
“I want to play you a song off that very first album from 1993,” he continued, and the band launched into “Wave That Flag.” “Wave That Flag” is a remarkable song, representative of the beginnings of alt-country in the ’90s. This song, written by a southerner and released in 1993, attacks the use of Confederate flag. The gut-punch lyrics ask, “If someone owned your ass, how would you feel?”
Brian told the audience that the Bottle Rockets are currently recording a new album between tour dates. So far, the band has laid down eight tracks, and they played two of them for the audience — they had to save something for the album.
After playing the new songs, Brian said that every band should have a dog song and a train song. Brian’s “Ship It on the Frisco” is about him jumping a train with his best friend in 1971, when he was 10 years old. Brian said that he had to wait until his parents had passed to record the song, because, if they were still alive, they would have killed him.
“In the book of obscure of rules,” Brian related to the audience, “it says that if you have a dog song, and a train song, you should have a radar gun song.” Of course, the Bottle Rockets do — appropriately enough, called “Radar Gun.”
To round out their set, Brian said that the band wanted to show their love to the audience, but they only have one love song. The Bottle Rockets played “Love Like a Truck,” and left the stage. They returned to back Marshall Crenshaw, a very different sort of artist. At the end of his encore, Crenshaw showed his respect for the Bottle Rockets by closing with their song “Kit Kat Clock.”