The world of popular music is heavily populated with songwriters who should have earned more fame and fortune than they’ve accumulated. Marshall Crenshaw is among them.
Thursday night at Knuckleheads, before a crowd of 100-plus, Crenshaw, backed by opening band the Bottle Rockets, spent nearly 90 minutes showing off some of the best parts of a catalog that is brimming with memorable pop tunes.
Inspired, perhaps, by the train that roared by during the Bottle Rockets’ set, Crenshaw opened with “Grab the Next Train,” the title track from the latest in his series of six EP releases. From there he jumped to one of his best and most beloved songs, the ebullient and insatiably melodic “Someday, Someway,” which he sang with wistful enthusiasm.
The set list mixed classics like “My Favourite Waste of Time” and the hyperinfectious and jubilant “Cynical Girl” with the more recent “Television Light,” “Red Wine” and “Live and Learn,” a pop song with a galloping groove. Most of the newer material shared the same traits with the older songs: clever lyrics, crafty melodies and thoughtful chord progressions.
Crenshaw also dropped in some covers: a memorable rendition of Buddy Holly’s “Crying, Hoping, Waiting”; Grant Hart’s “Twenty-Five Forty-One”; and a raucous version of Richard Thompson’s “Valerie.” Before “Mary Anne,” another timeless Crenshaw pop gem, in sea-shanty style, he sang a few verses of “Sink the Bismark.”
The Bottle Rockets are a roots-rock band from St. Louis, and, especially when John Horton added some lap steel licks, they gave Crenshaw’s pop songs a coating of jangle and twang.
The two-song encore included the song for which Crenshaw should be enshrined in some songwriting hall of fame, “Whenever You’re On My Mind,” a poppy ballad with lovelorn lyrics that cast upon a small crowd of diehard fans the kind of reverie that has made Crenshaw a cult hero who deserves wider appreciation.
The Bottle Rockets: During their one-hour set, they played with gusto several favorites like “1,000 Dollar Car,” “Kerosene” and “Indianapolis,” plus several songs from “South Broadway Athletic Club” (their latest album): “Big Lotsa Love,” “I Don’t Wanna Know,” “Big Fat Nuthin’ ” and “Something Good.”
Grab the Next Train; Someday, Someway; Twenty-Five Forty-One; Live and Learn; Red Wine; Crying, Hoping, Waiting; Television Light; Calling Out for Love (At Crying Time); Driving and Dreaming; My Favourite Waste of Time; Valerie; Sink the Bismark; Mary Anne; Cynical Girl; Whenever You’re On My Mind; Better Back Off