Over the Rhine

Serpents and Gloves [Video]

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A lot has changed for Over the Rhine since Serpents and Gloves was pieced together in 1994. Their label, IRS, dissolved in 1996, taking much of the band's work with it. Guitarist Ric Hordinski left shortly afterwards to form his own band, Monk. Drummer Brian Kelly almost went with him, but hung on through numerous personnel changes before calling it quits in 1999. So this video stands as a record of a moment in the group's history -- a moment when they were clearly a quartet rather than a six- or seven-piece revolving door behind permanent fixtures Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist. It was also a moment when Over the Rhine seemed a band on the rise thanks to their new alliance with IRS. The band interviews on Serpents and Gloves project a sort of wide-eyed enjoyment of their relatively new status as a legitimate rock band, with all four musicians seeming to relish the opportunity to discuss their influences and writing process -- the kinds of things that real bands get to talk about. In one scene, Kelly proudly displays a concert poster for the gig that got them signed, as well as a backstage pass from a concert which featured Over the Rhine as an opening act for Bob Dylan. The group obviously had high hopes for their first IRS single "Happy with Myself," and judging from the enclosed video, it's easy to see why. The combination of a memorable hook, clever lyrics, a whimsically artful video concept, and Bergquist's thoroughly marketable midriff seemed tailor-made for MTV success. But the song never received the kind of promotional campaign it deserved, and the independently released follow-up to the IRS album Eve, which this video was developed to promote, opened with a confession that "Lord knows we've learned the hard way all our healthy apathy." Not that MTV airplay was ever the standard of success to which this artistically adventurous band aspired. That fact is abundantly clear throughout Serpents and Gloves, as the film features several high quality, previously unreleased songs including Hordinski's breezy "Uncle Frederick's Farm" and Bergquist's promising "Who Will Guard the Door" (which somehow never made it onto an album or into the band's concert repertoire). The video concludes with a fiery live performance of "If I'm Drowning," providing a welcome record of one of the ambient guitar jams that characterized the Hordinski era. It is a glorious moment in the history of one of the most interesting bands working in today's pop scene.