Thursday, December 31, 2009

Old 97s review

December 28 at Sons of Hermann Hall (Dallas, TX)

Starting back around 1998 or '99, I caught the Old 97s numerous times a year, until they started touring more nationally and playing less locally. North Texas' loss was the nation's gain; during the past few years they have certainly achieved an admirable level of nationwide popularity. I've heard their songs over the PA systems in Chili's restaurants and at baseball games, and the new movie "Youth in Revolt" features one of their songs. But for my own selfish reasons, I wish they were still one of our "local" bands. It's just not as easy to catch one of their shows as it used to be. So I considered their schedule of Dallas shows on four consecutive nights (Dec 27-28-29-30) to be a Christmas gift of sorts, and I suspect that many of my fellow north Texans did, too.

Sons of Hermann Hall - one of Dallas' finest.

As an added bonus, they were booked at the Sons of Hermann Hall, one of our finest and most historic local music venues. This would be my first time to see the '97s since 2006. I had caught Rhett and Murry (as the Ranchero Brothers) several years ago at the Sons, but had never seen the whole band there.

upstairs at the Sons

Another bonus would be the solo acoustic performances by Murry and Rhett to open the show, each playing about 8 songs before the full band took the stage.

Murry Hammond on harmonium

Murry was up first, treating the crowd to a number of tracks from his solo album -- including a harmonium performance on "I Will Never Marry" (his unique take on a Carter Family classic) as well as a poem, an a capela number, and his solo version of the Old 97's "Valentine". I loved the performance, but the size of crowd that the '97s attract pushes the limits of respectful listenership for a finely crafted "unplugged" set. Why anyone would pay 30 bucks to see a show and then engage in conversations loud enough to drown out the opening acts (in this case, members of the very band they paid to see) is beyond me. Douchers. I guess I'm just expecting too much from the rest of the audience.

Rhett Miller solo performance

Rhett was up next, cranking out mostly high-powered numbers from his solo catalog. He gave an entertaining and energetic performance, hopping around and strumming the hell out of his guitar during the up-tempo tunes. I haven't followed his solo career, and didn't know the songs... a few of them were ok, but nothing really stood out enough to make me want to buy his albums. I was polite enough not to ignore him while he was on stage, though.

Stompin' at the Sons: The Old 97s

After a short intermission, the full band took the stage. Their set consisted of at least one of two tracks from each of their albums. Rhett had promised that during their four night stand, they wouldn't duplicate any songs, with the exception of "Timebomb", their standard set closer. This meant we'd be heaing some deeper cuts and obscure covers not normally heard at Old 97s shows. In fact, I couldn't recall ever having heard them play "If my heart was a car" (from Hitchhike to Rhome), "Dressing Room Walls" (from Wreck Your Life), "Let the train blow the whistle" (Cash cover), or "Five Years" (David Bowie cover) at any show I had seen. I just wish we'd gotten to hear them play "Doreen". Then again, WE (those of us on hand for Night # 2) were the lucky audience who got to hear "Big Brown Eyes" and "St. Ignatius".

Night # 2 of 4 in Dallas

Set list: Old 97s at Sons of Hermann Hall (Dallas, TX) December 28, 2009:

Here's to the Halcyon
Let the train blow the whistle
Murder (or a heart attack)
If my heart was a car
Alone so far
She loves the sunset
Buick city complex
Can't get a line
St. Ignatius

Am I too late?
Big brown eyes

Ranchero Brothers (Rhett & Murry acoustic)
Only me on the table (unsure of title)
In the satellite rides a star

(full band back on stage)
Five years (David Bowie cover)
Dressing room walls

Overall, it was great stuff... the standard Old 97s mix of twangy alt-country and radio-friendly pop rock. Their live performance sounded better than perhaps any show of theirs I've attended; all that experience playing for various crowds from California to Ohio to New York must be paying off. Rhett switched between electric and acoustic guitar after every song or two. The crowd (of several hundred, in my estimation) knew all the older songs and sang along with them. It's great to see the band doing well, and to see that they haven't forgotten the north Texas fans who bought those early albums and went to their shows at holes-in-the-wall like the Barley House (Dallas) and Rick's Place (Denton). But still, just a little, I can't help lamenting that Texas no longer has 'em all to itself.

Wish I was driving home in this...

Now that I've posted a current entry, I'll see if I can make any progress on my backlog if I work chronologically backwards from here. Happy New Year, y'all... Check back soon for more...


np: kid watching "Christmas Vacation"

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