Sun. Jul 14th, 2024

Joe Grushecky and the Houserockers rock the house at Bottlerocket Social Hall’s anthology release show

By Vaseline May26,2024

Looking back on a long and celebrated career, Pittsburgh icons Joe Grushecky and the Houserockers took the stage at the Bottlerocket Social Hall on Saturday evening to celebrate the release of the new double-disc “Houserocker: A Joe Grushecky Anthology.”

And the show certainly sold the anthology to the assembled crowd of fans, who filled the Bottlerocket theater space to enjoy two hours of no-holds-barred rock.

Saturday night’s two-hour set – like the anthology – spanned the decades of Grushecky’s music.

The show felt a lot like a big family celebration on Memorial Day. After opening the show with “I Can’t Take It” and “No Strings Attached,” Grushecky implored the audience to wish his wife a happy birthday — and they obliged by singing an entire verse of “Happy Birthday” . He followed this up with ‘A Labor of Love’, which he dedicated to his wife.

‘In 1982 I was at The Decade and the most beautiful girl I had ever seen walked in, and I can’t believe she wanted to talk to me. We’ve been together ever since,” Grushecky told the crowd.

That feeling of nostalgia – and of enjoying the journey – was emblematic of the entire evening. Grushecky talked a lot between songs about the twists and turns his career has taken, expressing immense gratitude for the success he’s had and where he is today.

Where he is now is rocking with The Houserockers, a force of nature in their current form. With three guitarists, all of whom can deliver a great solo, Joe Grushecky and the Houserockers can make any song epic. Many of Saturday night’s live versions of their classic songs started with suggestive lyrics and ended with solos that got the crowd pumping their fists.

Speaking of evocative: Grushecky’s voice is surprisingly moving. Depending on the text, he could imbue every note with melancholy, hope or sadness. Hearing him sing felt like listening to a combination of Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen (with whom he has collaborated). His vocals went so well with the wailing guitar.

“We are so proud of this record. It has been completely remastered and therefore simply jumps out of the speakers. And the booklet is really something else, it contains all the recording information, story about the bands, story about all the songs. If you’re a Houserocker fan, if you’re a Joe Grushecky fan, you gotta get this,” he said.

Before playing “I’m Not Sleeping,” he told the story of writing the song with Springsteen and the inspiration behind the lyrics. “We wrote this, Bruce Springsteen and I, we wrote this in ’96, ’97. … My father was a miner and at this time in my life I would come home at three, four, five in the morning and he would get up… he would fall asleep early every night. And I said, ‘Hey daddy, wake up, you’re sleeping’ and he said, ‘I’m not sleeping, I’m just resting my eyes.’

Several of the songs on the anthology come from Joe Grushecky and the Houserockers’ 1995 album “American Babylon,” which he also reviewed. ‘We were dead in the water just trying to get by. This record changed everything for us,” Grushecky said.

He said his wife told him to call Bruce Springsteen and ask him to play just one song. One night he was playing at a bar on the South Side. “I was sitting up there thinking about how my dad told me I should have become a lawyer, just to get through the night.”

During a break he was told to call home straight away, so he went to the bar’s kitchen to call his wife on the wall phone. “She says, ‘You better call Bruce Springsteen right away, he just called the house looking for you.'”

So he went to Los Angeles, and The Boss ended up making the whole record with him.

Part of Saturday’s set list consisted of songs Grushecky hasn’t played in a long time, including “I Should’ve Never Let You Go” from 1984’s “Cracking Under Pressure.”

“I can’t remember the last time we played this song. Never with this band. … It hasn’t been played in this particular century. I think we still had rotary phones,” he said.

During the intro to “Pumping Iron”, Grushecky thanked Iron City Beer, WDVE and the folks at Bottlerocket. The WDVE shoutout was especially timely considering the song appeared at No. 420 on the station’s Memorial Day 500 Countdown on Friday.

But not everything was about nostalgia. The band is looking forward to releasing a new album, “Can’t Outrun A Memory,” on July 12.

The love between the members of the band was palpable, and so was their love for their music, their audience and their city. These are quintessential Pittsburgh musicians, and the city is lucky to have them.

Alexis Papalia is a TribLive staff writer. She can be reached at [email protected].

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