I’m not going to lie; I was as excited about the pizza as I was about the show. In junior high we frequented the Pizza Villa, played pool (badly), played Cheap Trick’s “I Want You to Want Me” on the juke box (repeatedly), and when we were rich we ordered a pizza. Cranky Pat’s serves pizza like I remember the Pizza Villa serving, thin crust, overloaded with toppings and cut into squares, and when you get it to go it’s on a cardboard circle in a paper bag. Ah, the memories. Tonight the special was buy a large, get a one topping medium free. Despite the fact that there were only two of us, we weren’t going to let a free pizza opportunity go to waste. We finished off the bacon and canned mushroom large, and took home the medium fresh mushroom one. That’s right, they have both kinds. So delicious. And then there was the bonus of a rock show for dessert.
The Bottle Rockets first hit the road as Marshall Crenshaw’s opener and backing band just over two years ago and I caught the show at Chicago’s Lincoln Hall. Since then they’ve been back around a couple times, minus guitarist John Horton on one pass, lead singer/guitarist Brian Henneman on the other, but I’d missed those shows. Though honestly it doesn’t seem like I’d missed much, tonight’s show in Neenah was pretty similar to the one in 2011. And by similar, I mean ridiculously entertaining of course. It may seem strange that they would make a stop in Neenah when other gigs included Milwaukee’s Shank Hall and Chicago’s swanky City Winery, but the Bottle Rockets have developed an affection for the pizza parlor and have stopped here several times before. Because of that it might have made more sense for them to reverse the order of the sets. Neenah loves the Bottle Rockets, but they didn’t seem quite as enthusiastic about Crenshaw, and the crowd thinned later in the night. In fact, I wasn’t sure we would get an encore. I don’t think I would have come back, but the Bottle Rockets never disappoint and “Kit Kat Clock” was one of a pair of extra songs.
Crenshaw ran through a solid set of power pop tunes, some classic, like “Mary Ann,” a cover of Richard Thompson’s “Valerie” and perhaps his best known song “Someday, Someway. There were also brand new tunes like the pair featured on the ten inch records Crenshaw had just released. I bought one on the way out just for the artwork. In the Bottle Rockets, Henneman sings lead while bassist Keith Voegele does backing vocals. Interestingly, with Crenshaw Voegele fills the same role, with Henneman only occasionally stepping to the mike.
For their opening set they played some welcome new songs before jumping into their “virtual hits,” songs that have become popular enough with the fans that they feel like hits. When you see them as often as I do, it wouldn’t be necessary for them to play these songs, but still, I don’t get tired of the clever “$1000 Car,” the hilarious “Radar Gun,” and especially Henneman as tour manager’s true story of being on the road with Uncle Tupelo “Indianapolis.” Also figuring in were “Get Down River” about the woes of life on the Mississippi and more recent “hit” “The Long Way” (another true story). Before settling in to the familiar, the band played us a few new songs, one of which had only been played a couple times before. Henneman clicked off the cities they had played so far on the tour, before holding up fingers and announcing this was the fifth time it had been played. The other new track was a love song to his wife, essentially for allowing him to buy the gorgeous Rickenbacker guitar he was playing tonight. He said he had written her love songs before, but she always knew they were actually to that guitar, so this one had a special code so that she would know he meant it. Though since he’s telling the story about Big Lots every night, I don’t think the code is so secret anymore.
It was a late night, but totally worth it, especially for the pizza.
Marshall Crenshaw & the Bottle Rockets