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March 15, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CST
After being on the road and in the recording studio, St. Louis band the Bottle Rockets emerged on the scene again in June with its latest release, Zoysia, an album that melds together the soul of Memphis and scruffy Missouri rock to capitalize on the country genre. This hodgepodge of sounds is not uncommon in the Bottle Rockets’ music, but this time around, the album incorporates more guitar and bluegrass.
The rural-rock band performs Saturday at Mojo’s and will guarantee a full-throttle show to bring its most recent album to life.
What: The Bottle Rockets
When: Saturday, 8:30 p.m.
Steve Donofrio, better known as KOPN radio show host Radio Ranger, anticipates a charismatic performance. “People will love it,” he says. “Their shows are high-energy. It’s solid rock ’n’ roll. What’s not to like?”
This band doesn’t sing about the typical love story that plagues a majority of mainstream country songs. “They write interesting tunes from an interesting perspective,” Donofrio says. “They’re a Missouri version of Wilco, only edgier.”
But rock ’n’ roll enthusiasts such as Kevin Walsh, owner of downtown music shop Kevin’s World, would argue that although the band didn’t officially form until 1992, the origin of the Bottle Rockets’ sound precedes that of contemporary alt-country bands such as Uncle Tulepo and Wilco. “Just listen to [the Bottle Rockets], and you’ll know their influences: country, alternative rock, Southern,” he says. “People don’t realize it because it’s so common now, but they were one of the first bands to be proud of where they’re from.”
Although the Bottle Rockets’ music claims fans nationwide, the band might be misunderstood in some regions. Donofrio found amusement in an East Coast radio host’s lack of knowledge when interviewing the band. “It was obvious he wasn’t from Missouri,” Donofrio says. “He didn’t understand what a bottle rocket was. They had to explain to him that it was a cheap firework that you buy in gross.”
It is exactly this connection with rural America that allows the Bottle Rockets to remain one of the most recognized alt-country bands in the nation.
“The bigger, well-known artists admire them,” Walsh says. “They’re true to their influences, fans and hometown. It’s the real deal to them. They’re not rock stars.” Artists such as Lucinda Williams and Steve Earle have praised the band’s lyrics and musical style. Walsh recalls one concert experience in 1998 when Williams stated from the stage that the Bottle Rockets was the best band in the U.S. and that they were the reason she was touring in Missouri at the time. “That’s some pretty high praise,” he says.
Like the album name Zoysia, which is defined as a hardy creeping grass, the Bottle Rockets has persevered through the years. The band had been in a slump since 1997, but with new guitarist John Horton and bassist Keith Voegele joining original members — songwriter, vocalist, and guitarist Brian Henneman and drummer Mark Ortmann — Zoysia placed the Bottle Rockets back on the charts. Author Stephen King chose Zoysia for his top-10 albums of 2006, and The Columbian and Lexington Herald appointed the album as #3 and #1, respectively.
“You can hear an evolvement in the writing,” Donofrio says of Zoysia.
Although the show falls on St. Patrick’s Day, The Blue Note and Mojo’s owner Richard King is focusing on the music. “We’re concentrating more on that Bottle Rockets is a great band. They have played in Columbia several times and always do well.”
Mojo’s manager Sean Jeffries expects a wide variety of fans to attend the concert ranging from college students to older folks. “I think the show will do doggone well,” he says.
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