What a privilege to spend Friday, September 18 at the Troubadour seeing one of my favorite bands, Old 97’s, perform. They’ve been around for “20 good years of about 25” as Rhett sings in their song “Longer than You’ve Been Alive,” but I only jumped on the bandwagon almost exactly one year ago. (I also borrowed the title for this post from that song.) I’ve made up for lost time since then, buying all of their albums and nearly all of lead singer Rhett Miller’s solo albums. In the past several months, I’ve managed to see Rhett perform solo five times and experienced my first Old 97’s concert in May. It is great to reside in the L.A. area for the opportunity to see so many live concerts!
The opener that night was musician and producer, Salim Nourallah. Salim produced Old 97’s albums: Blame it on Gravity; The Grand Theatre, Volume One; The Grand Theatre, Volume Two; and Most Messed Up; as well as Rhett Miller’s self-titled album (one of my favorites of the whole lot of Rhett’s output).
At the show, Salim stepped onto the stage clad in a white T-shirt, black vest, black Converse, and a pair of the groovy, finely-checkered trousers. His backing band played via cassette tape through a 1979 boombox while Salim sang and sometimes played an acoustic guitar. His sound was something like 1990s Britpop meets Texas meets Indie rock. His lyrics feel poetic, yet story-like, and take a few clever turns. While performing he got close to the edge of the stage and sang directly to audience members. I was standing just left of center and right next to the stage. Several times I had to avoid getting whacked by his guitar, which he had left hanging and swinging around from his shoulder while he held the mic and gestured in front of me. You can’t deny that he is an enthusiastic performing and did his best to get the audience into the music, encouraging them to singalong on some of the choruses.
His set was so much fun and I gladly purchased his latest album Skeleton Closet after the show. The bulk of his set list was from the new album. It is great when you go to a show and the opener almost makes you forget about the band you came to see. Listening to his music at home, I have been really enjoying the song “Permanent Holiday.” “The Bullies are Back” is particularly catchy. An album from a previous band effort of Salim’s, called The Travoltas, I bought solely because of the included song “Mail Ya to Australia“, an amusing jazz standard type tune which Salim sang with flair to close his set.
The crowd was well warmed up by the time the Old 97’s hit the stage. The band got right down to business, starting off with a song from their most recent album Most Messed Up; “Give it Time,” could be a template for Old 97’s alt-country rock style. They played through a handful of up tempo numbers before slowing it down for “Salome“, which was a surprise as it wasn’t on the set list (which was right in front of me). There have been a few Old 97’s songs in my head in the days prior to the concert and that was one of them, so I was grateful they played it (too bad no “Rollerskate Skinny” though).
There are several things that I love about the Old 97’s. Rhett Miller’s incredible lyrics — the way he cleverly and seamlessly combines storytelling and stream of consciousness writing in his words. His clear, resonant voice has a good dynamic range; he can effectively rock out, on the edge of shouting lines, or sing softly and sweetly in his vocals. Plus, he looks like a rock star — the camera loves him.
Ken is a fantastic guitar player. He zips through riff after riff, run after run, like it is absolutely no problem. He pulls off some fantastic sounds, especially when pairing his Gretsch guitar with the Matchless amplifier. During much of the concert Ken moved over to play solos right in front of my face. It was very fulfilling.
Murry Hammond knows his way around the bass. Sometimes bass players can play very simply (boringly), but not Murry, he nimbly moves up and down the neck and deftly contributes to the rhythm of each song. He also supplies background vocals and brings a stronger, bright country sound to the group when he takes over lead, which adds variety to a concert. During the main part of the concert he sang lead vocals for “W. TX Teardrops” and “Color of a Lonely Heart is Blue.”
Philip Peeples is a solid, powerful drummer. He keeps things moving along and perfectly compliments the songwriting with his rhythms. He can also throw in a little drum solo when the band isn’t quite ready to start playing, as we witnessed. Sorry, no photo, it is so difficult to get shots of drummers that are in focus. They also tend to hide behind lead singers and guitar players.
I shot a few videos during the concert, which are in the “You Make My World Rock” YouTube account. Rhett announced that the band realized that their album Wreck Your Life had just turned 20 years old and they were going to play a few songs from that album, so I whipped out my camera and recorded “Dressing Room Walls” and “Over the Cliff” (in one video). Another song from Wreck Your Life followed, “Old Familiar Steam,” which I didn’t record. I did record the live version of one of my favorite songs from Satellite Rides, “Designs on You.” Finally, I wanted to share an example of one of their more rock-like songs from the concert, so I shot “Every Night is Friday Night (Without You).” If you listen to these links, note my camera records acoustic concerts well, but gets overwhelmed by amplifiers and particularly drums. If any readers have tips on a point-and-shoot camera (which small enough I can take it into venues without a special pass) that deals with drums better, let me know.
The encore was perfect. First, Rhett came out alone with his Gibson acoustic guitar and played his single “Most in the Summertime” from his most recent solo album The Traveler. Then Murry came out and strapped on the Gibson to sing a heartfelt rendition of “Valentine” with Rhett on background vocals. As Murry was finishing up, Rhett gave Murry’s shoulders a squeeze — that was sweet. Then Ken and Philip came back out for the full band to play the lustful, booze-infused “Let’s Get Drunk and Get it On,” also from Most Messed Up. Keeping with tradition, they closed with the punk-esque song, “Timebomb,” with Rhett taking his signature rock jump off a nearby speaker to kick off the song.
It was an excellent show from start to finish. Members of the band were available next to the stage to sign merchandise and chat to fans. I love it when bands are accessible to fans. It may be the best bit of relationship building a band can do. I briefly was able to speak with Ken, who commented on it being difficult to hear his guitar on the stage. I assured him it sounded awesome and thanked him for all the close-up solos. I was also able to say hello to Salim near the merch area and have him sign the CDs that I purchased. He very kindly took a photo with me too. Thanks to Salim and each member of Old 97’s for giving me an outstanding night of entertainment that I truly needed.