Over the Rhine's 2003 double disc Ohio was supposed to launch them further onto the national stage. Due to some marital problems, the tour following the release was canceled — and all of us wondered what would be the fate of the band.
We all know how the story turned out. The band remained together and put out two more brilliant albums since Ohio. And I never understood why people inferred that because of the cancellation OTR wouldn't become as popular as they could have been. I have always looked at them as one of the most successful touring acts form Cincinnati in recent memory. I have met people all across the country and a few places in Europe that love this band.
The only unfortunate thing that came of this whole affair was that it took the band five years to perform some of these songs live. Saturday, they played the entire album(s). Even more exciting was the fact that they were the first act to perform on the new National City Pavilion stage.
My wife and I arrived to find that we somehow made the VIP list. Had I known about this perk, I would have made it a point to arrive earlier. It just seems wrong for a 30-year-old man to quickly chug three beers and then go to a concert, especially an Over the Rhine concert. Unfortunately I can’t say no to Bud Light, though, as my wife pointed out, I really need to have an “adult” drink to call my own. Something sophisticated … like a Manhattan!
The venue is wonderful and is the perfect compliment to Riverbend. With time, I hope that more acts will begin to recognize that you can play a nice outside venue in Cincinnati. I must say that I am happy with the lineup so far and have heard rumors of a few more great additions. My one complaint was that they had just finished the landscaping and there was a strong scent of manure. I'm sure they're working out the kinks.
Karin Bergquist finally took the stage and played the opening chords to "B.P.D." I begin to melt as the lyrics flow from her mouth. There is something completely stunning about her husky voice and that hint of southern drawl drives me insane. I could listen to her speak hours on end regardless of the subject. Since my wife was sitting next to me, I had to contain my crush and start discussing the acoustics of the new venue. I don’t think she fell for it.
The rest of the band finally entered the stage and pick up in the middle of the song. Even though I know that Linford began as the bass player, it still seems weird to see him any place beside the piano. Karin revealed that they will be playing the two-disc album in order, with a short intermission between the two discs. Of course, there are the obligatory jokes about what to expect next on the setlist.
Most of the songs from the first CD — songs like "Ohio," "Jesus in New Orleans" and "Suitcase" — have been played for years now. They're like old friends that you haven’t seen in a few months. Even though you haven’t spoken to each other in awhile, you know exactly how they are doing.
Other songs, like "Lifelong Fling" and "Professional Daydreamer," just sounded a little out of place. You could tell that the band has rehearsed the songs, but some of these tunes seemed not quite ready for a live performance. Plus the band likes to jazz the songs up a bit. I am all for each member to show off a bit, but I want a three minute song to stay that way. I don’t need a slide guitar solo and a drum solo. But I still struggle sometimes with the fact that live music isn’t the same as recorded music. It still kills me to see Bob Dylan!
After a short intermission, the band re-took the stage and surprisingly blazed through the second disc of Ohio. Unlike the first disc, most of these songs are pretty new to the audience. The other main difference is that the majority of these tunes are poppier and more upbeat than the first disc. Or maybe they just sounded more like the actual recording?
Karin looked much more comfortable and relaxed then I have ever seen her on stage. She danced and swayed a little more and exuded a confidence at the microphone that usually lacks from her performance. Dare I say that her southern accent and presence might remind a casual listener of Janis Joplin? The highlight of the show for me was the “silly little love song” called "When You Say Love." It's my favorite song on the album and just makes me happy. Linford shines on the keys, and it makes me think of growing up listening to oldies radio in the hills of West Virgina.
My wife and I left as they were playing the final song of the album "Bothered." The night was getting colder and our summer attire wasn’t cutting it. As we walked to the car, the music was bouncing off the hills behind Riverbend and creating an all-new version of the song. Of course it sounded nothing like the actual recording, but the lyrics had a very calming effect on me.
The reason I love OTR so much is that I'm able to go to a show or listen to an album and forget about the world around me for a little bit. I feel like I'm sitting by a warm fire and discussing the problems of the world with friends. Even as the music faded and I was leaving them behind, I knew that this calm would last a little longer than normal.
— Words and photos by Keith Klenowski