Last Night: Marshall Crenshaw & The Bottle Rockets At The Continental Club
Sunday's Marshall Crenshaw/Bottle Rockets show again raised the question of whether Houston fans of intelligent, literate rock and roll should be disappointed that our city isn't more interested in this kind of music, or whether we should be grateful shows like this come here at all. (See: Alejandro Escovedo playing to about 50 people at House of Blues' Bronze Peacock Room a couple of years ago.)
I choose to be grateful.
Before about three weeks ago, when this show was announced, I had not spared a thought for either one of these two artists in a long, long time. Obviously, neither had anyone else apart from the 60 or so people who showed up, but thankfully the musicians did not seem to be too disappointed with the turnout.
In turn, the fans were more enthusiastic and appreciative than some crowds I've seen that were twice or even ten times that. It says a lot when artists still give a lights-out show when they don't have to, or when they could have easily phoned it in once they realize their cut might not be so great. That's what guarantees are for, probably.
To call Crenshaw and the Bottle Rockets - who opened, then backed Crenshaw in the evening's second half - past their commercial sell-by date implies that they had a commercial sell-by date in the first place. That would almost be true, but not quite.
Crenshaw definitely did, when his song "Someday, Someway" hit the Top 40 about 30 years ago and launched him into the front rank of power-pop alongside Rockpile's Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds, the Plimsouls' Peter Case and a few others.
These guys took everything they knew from Buddy Holly and the Beatles - they were almost too square to be New Wave acts, but had an innate understanding of how a couple of chords and a hummable melody could solve almost any problem, except for getting that girl to fall in love with you.
That Crenshaw definitely still has. The songs he played Sunday seemed to chart a course from the early optimism and almost naivete of "Someday" to songs like "Live & Learn" (from his most recent album, 2009's Jaggedland), which are more rooted in realism but do not allow themselves to grow as jaded as the girls he has crushes on ("Cynical Girl").
In between, among the jangly early-R.E.M. hook of "Calling Out for Love" and Del Shannon-ish rocker "Something's Gonna Happen" - and plugging his new Kickstarter project - he grappled with very adult concerns such as the suspicious minds of "Stormy River" and the "intimacy and privacy" of "What Do You Dream Of?," which Crenshaw said he wrote about watching his wife at the time sleep.