Smile Politely

Bottle Rockets at Highdive Saturday

One of the things about growing up is watching your concept of money change. I remember Bonnie Hunt had a bit when she was a guest on Letterman about how the biggest amount of money she could think of as a kid was “a hunnert dollars.” Then, suddenly, you wake up one day and a hundred dollars isn’t much money anymore; not at all. Not even a thousand dollars is enough to get a decent wedding, or especially a car.

The Bottle Rockets1000 Dollar Car (Live in Heilbronn / Germany July 17, 2005)

Brian Henneman has made a solid recording career by realizing these subtleties of working-class life. His band, Bottle Rockets, is only playing 15 shows this year to celebrate their 15th anniversary as a touring outfit, and one of those will be Saturday at the Highdive. Doors open at 6 p.m., opener Otis Gibbs will come on at 7 p.m. and Bottle Rockets play at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15, and it’s a 19-and-over show.

Stay tuned after the jump for an interview with Henneman.

Henneman started out as a guitar tech for Uncle Tupelo, the late, great, alt-country band that burst out of Bellville, Ill., in the late 80s and splintered into Wilco and Son Volt in the mid-90s. A Festus, Mo., native, Henneman started Bottle Rockets in 1993, based out of St. Louis. “We all live in St. Louis now, except for Keith, our bass player,” Henneman said. “He’s our ‘exotic foreigner’, he lives in Springfield, Illinois.”

Bottle Rockets were on a major label for a brief period in the mid-90s, scoring a rock radio hit with “Radar Gun,” but they’ve been on a succession of indies since then. The band was in Brooklyn, N.Y., a couple of weeks ago to record a new album with producer Eric “Roscoe” Ambel, to be released on Bloodshot Records in early 2009. Asked how recording went, Henneman replied, “Went really, really, well.” For those wanting a glimpse of their new album, “We’re doin’ a different new song at each of the anniversary shows. Each town only gets one, during the encore portion of the show. Go to enough shows, you’ll hear the whole new album in advance.”

The Bottle RocketsFeeling Down

If you’re wondering why a band who only plays 15 shows in a year would include a date in Champaign, Henneman has some answers. “Champaign’s been good for us in the past,” he observed, “we get a lot of support from The Whip radio station. It’s close to home, The Highdive’s a great place to play, what’s not to love? We’re just picking exactly where we wanna play, there’s a reason behind every choice, and it has nothing to do with money. We’re putting every dime we make, right back into the expenses for these anniversary shows. After 15 years, we decided it’s time to do only what WE wanna do for a change.” It also helps that their manager, Bob Andrews of Undertow, is based out of Champaign.

Since the tour dates are erratically spaced and the locations are spread unevenly, Henneman has crafted a fanciful story about how they travel from show to show. “We each have our own private jet, that also transports each of our personal limos,” he lied. “We each have an NFL cheerleading team at our disposal at all times. We normally leave the limos full of cheerleaders at the hotel, and arrive in a rental van, or, small car of some kind…”

Otis Gibbs, their opener, has made a strong impression on Henneman. He described Gibbs as “a communist who makes it work. Great songwriter and storyteller, an unobtrusive house guest, and, a damn fine photographer. Grows a mean beard too…”

I’ll close with my favorite song from the Bottle Rockets catalog, one that gives a sense of time and place like few other traveling songs do. Hope to see you at the show on Saturday night.

The Bottle RocketsIndianapolis (Live in Heilbronn / Germany July 17, 2005)

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