By Barry Gilbert
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

May 5, 2008

Fans of rock 'n' roll guitar were happy enough Saturday night as the Bottle Rockets' Brian Henneman and John Horton brought their A-games to the first of the band's 15th-anniversary concerts. Then they added Roscoe to the mix.

Roscoe, aka Eric Ambel, is a former and once-again producer for the St. Louis-based band who has played on countless records and in countless groups, from the Del Lords and Yayhoos to Joan Jett's Blackhearts and Steve Earle's Dukes. So the added muscle he brought late in the show to the Bottle Rockets' epic take on Neil Young's "Down By the River" was stunning.

And so was the show at Blueberry Hill's Duck Room. Before a sold-out and zeroed-in crowd of family, friends and hometown fans, the roots-rock Rockets in two hours tore through 25 tunes from a catalog so deep that usual favorites such as "Radar Gun," "Get Down River," "I'll Be Coming Around" and "Kit Kat Clock" failed to make the cut.

For that, concertgoers can thank set-list contest winner PigfarmerJr. As part of its 15-show anniversary tour, the band is choosing a set list in each city from entries made on

Each set-list winner also gets 20 entries into drawings at the last show (which will be webcast live) for two prizes: a custom-made, $1,500 Creston Golden Rocket guitar played each night by Henneman; and a Bottle Rockets for Life package of every past and future T-shirt and recording, plus free tickets to any show. (You have to attend a show to enter the drawings.)

PigfarmerJr may have left out "Radar Gun," but his list spanned the Rockets' eight studio albums, which are deeply populated with songs about the struggles and occasional triumphs of real people living real lives by heartland values.

Relative rarities such as "Dead Dog Memories" rocked next to newer songs including "Align Yourself," "Middle Man" and the title song from 2006's "Zoysia" CD. The latter closed the main set with a machine-gun attack by bassist Keith Voegele and drummer Mark Ortmann as the trio of guitars wailed.

Henneman began the night mentally rearranging the Duck Room cavern to its earlier incarnation as Cicero's, where the Bottle Rockets played way back when. He also called on the spirits of the Rolling Stones, who have a few years on the Rockets, prompted by a recent viewing of the IMAX concert film "Shine a Light."

"Mick Jagger is in better shape now than I was at 14," Henneman cracked, later adding: "Keith Richards is older than me, he rocks harder than me ... and we cannot let that stand," suggesting plans for a Bottle Rockets 30th anniversary tour.

The Rockets blazed out of the gate with "24 Hours a Day" and scored with the country weeper "Smoking 100's Alone" and Doug Sahm's Tex-Mex "Floataway," featuring dueling solos by Henneman and Horton.

Henneman and Horton brought new sonics to "Welfare Music," with Henneman playing high on the neck of the Golden Rocket, recalling the mandolin part on the studio recording, while Horton played low.

"Indianapolis" got the crowd singing, "Love Like a Truck" broke the speedometer with a long, instrumental coda, and "Alone in Bad Company" got some in the crowd breaking out air guitars.

While PigfarmerJr controlled the main set, the encore was on the band, which played a new song destined for its next CD. Three songs shouted out by the crowd rounded off the night, including "White Boy Blues" and "Mountain to Climb."

Otis Gibbs started the night off, displaying a rare opening-act knack for engaging folks there to see somebody else. His solo, acoustic performance of folk- and country-style songs displayed a storyteller's talent and a wry sense of humor. Gibbs will be on other dates on the Bottle Rockets tour as well.