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Arts Festival Review: Over The Rhine

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Over The Rhine

Reviewed by Ethan Tucker

Over The Rhine
9 - 12 March
Festival Club

Over the Rhine will also appear at the‘Upper Hutt Hoe-Down’ on Sat 11 March (Harcourt Park, 1 - 4pm).

Last night the Festival Club tent resounded to the winning talents of Ohio band Over The Rhine, which is built on the skilful musical partnership of pianist Linford Detweiler and singer Karin Bergquist, who are also husband and wife. Over The Rhine defies conventional genre pigeonholing, but the Herald’s Graham Reid comes closest to the mark with the label ‘alt country folk’. Alt country, for those who don’t know, is the type of country it’s okay to like, and Over The Rhine definitely fall into that category, thanks to the emotion and harmony of their deft musical collaboration.

Formed in 1989, the band draws its name from a neighbourhood in Cincinnati. Over The Rhine’s quiet charms have been bubbling along through low-key record releases - never threatening to take the music world by storm, but building up a solid portfolio of work in the process. They’ve also gained greater prominence through the hard work of touring across America and by playing as support act to Bob Dylan (although they never actually got to meet him). Despite their unassuming media presence, Over The Rhine have made a big splash in little New Zealand, with an energetic EMI label promoting them to anyone in the media who’ll listen (including Radio New Zealand’s Kim Hill, who attended last night’s show).

In performance, all this attention is completely understandable. Over The Rhine is a band you could easily grow to love. On stage, Linford resembles a more graceful Louis Theroux on the piano, spinning a web of nimble key-work to tie his compositions together, or driving the up-tempo numbers with a finely-observed guitar solo. Karin’s smoky and soulful voice swoops seemingly effortlessly through angelic high notes, gorgeous lullabies and stirring late-night cabaret torch-songs. They are ably supported by bassist-guitarist Rick Plant (who sports a natty hat like U2’s The Edge) and drummer Devon Ashley, who complement the performance in a fine display of teamwork.

Paying special attention to the songs from their most recent album Drunkard’s Prayer (Back Porch, 2005), the core of Over The Rhine’s performance are the stripped-back, slow-burning numbers highlighting the languid richness of Karin’s vocals. The album’s opening track ‘I Want You To Be My Love’ sails with its perfect tune jazzed along with brushed drums, while the thoughtful ‘Hush Now (Stella's Tarantella)’ sooths the audience with its tales of ‘two-bit clowns in a one-ring circus’. New song ‘Trouble’ beckons with the promise of bad behaviour, with Karin intoning, ‘If you came to make trouble, make mine a double – I think it’s good’. The slow groove of the beat-poem ‘My Love Is A Fever’, the gorgeous drawl and angelic high-notes of ‘Jesus in New Orleans’, and the heart-breaking perfection of ‘Spark’, put the vocals square in the spotlight. The latter number also brings an outbreak of fervent air-drumming by one middle-aged OTR devotee in the crowd.

Not to be content with high-quality soulfulness, Over The Rhine also bring an extra helping of exuberant pop numbers to fill the Festival Club’s chic mirror-clad tent with ringing electric chords and rattle the lawyers' and policy analysts’ jewellery. A particular highlight is ‘Show Me’ from their double album Ohio, which sports a deft slide guitar: it’s a glorious pop stomper par excellence. But ultimately, Over The Rhine is more about the quieter, classier moments that a truly talented band with years of experience can deliver. The rich tapestry of Linford’s piano instrumental ‘Tin’ building into the delicate ‘Little Did I Know’, with its precise drumming, fluttering keys and luxuriant chanteuse vocals is a prime example of how easy it is for a band this talented to impress an eager and appreciative Wellington audience.

After their Festival performances, Over The Rhine will be flying to Austin, Texas, to play the influential South By Southwest music festival. It’s likely that their remaining Festival Club dates will sell out, so be sure to take advantage of the free outdoor performance in the wilds of Upper Hutt on Saturday 11 March – or if it’s a fine night, take some friends down to Waitangi Park to listen in to their show gratis from outside, and admire the outdoor photographic exhibition of Yann Arthus-Bertrand while you’re at it. What better way to spend an evening?


NZ Arts Festival: Over the Rhine
NZ Arts Festival: Upper Hutt Hoe-Down
Over the Rhine website
Scoop Full Coverage: Festival 2006

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