It was unusual to approach an Over the Rhine gig with no particular expectations.
I’ll blame history. The last two times the duo played London, the set list was virtually identical – and with so many tracks off 2013’s double album Meet Me at the Edge of the World virtually all on guitar, it missed the delicacy of Linford Detweiler’s piano work.
What surprised us most last time is that, maybe only weeks after announcing that they were looking to put out three albums, there was no sign or mention of that in the gig. The sets were great, but I was ready now for something more.
But this time, WHAM! That sound hit me right at the start. “Broken Angels” from the new album staked its claim to be on the set list for the next decade – I was just eyes-closed and soaking in the sound. It wasn’t just the tenderness that Linford caresses out of his keyboard and the distinctive vocals of his wife Karin. This time there was Brad Meinerding’s lead guitar, all done in the style of early band member Ric Hordinski: gentle slide work, ambient colours and gradual swells all punctuating the music, and putting the feeling up front.
Then again, WHAM! While still reeling from the beauty my ears were experiencing, they started into “Born,” from the emotionally fragile Drunkard’s Prayer album, one of their most heart-rending songs.
The night was set to roll.
As with the previous gigs, Linford did the piano work, sometimes letting the Tom Waits influence show, and letting his right hand skim the keys for “Trouble.” Then he picked up a guitar and came centre stage to join Karin. Again we had a few from Meet Me at the Edge of the World: “Sacred Ground,” the title track (where the couple’s voices tangle almost inextricably), “Gonna Let My Soul Catch My Body…”
“We have never been a perky band,” Karin announced casually, in an understated manner, to knowing laughs from the crowd. It was by way of introducing a new song about a friend who was suffering from her husband’s suicide. She sang the piece solo.
There were to be more new songs. Linford introduced his “Betting on the Muse” by explaining how it was originally 24 verses long – until Karin insisted that she wasn’t singing them all (“I’m not paid enough for that!”). But by the time he has finished introducing all the verses that were not in the song, he could have played many of them.
The certainty with an OtR gig is that there will be no bad songs, because their catalogue is too stuffed with good ones to play them all, so it will only be lesser ones that get dropped. So more favourites followed; “Ohio” was as transfixing as ever, and tracks like “Drunkard’s Prayer” let Linford and Meinerding trade back and forth organically. Then the sidesman got to play a terrific solo instrumental that revealed how much he had been brought up on American roots music. It was implicit in his guitar style.
“Latter Days” performed its usual role as impeccable set closer and the encore included a third new song, “May God Love You.” It was a fine finish to the end of the European leg of their tour and it left an after-gig serenity that lingered sweetly through London and back up the M40 to home.
Why I do book tickets for shows in November, when I don’t really feel like going out into the cold after work?
This was an unquestionably excellent show – and one that reminded me why.
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