Home Live Review Live Review: BoDeans @ The Birchmere — 5/21/23

Live Review: BoDeans @ The Birchmere — 5/21/23

Live Review: BoDeans @ The Birchmere — 5/21/23
BoDeans (Photo courtesy Northstar Artists)

Genres exist as marketing tools, and they often reflect the audience more than the artists themselves. Tyler Mahan Coe once explained that “heartland rock,” which includes a number of bands and artists who are not from that region, is defined by its appeal to liberals from the Midwest who listen to NPR, and he has me pegged with that description.

Of course, some “heartland rock” artists do hail from there — artists like John Hiatt, Bob Seger, and the Bodeans, who recently played The Birchmere.

Kurt Neuman, the BoDeans’ guitarist, lead vocalist, and principal songwriter, grew up in Waukesha, Wisconsin (though he was born in Milwaukee), a small town of less than 2,000. Because of this background, he was sought out to compose music for the Netflix series The Ranch. At The Birchmere on May 21, Kurt told the audience, “It’s not location, not north, east, south or west that defines your town, it’s the people.”

Growing up in Waukesha, Kurt “had a little transistor radio I took everywhere,” listening to AM radio station WOKI.” AM radio “wasn’t really formatted for anyone” in particular, instead playing a variety of music across genres and styles. That shaped his own career with the BoDeans, where he tries to combine “all types of music.” He recalled hearing Johnny Cash on the radio, an inspiration for his “finally” writing a prison song in 2012, “Flyaway.”

In the ’80s, and even moreso, in the ’90s, the Bodeans achieved breakthrough success. After releasing their first LP in 1986, Love & Sex & Hope & Dreams, which included “Fadeaway” they were voted Best New Band in a Rolling Stone poll. The set included a couple of songs, “Only Love” and “The Ballad of Jenny Rae,” from their 1987 sophomore effort, Outside Looking In.  “Closer To Free” (from 1993’s Go Slow Down),  which closed the evening’s encore, became their biggest hit, one that I clearly remember from that time. “I had a lot of fun in the ’80s and ’90s,” Kurt told the audience.

Watch BoDeans perform “Closer to Free” live for FarmAid via YouTube:

BoDeans released their latest album, 4 The Last Time, in June 2022. Kurt wrote “Pressure Queen,”  which he called “a perfect song for stressed-out individuals,” for his wife. He observed that it’s a mistake to tell someone who’s stressed out to “calm down.” (The great Harlan Ellison’s stock response to such things was, “I never thought of that!”)

The show kicked off with “Idaho,” another track from Go Slow Down. “Let’s get crazy,” Kurt said before “Ya Gotta Go Crazy.” “We don’t get to play that one often,” Kurt said of “Tied Down and Chained.” “If I Could Hold You Tonight,” he said, “was one of those songs that just caught on.” They covered the Boss’s “I’m On Fire,” which they’d once played “because we were in New Jersey and we had to.” The set also included “Dreams” and “Naked,” finishing with “Good Things.”

The BoDeans didn’t leave the stage before their encore, instead pausing briefly before covering the Rolling Stones “Miss You,” then ending the evening with “Closer To Free.” This show brought back a lot of memories, took me back to my earliest teen years, and it was full of some great songs by a great American rock band.

For more BoDeans, visit the band’s website!


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