Sunday, August 31, 2003

Over The Rhine showcases lead singer, lead guitarist

Concert review

By Larry Nager
The Cincinnati Enquirer

"Thank you for coming out tonight for Ohio," Over The Rhine's Karin Bergquist greeted the crowd of around 1,100 Saturday night at Coney Island's Moonlite Gardens.

For the next three months, the five-piece Cincinnati-based band, led by Bergquist and her husband/keyboardist/collaborator Linford Detweiler, will be bringing Ohio, OTR's fine new album, to the rest of the country. Saturday, they brought it home.

And they gave their diverse crowd -- several generations of hippies, yuppies and everything in between - a pretty thorough Ohio tour, playing most of the double CD. The songs came alive in the hands of the latest version of OTR, which, almost seven years after the departure of Ric Hordinski, finally has a world-class lead guitarist again.

Paul Moak hasn't yet found his place in the band, but his remarkable versatility and sense of dynamics lifted OTR to new levels, as he played sitar, vibes, pedal steel and assorted six- and 12-string guitars. Combined with the sturdy rhythm section of bassist Rick Plant and drummer Will Sayles, this is the most rocking version of OTR since the early days, when Detweiler played bass and Brian Kelley handled the drums.

But the gem of OTR remains Bergquist. As the group has had its ups and downs, going through personnel changes, trying on various musical styles and dealing with the vagaries of the music business, she has quietly evolved into a mature, spectacularly nuanced lead singer.

She was a spiritual seeker on "Long Lost Brother"; a sly temptress on "Cruel and Pretty"; an openhearted pop-rocker on "Show Me"; a soul singer on "Nobody No. 1." And, on "She" her shattering portrait of a woman locked in an obsessive, abusive relationship, she was a masterful interpreter of complex emotions.

And though OTR focused on Ohio, including Bergquist's solo, voice-and-piano version of the title track, there was also time for a few old favorites, including "All I Need is Everything" and their final encore, "Latter Days."

It'll be interesting to see how this group evolves in the course of the tour. They already had the singing and songwriting. Now, in Moak, they have a rock-star-in-the-making. If Detweiler and Bergquist give him the space to take off, this could be the best OTR yet. Saturday, they did Ohio, and their hometown, proud.

But boy, their choice of opening acts needs serious work. Griffin House opened the night at 7:45 with 20 minutes of mediocre signing and sporadically interesting songwriting. His best moment came when he made a cell phone call in the middle of the set. I guess he was bored, too.

Even so, that was the highlight of the openers. The Chicago duo of Josephine Foster and Andy Bar, who call themselves the Children's Hour and otherwise seemed like perfectly nice people, followed with an excruciating 30 minutes. Combining Foster's tone-deaf imitation of Natalie Merchant with the couple's dangerously incompetent guitar playing and derivative songwriting, they managed to alienate even OTR's famously genteel fans, who loudly chatted and pointedly ignored the "music."

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