By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Bill Wyman of the Chicago Reader can often be overheard proclaiming the Bottle Rockets the best band in America, and as the band was finishing its set on the final night of the South by Southwest Music Conference, he was shouting his reasons one more time above the din. The Rockets, Wyman has long maintained, are one of the few bands left that can squeeze poetry from the mundane, elevating the despair and disappointment of the everyday into the stuff of myth. As Wyman was explaining this one more time, air-guitaring along with the band to stress his point, one couldn't but notice that the longer they played, the more the Bottle Rockets began to sound like Lynyrd Skynyrd or even Molly Hatchet. Apparently, up in Chicago, boogie-rock still passes for genius.
Actually, the Rockets are more the bar-band equivalent of Uncle Tupelo--or, more appropriately, the in-bred, gap-toothed, long-haired, bassackwards cousin to Tupelo. That the Rockets bear quite the resemblance to that now-defunct band--with acoustic guitars, dobros, and fiddles in the electric rock music mix--is hardly surprising. Rockets frontman Brian Henneman began his musical career as a guitar tech with Tupelo; he's all over March 16-20, 1992 and Wilco's debut A.M.. Tupelo co-founders Jeff Tweedy and Jay Farrar sang backup on the Rockets' 1993 self-titled debut; Farrar and Tweedy even produced the tape that got the Rockets signed to East Side Digital Records.
But the similarities are limited: where Tupelo was more concerned with the mythology of the South, the symbolism of the coal mines, and the beauty of the scenery, the Bottle Rockets are the ultimate realists--trailer-park storytellers, guys who bitch about getting speeding tickets while driving around in their $1,000 cars that ain't worth shit ("might as well take your $1,000 and set fire to it," Henneman grouses). These boys are an ugly clan living uglier lives--fellers from Festus, Missouri, who hate them sophisticated, politically correct wimmin and sing their redneck anthems with a wink and a twang.
The Bottle Rockets perform at the Stone Pony April 15.