So what’s a band to do when they are forced to play the song they always close with first? Simple, they play it twice. The Old 97’s were touring behind the 15th anniversary of Too Far To Care, their third, and still arguably their best, release. It’s a pretty epic record, which they played straight through, near perfect, with such classics as “West Texas Teardrops,” “Big Brown Eyes,” the brilliant “Barrier Reef,” which features one of the greatest opening lines ever, “The Empty Bottle was half empty”). And of course there’s “Timebomb” which they have closed every show with for as long as I can remember. The only problem is, it’s the first track on Too Far, so I had expected them break with tradition and play something else in the encore. The manic barn burner is one of their best and most memorable songs, so I don’t think anyone was disappointed with their decision to reprise it just before curfew struck at the theater. (As an aside, I remember crying foul when they opened with it in The Break Up as a lonely Jennifer Anniston watched them from the balcony of the Riviera in Chicago. I guess it can happen.)
The first half of the show was pretty amazing. The Too Far tour was when I first saw, and fell for, the Old 97’s, so it has always held a special place for me. Apparently I wasn’t the only one, nearly everyone standing up front was singing along loudly with every word. It would have been annoying if it hadn’t been so charming. It was especially great to hear songs like “Broadway” and “The House That Used to Be,” with its great line “They’re gonna wrap you up in corn silk, they’re gonna cry like you were spilt milk,” which don’t get played live much these days. The second half was more hit & miss. I haven’t been terribly impressed with their last couple releases. In fact I’m not even sure what their last few releases were. I listened to Blame it on Gravity only a couple times before shelving and forgetting about it. Even Drag It Up is remarkable mostly for the fact that guitarist Ken Bethea‘s song about microwaving chicken burritos “Coahuila” is the best track on the record. Lead singer Rhett Miller’s solo records are even more forgettable, sappy, silly and overproduced. Hard to believe the same guy wrote the almost too clever “The Other Shoe.” The show dragged when they played the more recent songs, but picked up considerably when they pulled out even older classics like “Victoria Lee,” the tragic tale of a girl who “started on Rohypnol and ended up with me,” and the immortal “Stoned” from their first record Hitchhike to Rhome.
I almost didn’t go to this show since it was a volleyball night and I would be late. Thanks to Bill for talking me into it. I missed Rhett’s solo set and two thirds of Salim Nourallah, which was specifically who Bill had come to see. I didn’t mind missing the first, but I do wish I had seen more of Nourallah. I did see enough to buy a record, and I’ve definitely been enjoying it. I wasn’t sure quite what to expect from a Texan with a name like that, but he does great power pop that sounds like Summerteeth-era Wilco. Had I known his backing band was called the Travoltas I probably wouldn’t have been so surprised.
If the Old 97s milk this tour for as long as Matthew Sweet has been milking the Girlfriend anniversary tour or the Lemonheads their It’s a Shame about Ray, I’m hoping I get to see them again. After all, you can never hear “Timebomb” too many times.
The Old 97's