There’s a red Stratocaster knock-off hanging above the stage at The Starry Plough pub in Berkeley. It’s a promotional item from Budweiser (which one would think taboo in this Irish pub), and it bears the slogan “True Music.” While the marketing team responsible for this ad campaign was probably picturing some Bob Seger-y heartland rock when it came up with that little tagline, the phrase happens to accurately describe a band with a very un-Budweiser aesthetic—a band that recently played beneath that red Strat: Over The Rhine.
Though trailer troubles and the combination of influenza and road-burnout nearly resulted in the show’s cancellation, Linford Detweiler, Karin Bergquist and the rest of the band’s current incarnation graced the foot-high stage with some of the truest, most real music around.
The songs from OTR’s latest record, Drunkard’s Prayer, are among the most intimate Detweiler and Bergquist have written. So it makes perfect sense for the band to play a pub where no fan is further than 50 feet from the stage. Bergquist overcame whatever vocal trauma had plagued her the previous night and sang each line with a beautiful combination of passion and familiarity. Whether barely whispering a line or robustly belting the pinnacle of a chorus, Bergquist never wavered (unless for musical effect, of course).
Detweiler’s keyboard playing was everything it is on record: warm, inviting and fluid. During the show, he transformed the pub into a Baptist church, a parlor room and a jazz club. Bassist Rick Plant and drummer Devon Ashley provided a foundation even the most discerning mason would’ve appreciated. Ashley’s minimalist playing fits perfectly with the simple Over The Rhine song structures. Plant was solid as ever, even ripping out some killer electric-guitar lines on one tune, in the absence of a lead guitarist on this tour.
The most pleasant surprise, though, was singer/guitarist Kim Taylor, who opened the show with a few solo acoustic tunes, showing a combination of moving songwriting and enviable musicianship. With the band, though, she served as a perfect complement to Bergquist, their voices blending in tight harmony and succinct unison.
When an audience member shouted that he wanted to hear more about the trailer trouble, Bergquist smiled and responded, “there were lots of things that have happened in the last 48 hours that we’d rather not think about.”
Luckily, she and the rest of Over the Rhine gave the audience a couple of hours they would want to think about for a long time.