Tuesday, January 12, 2016 saw me back at Largo at the Coronet to see Rhett Miller and his guests, Sarah Colonna and Kate Micucci. This was the first show that I went to after hearing of the death of David Bowie. I was still feeling pretty downhearted and had spent both Monday and Tuesday looking at just about every post and article about Bowie that came my way, as well as listening to Bowie’s music almost exclusively. It was a little odd going to see Rhett’s show, as I really wasn’t in any mood to see a show, though I had been anticipating this one for weeks. Nonetheless, here I was and there was Rhett, who must have been in a twilight zone of his own, as he is a huge, just about lifelong, Bowie fan.
Rhett started out the night blasting into the Old 97’s tune, “Let the Idiot Speak,” from the album Fight Songs. This was an interesting first choice of song, which is something of a rarity to hear live and pretty sparse on lyrics for a song written by Rhett. Was he asking for our patience and understanding while he played his set and attempted to entertain us? Or was it the line “Who would have thought it could feel so bad sometimes?” that made him choose this song (I’ve borrowed part of this lyric for the post title)? Or did he just want to plow through something uptempo to try to energize his performance?
He followed that one with an reliable, familiar Old 97’s song from Too Far to Care, “Barrier Reef,” which had the audience singing along without any extra encouragement. Next up was the verbose and hooky “Our Love” from solo album, The Instigator.
Rhett came up for air to speak to the audience about the next song, something new that he had written with Ben Blacker as a “theme song” inspired by the Thrilling Adventure Hour. Old 97’s bassist and trainspotter, Murry Hammond, clearly had an influence on Rhett on this song, which had the refrain, “That’s the lullaby of the rails.” He mentioned “Moonshine Holler” and I am not sure now if that was supposed to be the name of the song or a reference to something from TAH, which I am unfamiliar with. Amusingly, whether purposely or subconsciously, he followed that one with the song “I’m a Trainwreck” from Old 97’s album The Grand Theatre Vol. 2.
Sarah Colonna then came on stage to deliver a comedic bit regarding aging and a visit to the gynecologist. There seemed to be some nervous tension and titters running through the crowd as the topic was broached, but that morphed into abundant laughter as Sarah hilariously divulged her story of the (slightly tipsy) practitioner who seemed a little too focused on the youthful (or otherwise?) appearance of her patient’s facial features and less concerned about confirming that her PAP test was negative. When Rhett returned to the stage he remarked about going to the store to buy feminine hygiene products for his wife and feeling as he went through the checkout, that there was nothing to be embarrassed about, “I’m just a man having my period.”
He went on to play a song from his most recent solo album The Traveler, “My Little Disaster” or as he referred to it, “My Little Bukowski.” This was followed by another crowd-pleasing song, “Big Brown Eyes” from Wreck Your Life.
When kicking off his song “Nashville,” Rhett noted, “I don’t always do blue…”. He trailed off, but can we finish it like a Dos Equis commercial? “I don’t always do blue, but when I do, I spew F-bombs liberally.” This song is intriguing, the main character seems like a nasty low-life, but he has just a kernel of redemption about him that makes me sympathize with him, like he may improve himself if he can just catch a break. Am I naive to believe this? Perhaps he is a hopeless narcissist and he is playing me like he played poor Caroline.
Rhett took a moment to talk about his first concert experience seeing The Kingston Trio. He talked about bands having songs that they are known for and having to play those songs repeatedly at concerts because everyone expects it. He explained how “Question,” his song about a marriage proposal, was his equivalent of “Blowin’ in the Wind,” since he has played “Question” with Old 97’s or on his solo dates for nearly every concert since he wrote the song. He said that he is “glad it’s a sweet song” that he has to keep playing. At one point he wondered, “How can I make this more romantic?” — queue the verse translated into French.
Kate Micucci then was introduced and took to the stage, sitting down at the piano. She played the first song she ever wrote, inspired by a lost dog that she encountered when she was at college, “Brandy.” In a nice little transition she then introduced a song she had recorded for an upcoming movie that she is in called, Unleashed, with the premise that her pets turn into full-grown men. With a line, “We couldn’t be better than before…,” it will be interesting how the song ties into the movie. She then covered Justin Bieber’s song “Love Yourself,” except pointing out that he probably really wanted to write it as “F*** Yourself,” and so she sang it that way. She performed one more solo song, this time on guitar, which was her tune “Walking in Los Angeles.” Rhett returned to the stage and the pair sang a duet of the John Prine song, “In Spite of Ourselves.”
Rhett played three more safe songs to close out the set, “Most in the Summertime,” his single from The Traveler: “Let’s Get Drunk and Get it On” from the Old 97’s latest album, Most Messed Up; and finished with his typical closer, “Timebomb.”
When Rhett returned to the stage he spoke for a few minutes about Bowie. He told the story of seeing Bowie in concert during the Serious Moonlight Tour and that being the turning point in his mind, when he realized the songs he was writing for himself, he could give to the world, “And the world would give money to me.” Then he performed a beautiful tribute to Bowie, playing two of my favorite Bowie songs, “Five Years” from Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars and “Life on Mars” (check the link to hear Rhett’s stunning performance of this song just a day before Bowie’s death — Jordan Katz on trumpet, Philip Krohnengold on piano) from Hunky Dory. It was very moving to hear the latter song. Quite a few people around me were teary-eyed after this one and you could see Rhett himself completely emotionally invested in this performance. The performance was just what I needed, a cathartic group experience to mark the passing of a legend. A few days later this touching, introspective article from Rhett about Bowie’s influence appeared on Salon.com.