Marshall Crenshaw at the Birchmere

Marshall Crenshaw’s gig at the Birchmere Friday was billed as a 30th anniversary of his first recording. But it wasn’t his stellar self-titled Warner Bros. album debut it referred to; it was the much lesser known first 45 on Shake records, “Something’s Gonna Happen.”

The 30th anniversary of that first album is next year, he admitted on stage. But the round number date commemoration is hardly needed. His shows have long been based in the solid songs on that first long player.

What a trove of songs it is: “Someday, Someway,” “Mary Ann,” “Rockin’ Around NYC,” “Cynical Girl.”

And while the latest tour dips even further back to the punky, co-written earliest songs, he had room for a song from his latest album, and even one he had just written about financial malfeasance.

Crenshaw’s tour was with the Bottle Rockets in more ways than one. In addition to doing a seated acoustic set to start the show, the band immediately returned to stand and rock out behind him. The St. Louis band was without its guitarist Johnny Horton, so the group struggled at times as a trio to present the songs, though Brian Henneman’s lead singing, guitar and occasional banjo held its own backed by drummer Mark Ortmann and especially bssist Keith Voegele, who provided key harmonies in both sets.

Crenshaw, at 57, may look older than he did when he started 30 years ago, but his voice is just as melodic and supple. Starting with a slowed down version of “There She Goes Again,” though, gave pause – was the older rocker going to slow everything down in the manner of his newer recordings?

It was just a one-off; most were of the same tempo as the original, others actually sounded rushed. The fact of the matter is that the band didn’t sound completely rehearsed on every song – probably because of Horton’s absence, awaiting the birth of a child; it also indicated how well constructed those original recordings were – one wrong note and things start to unravel.

Having a band meant lending power to his songs after years of touring solo, but it also meant Crenshaw didn’t have the freedom to flit in and out of cover songs from his own songs, as he often did while accompanying himself.

And while it was good to hear so many of his own songs, there were far fewer covers than usual – two from Buddy Holly, “Rave On” and “Crying, Waiting, Hoping” and one from Richard Thompson, the rocker “Valerie.”

It was a fine rock show top to bottom, though it made one wonder how next year’s 30th anniversary tour will be much different.

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