Last night I had the opportunity to see Over the Rhine and Hem in Bloomington. Now I have seen Over the Rhine maybe 7 or 8 times before so I knew what to expect, but I had no idea what to expect out of Hem, even though their album Eveningland has been in very heavy rotation for me for about a year.
Hem took the stage first at Bushkirk Chumley Theater and played for over an hour. Six members of the band were on stage and you had at any time you had piano, glockenspiel, upright bass, harmonica, tambourine, banjo, guitar, and vocals. The band was all seated except for the singer. They mixed it up from their three albums and even played a new tune from an album due out in Spetember. I was amazed by how tight the band sounded. I figured that their might be some letdown in their live sound from their studio records but they were sensational. The highlights for me all came from Eveningland, but when they encored with REM's "South Central Rain" that also ranked pretty high on the list.
Over The Rhine soon followed and also played for an hour and a half in what was billed as a double headlining tour. I haven't seen Over The Rhine in 18 months, but they were just as good as I remembered. I was with a few people whom have never seen them live before, and for some reason that made me really nervous. I really wanted them to like it, Over the Rhine seems to me to be so musically and lyrically accessible that each person can find something to at least appreciate in their songs. I was suprised to hear so many new songs. But with a 4 piece band up there they mixed it up quite a bit, though never going back fuurther than anything off of Good Dog, Bad Dog which was clearly a turning point in their career. Karin sounded fanastic on vocals and had some good banter back and forth. Indianapolis native devon Ashley was fantastic on drums and a new guitarist was simple and understated in his stage prescence which was a welcome change from past OTR guitarists. Highlights for me from OTR's set all came from Drunkard's Prayer since I had not heard any of that live before. To be honest I could take or leave the new stuff from the upcoming album.
The venue ws perfect and both bands performed really well in front of a very appreciative crowd. Suprisingly, I may have even enjoyed Hem's set more that Over The Rhine's. But I think that speaks more to familiarity with seeing Over the Rhine so often and seeing Hem's songs live for the first time.