Marshall Crenshaw’s Timeless Tunefulness

IMG_1475Marshall Crenshaw tours these days take different forms. Sometimes he goes solo, other times he shares the stage with the Bottle Rockets. He was the lead voice for a Smithereens tribute tour earlier this year as well.

But Saturday for a show at City Winery in Washington D.C., he fronted a trio that gave both muscular backing to his tuneful, timeless songs and a loose, fresh approach to many of them.

It began with the opening “There She Goes Again,” whose bounce slowed with a more relaxed beat.

The sprightly song had kicked off his landmark self-titled album in 1982 that’s still a favorite of Crenshaw fans and to which the singer returned a couple of other times for show high points, “Cynical Girl” and “Someday, Someway,” which with he ended the set.

But other songs may have better used his group, which boasted bassist Jared Michael Nickerson, who has played with Charlie Musselwhite, Freedy Johnston and Vernon Reid and drummer Dan Hickey, who played for years for They Might Be Giants,and also Joe Jackson, Joe Cocker, the B-52’s and Cyndi Lauper.

The jazzy “Fantastic Planet of Love” was well suited for their instrumental flights; the hard-charging “Better Back Off” got a slower, almost country approach.

The looseness overall may have been the inevitable result of not rehearsing, the singer admitted. Crenshaw extolling the practice of Dean Martin in approaching his TV variety show the same way. But it also meant the show had a spontaneity throughout.

Crenshaw, who turned 66 earlier in the week, sounded — and looked — much the same as fans remember him, wearing a flat-top cap and handling all the guitar duties himself.

He paused to salute a couple of late rockers through their songs — “2541” from Grant Hart of Husker Du, and Buddy Holly’s “Crying, Waiting, Hoping.” But mostly he has a wealth of songs to play from 10 different album. Because one of them, the 1996 “Miracle of Science,” is about to be released on vinyl for the first time, he included one of its standouts, “What Do You Dream Of?”

It’s probably a contractual obligation to include his own song “Red Wine” at City Winery. But it was great to hear his 1999 “Television Light” kick off the two-song encore that closed with another crowd pleaser, “You’re My Favorite Waste of Time,” which he admitted was written during the Carter Administration. It sure didn’t sound like it.

Crenshaw’s touring won’t stop any time soon; nor will his association with City Winery. He’ll return to the D.C. outlet April 18, backed by the Bottle Rockets.


The setlist for Marshall Crenshaw Saturday was: 

  • “There She Goes Again”
  • “Live and Learn”
  • “Driving and Dreaming”
  • “2541″
  • “Fantastic Planet of Love”
  • “Crying, Waiting, Hoping”
  • “What Do You Dream Of?”
  • “Move Now”
  • “Red Wine”
  • “Passing Through”
  • “Cynical Girl”
  • “Monday Morning Rock”
  • “Dime a Dozen Guy”
  • “Better Back Off”
  • “Whenever You’re On My Mind”
  • “Someday, Someway”
  • “Television Light”
  • “You’re My Favorite Waste of Time”
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