TVD Live: Bottle
Rockets and Sarah Borges at Gypsy
Sally’s, 10/18

PHOTO: CARY HORTON | The Bottle Rockets have always had a flinty, no-nonsense way of expressing the very concrete things of everyday life that sets it apart from most bands.

There’s a hard-won Midwestern honesty to their hard-charging songs about defining the limitations of life and accepting them (or at least naming them clearly). And when Brian Henneman and crew have a new set of songs to present, by gum, they’re going to do them, playing everything from a new album because they’re just as proud of every song on it, and letting an audience know what exactly to expect.

At a previous headlining show at Gypsy Sally’s in DC, they played the entirety of their 2015 South Broadway Athletic Club in order, one after another before going onto their older favorites. In a satisfying show Thursday opened by Sarah Borges, they played the songs from their new Bit Logic in order as well. And though they refused to take requests from fans during the main set, they at least did throw in some old favorites in between the new ones to allow a taste of the familiar.

But the charm of the band is that everything they write about is already familiar, from the frustration of a non-moving Interstate (even in Missouri) on “Highway 70 Blues” to the pleasures of tinny radios in “Lo-Fi.” He may dismiss the digital culture on the album’s title track, but he admitted in the show that crowd-sourcing encouragement online led to writing another song, “Maybe Tomorrow.”

There is pleasure in being alone in “Knotty Pine,” or “Saxophone.” But there’s a real sincerity in the rare love song, “Silver Ring” that tops off the new set. Even when the band finds itself in the seemingly comfortable satellite radio niche of Outlaw Country, there is also the matter of paying bills in “Bad Time to Be an Outlaw.” On the latter, Henneman warned that it was the band’s first call-and-response song in 25 years; the crowd was only too happy to play along. Throughout, the rest of the quartet were the picture of competence and drive, never requiring a spotlight and in the case of lead guitarist John Horton, barely looking up.

The old favorites were sprinkled in there, from the canine pleasures of “My Dog” and rock laser of “Radar Gun” to the anti-Confederate “Wave That Flag,” which is about as political as they got, to the infinite breakdowns of “Thousand Dollar Car” and “Indianapolis.” (What this band needs is a good mechanic). In the end they offered an old song from a pre-Bottle Rockets band, “White Trash,” and only a time for a couple of requests in the encores because they had to get back on the road.

Opening the show in fine manner was Sarah Borges, who shares with the Bottle Rockets many things, from their ace producer Eric “Roscoe” Ambel, to an October 12 release date for their new albums. In Borges’ case it’s Love’s Middle Name, but in these set of shows, the excellent Bottle Rockets rhythm section of bassist Keith Voegele and Mark Ortmann. With Ambel also on guitar, it was likely the best band Borges ever fronted.

And it seemed to push her even further to showcase a remarkable set of vocals that cover country but have a rhythm and blues fire and yearning and rocks throughout. That she’s from Boston reminds one how Bonnie Raitt used to ply these same American streams into her music back when she was based in Cambridge. But at the same time, Borges seems more rock ’n’ roll.

That may owe a little bit to Ambel, who was on hand for the twangiest and tastiest solos for every song, as well as being allowed in the brief set to sing a couple of his own songs, “Song for the Walls” and “Massive Confusion.” The two duetted on the old Carl Smith hit “Loose Talk,” from a 1960 cover by Buck Owens and Rose Maddox.

Borges has some great new songs on her new album that she sang, from the opening “House on a Hill” to the appropriately rockin’ “Lucky Rocks.” But she closed with one of her signatures from her 13 year career, the barn-burning J. Geils tune “Cry One More Time,” which even Gram Parsons tried once.

Bit Logic
Hard Times
Highway 70 Blues
My Dog
Maybe Tomorrow
Radar Gun
Bad Time to Be an Outlaw
Alone in Bad Company
Human Perfection
Thousand Dollar Car
Knotty Pine
Wave That Flag
Ship It On The Frisco
Way Down South
Slo Toms
Doomsday Letter
Stovall’s Grove
Silver Ring
White Trash

Gas Girl
Love Like a Truck

House on a Hill
Get As Gone Can Get
Song for the Walls
Caught by the Rain
Lucky Rocks
I Can’t Change It
Daniel Lee
Loose Talk
Tendency to Riot
Massive Confusion
Cry One More Time

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