Over the last few weeks I have had the really wonderful privilege of seeing two of my favorite husband/wife musician duos. First I saw Karen Berquist and Linford Detweiler of Over the Rhine, then last week I saw Derek Webb and his wife Sandra McCracken. Each of these shows were beautiful, worshipful, and even iconic performances.
Over the Rhine is currently touring for their newest album “The Trumpet Child.” While “TTC” may not be OTR’s best album, it is still a fantastic creation. In many ways it is a tribute to past musicians, and Detweiler has said that it is a tribute to musicians who are uniquely American: artists like Dylan, Cash, and Tom Waits. The album has a number of memorable songs including “Don’t Wait for Tom,” which, yes, is about Mr. Waits, and the title track, a haunting and moody, horn driven, almost apocalyptic song. As it has for the last decade Berquist voice soars on ” TTC” and the instrumentation is at times, pure genius. But I have no intention of reviewing the album right now. Just some background. For more, check out this review by Brett McCracken.
My concern here is chiefly with raving about their show. And yes, it is worthy of a rave.
I have often read of how there is a magical quality to an Over the Rhine show, how it is a spiritual experience and for me, that cold October night not long ago, a spiritual experience it certainly was. The smell of stale domestics and the warm scents of liquors which go down with a burn permeated the stuffy air of Charlott’e Visualite Theater and Berquist’s voice soared beautifully and filled the room. Detweiler tapped his foot to the various rhythms as he playfully pounded on the key’s of his piano. Behind them an upright bass thump-thump-thumped its way across the stage in an energetic dance with a raucous set of drum beats. Never before have I heard a voice do what Berquist’s did that night.
I entered the Visulite that night discouraged, broken, and lamenting my own fallen-ness. I left encouraged, broken, and rejoicing in the grace of a merciful God. It’s amazing the way joy is contagious. Indeed, clearly Berquist, Detweiler and the amazing musicians with whom they play love to do what they do. They play their instruments like they would be no other place, like that moment could be no more fulfilling. Berquist was mesmorizing. I hope I don’t overstate it, but there was an angelic quality about her as the light danced playfully in her blonder hair and her voice soared, literally it seemed. She is one of the rare performers whose voice, I think, is better live than on the albums.
The show included quite a long, creative bass solo as well as an even longer drum solo the likes of which I have never seen. All four of the musicians really are first rate. If Over the Rhine ever comes to your town see them – over and over again.
But let me not forget the Webb/McCracken show:
First of all, Derek Webb is one of the nicest performers I have met. He is genuine and interested. I have had the opportunity to speak with him on two occasions now, granted not for long, and both times he has been a pleasure to talk to.
The show itself was fantastic. When “The Ringing Bell” (which this tour is promoting) first came out, I wasn’t as big a fan of it as I am his earlier albums; I See Things Upside Down has played a particularly role in my spiritual life and I think that I shall forever be attached to it in that way. But as I have begun to listen to TRB more it has grown on me. It’s just good folk-pop rock ‘n roll. The writing is great as always and Webb is surely not afraid to deal with controversial or complicated subject matter. I love songs like “This Too Shall Be Made Right” and the guitar driven “I Wanna Marry You All Over Again” (which is going to appear again in a forthcoming blog!). And now, this show took the album to a completely new level; I have even more appreciation for Webb’s talents as a musician and performer. And on this tour he has the opportunity to show of his abilities on an electric guitar.
His wife, Sandra, who gave birth to their first child only four months ago, was equally as wonderful to hear and see perform. Life Berquist, her voice fills a room. If you haven’t heard her music I recommend you get a copy of her most recent album “Gravity/Love.” She is folksy/country artist with wonderfully poetic lyrics (often based off storys – such as Wendell Berry short story). She is a soft spoken woman, but yet when she speaks she has a gentle voice, easy to listen to, and one which still manages to captivate an audience – much like her husband. It was amusing, as well, to see them play songs together and in between banter back and forth on stage.
What stands out to me about the songs Webb and McCracken play is that they seem to have a focus or emphasis on community, loving people, and peace – and these same themes/ideas are so evident in their personalities. They seem filled with compassion and love and a desire to see the Church recomitted to her Bride-Groom. Through their artistry Webb and McCracken are helping lead her, by God’s grace, in that direction. Their performance and their songs are convicting reminders that we must all put on that mindset.