By Barry Gilbert
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

June 11, 2006

The Bottle Rockets
If not for a building sitting on top of the Duck Room on Friday night, the Bottle Rockets might well have blown the roof off the place.

Headlining the third night of the 10th Twangfest, the Sons of Festus played before a sold-out crowd in Blueberry Hill's basement concert venue, and did it in an hour-and-45-minute set that flew by.

Billed as a CD release party, and with family members at tables down front, the Rockets played a two-part show -- although there was barely a pause between a performance of the complete "Zoysia" CD and a set of 11 of their best-known songs plus three covers.

This was a lean and determined band making its third Twangfest appearance. And they may never have been tighter, at least with the current lineup. Singer-guitarist Brian Henneman, drummer Mark Ortmann, guitarist John Horton and bassist Keith Voegele wasted no energy: no swapping out of guitars, barely a pause to re-tune, not even any song introductions or amusing stories from Henneman.

In fact, Henneman barely spoke at all until an hour into the show, which he started by saying, "Hello, Middle America," before ripping into "Better Than Broken," from "Zoysia."

The crowd, largely unfamiliar with the CD that came out only Tuesday, received it warmly. And the songs translated well to the stage, especially the lovelorn ballad "Happy Anniversary," the rocking "Mountain to Climb" and the big fat power chords of "Align Yourself."

Horton, for whom "Zoysia" was a first studio CD as a Bottle Rocket, has in the past sounded like he was still searching for his solos. But not Friday night; the longtime St. Louis musician was locked in, fully integrated into material both old and new, and his interplay with Henneman was a delight on tunes such as "Zoysia," Doug Sahm's "Nitty Gritty" and the old Rockets favorite "Welfare Music."

The songs in the second half of the show came quickly, segueing from one to the next, and included must-plays "Radar Gun," "Indianapolis" and "Kit Kat Clock" plus songs rarely heard live in recent years, including "Smoking 100s" and "Sunday Sports."

The Rockets also unveiled new encore tunes for the occasion: a smashing version of Bob Dylan's "Trust Yourself" and a Voegele-sung cover of Cheap Trick's "Surrender," which triggered some impromptu beer geysers at the front of the stage.

Gritty singer-songwriter Kevin Gordon of Nashville, Tenn., in his second visit to Twangfest, had to work a bit in his short 45-minute set to reignite an audience drained by the high-octane opening of the Sovines and looking ahead to the Bottle Rockets.

His tight band, featuring guitarist Joe McMahan, ably supported Gordon's swamp- and blues-flavored Everyman tales that featured the title song of his 1997 debut, the rocking, Chuck Berry-flavored "Illinois 5 A.M.," through "Casino Road," "Watching the Sun Go Down" and the touching "Flowers" from last year's "O Come Look at the Burning."

The Sovines, of Columbus, Ohio, (Twangfest 1 in '97, plus T2, T4 and T6) reunited for Friday's show, which they said would be their last. Bob Starker, Matt Benz, Gene Brodeur and Ed Mann rolled good-naturedly through their catalogue of pedal-to-the-medal honky tonk and truck drivin' songs, and they'll be missed.

Highlights included the jukebox ode "Dime At a Time," the breakup song "This Day in History" and Dave Dudley's classic "Two Six Packs Away," from the Sovines' debut cassette "Owner Operator" in 1998.