Relying on the gritty, blue-collar, working-man virtues they extol in many songs, the Bottle Rockets have endured the vagaries and woes of the music business and lived to sing about it.
Thursday night, the band from Festus, Mo., drew a crowd of about 150 to the Garage at Knuckleheads, delivering a two-hour show filled with favorites, hits and every song from a new album that sustains the Bottle Rockets’ feverish style of working-class parables set to Southern-fried alternative country/roots rock.
They opened with “Monday (Every Time I Turn Around),” the lead track on “South Broadway Athletic Club,” released in October.
From there, they took the crowd on a journey through a catalog spangled with memorable and timeless songs, music that reveals the band’s many styles and influences: “Shame on Me,” which bears a Georgia Satellites vibe; the classic “Radar Gun,” which sounds like AC/DC’s “TNT” via ZZ Top, aroused the night’s first loud ovation and sing-along; the jangly country-rock ballad “I Wanna Come Home,” from their stellar sophomore album “The Brooklyn Side”; the country-blues anthem “Hard Times”; and the rootsy anthem “Happy Anniversary,” which sounded like Tom Petty in his “Damn the Torpedoes” era.
About 10 songs in, lead singer Brian Henneman announced he and the band would play the rest of the new album, from track two through 11, in order. And they did, starting with “Big Lotsa Love,” which sounded like the confluence of the Replacements and Jason and the Scorchers, then “I Don’t Wanna Know,” a breezy ballad with a Southern-rock flavor.
The Bottle Rockets are a nuts-and-bolts four-piece bar band, and Henneman is their no-nonsense leader. They sing about everyman issues and tribulations, stories about love, loss, dispiriting jobs, overdue bills and broken-down cars. And they sing about survival, something they know a lot about, having stayed together in various incarnations, since 1992.
The new record continues that narrative, advocating for the deflated middle class. It includes a track Henneman co-wrote with a Grammy-winning songwriter in Nashville but isn’t about “trucks, beers, lakes and girls with their feet on the dashboard,” as Henneman put it, but is an ode to Tom Jones and an ode to dogs, a tale of a stressed assembly-line worker and one man’s reflection on a love in ruins.
After going through the new record, they returned to their classics and favorites: “Get Down River,” “Kerosene,” “1000 Dollar Car,” “I’ll Be Coming Around” and “Indianapolis.”
Nearly two and a half hours after they started, they finished with a cover, Tom Petty’s “Listen to Her Heart,” an apt valediction, at least in its title. The heart is where the Bottle Rockets write from and where their songs and their live shows strike their most ardent fans.