Monday Muse: Over the Rhine
I wasn’t there for the first show. Let’s just get that out of the way. There were only 20 people at the first show, and most of them were friends and family of the band. But I was and early adopter. It was the beginning of the 90’s, which shouldn’t seem like that long ago, yet was in fact twenty fucking years ago. Bill Clinton was still a nobody from Arkansas, yet in a year he would be President. The Reds won an improbable World Series to kick the decade off. I made a half assed attempt to attend the University of Cincinnati. It did not end well. But I did finally learn to drive, and in driving found 97X to drive around with, and 97X played this song for me…
And then the DJ said I could see “Over the Rhine” play live at a place called “Sudsy Malones” that weekend. I had to be there. I had a car. I had a job that paid me in money. I could do this thing. I had to do this thing. I had to see the band that made this music.
Sudsy Malones was a Punk Rock venue in Short Vine section of Corryville. Short Vine is a lopped off section of Vine street that held the closest thing UC had to a university village at the time. A cluster of dive bars, head shops, small restaurants and used record stores all huddled around Bogarts, at the time the areas premier Rock venue. I would later see a lot of good shows there, They Might Be Giants, The Flaming Lips, and several OTR shows. Sudsy’s was across the street, the place where bands worked out the kinks before moving over to Bogarts. Sudsy’s was a unique venue because it doubled as a laundromat. A full on punk show could be going on in front whilst college kids crammed a months worn of clothes into one of he industrial sized washers.
The above video is from a big show and a more recent incarnation of the band. Over the Rhine when we first found them was a tight quartet of locals. Brian Kelley on drums, Linford Detweiler on bass, the electric Ric Hordinski on guitar, and Karin Bergquist’s perfect vocals. Crammed on top of a dryer at Sudsy’s with a rum and coke, surrounded by fellow travelers on the road to the Rhineland, it was easy to believe that Karin was singing directly to you. That Linford had written the songs just for us, filled with secret messages only we could decipher. There was a sublime feeling of being there at the beginning of something very very special.
We were Rhinelanders on the burgeoning new world of the Internet. We shared stories the way Phish fans traded tapes. I think I saw every show in Cincinnati from 1992-97. If I had had the means I would have followed them everywhere. The places I did follow them were absolutely worth the trip. After shows the band would gather at the “church”, which turned out to be a little old coffee shop and bookstore by the name of Kaldis in the neighborhood downtown from whence the band took its name. A place which became my second home, where I made more friends than I ever imagined I could and where my life changed in ways I’ll never forget. The band gathered at Christmas in the old Emery theatre and Karin would entice old ghosts to come out of the woodwork and dance with us kids. They travelled the world, yet they always came back to us, maybe to play under the summer stars at Coney Island, or beneath the trees at Eden Park
As time passed changes came, as they always do. Ric moved on to his own work, as did Brian. Was the trip coming to an end we worried? But Karin decided to break our hearts instead, marrying that skinny bass player and soldiering on, album after wonderful album. The music wove its way from the intimate folk rock we heard at Sudsy’s gave way to more complex orchestrations as well as veering off into country and gospel for visits now and then? Linford described the sound as “post-nuclear, pseudo-alternative, folk-tinged art-pop” and I’m not going to argue with anyone who can keep that image in his head.
They celebrated the bands 20th anniversary in 2010 at their annual Xmas show, now moved to the big stage of the Taft Theater, with a packed two day extravaganza. The Girl and I have made that annual show every year but one that we have been together, through sickness and health, like clockwork.
Is it the same as seeing the Ramones at CBGB in the 1970’s. Probably not, in the same way that Cincinnati isn’t New York City for good or ill. But OTR has always been ours in an ineffable way that feels much the same to me. And it has been a privilege to have been there, close to the beginning of something special, allowed to stay close as special became sublime. Over the Rhine has been the soundtrack to me becoming me for twenty years. I’m eternally grateful to them for sharing their music. Now I share it with you.