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Marshall Crenshaw, Kessler Theater, Dallas, Texas, Friday, March 20th, 2015 Reviewed


Marshall Crenshaw seemed like an anachronism when he debuted on the U.S. pop scene in the early 1980s. In a world defined by MTV synth pop, he looked more like a legal assistant than a rock star and his 1950’s inspired music couldn’t find regular space on commercial radio next to A Flock of Seagulls and Survivor. He was important for only one reason – he was writing better songs than anyone else. In 2015, little has changed.

Marshall’s normal touring operation for the past several years has been to work with my alt-country roots rock heroes the Bottle Rockets. However, this was Marshall solo with no backup musicians, just the spectacled songwriter swapping out between two guitars and tapping out a beat while singing. The result was that the evening felt like an intimate living room concert. The night was billed as the Fifth Anniversary celebration for The Kessler Theater and while I have my occasional quibbles with the venue (for sold out shows they squeeze in so many bodies that you need a personal oxygen mask to breathe and they could upgrade the quality of the floor seats by now), it is a perfect setting for singer/songwriter performances.

Crenshaw’s stated strategy for the evening was to alternate between two new and then two older songs throughout the set. As a songwriter, Crenshaw has continued to pursue universal themes (love, romantic infatuation, mortality), but none of his newer material sounds like an attempt to replicate what he’s done in the past. You hear echoes of his varied influences in his writing – Buddy Holly, of course, but also Jimmy Webb, David and Bacharach, and ‘60s guitar driven rock ‘n’ roll, but nothing sounds like a pastiche. He’s such an expert at his craft that you seldom even notice the craftsmanship, you simply get lost in the emotion of the song. He is so good that he is almost beyond criticism.

Vocally, he doesn’t try to replicate the boyish exuberance he had during his twenties, his projects more warmth and depth now. However, these distinctions are in shades, not broad strokes. Simply put, he still sings very well. His guitar playing is sharp, concise, never unnecessarily flashy. Every note serves the song. And the writing? If he’s ever penned a bad tune, you couldn’t prove it by this performance. There were no low spots.

For me, Crenshaw is at his best showing his bruised heart, yearning for the elusive romantic fulfillment that will make his life complete. Songs like “There She Goes Again” and “Whenever You’re On My Mind” will never get tiresome, because (a) they are so damn good and (b) they reflect timeless emotional desires. He could justifiably be anyone’s favorite waste of time.

Grade – A


Grab the Next Train

Move Now

There She Goes Again

Cynical Girl

Driving and Dreaming

Live and Learn

Crying, Waiting, Hoping (Buddy Holly cover)

Not for Me

I Don’t See You Laughing Now

Red Wine

What Do You Dream Of

Television Light

Passing Through

Stranger and Stranger

Whenever You’re on My Mind

You’re My Favorite Waste of Time

Someday, Someway

Mary Anne

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