Old 97’s: Webster Hall 9 April 2011

“The good news is we had a great time playing for y’all. The bad news is we can only play one more song because of the fucking disco coming in.” Rhett’s good news/bad news line pretty much summed up the evening. I was excited to see The Old 97’s. I was disappointed it was at Webster Hall on a Saturday night when bands have to make way for the dance club at 11:00pm. I was looking forward to hearing my favorite songs. I was disappointed that my cold would prevent me from singing along. The opening acts earlier this year were Langhorne Slim, Those Darlins, or Teddy Thompson. For the one NYC show we got Kevin Devine. There were some young people seeing The Old 97’s for the first time. The young people did not get to see the band at its best. The boys were playing fast and loud and putting their all into giving us a great show. The guitars and amps were not working properly for most of the night.

The show wasn’t sold out but there was a good-sized crowd. There were the oldsters (more of whom you see at City Winery for Rhett’s solo shows – the seats and dinner and good wine make those shows skew to an older crowd) and the younger set who were at the Bowery Ballroom/Music Hall of Williamsburg three-day stint earlier this year. And there were the indie hipsters there to see Kevin Devine and were maybe staying for The Old 97’s.

Almost all of Kevin Devine’s songs start off slow and quiet and then build up to fast and loud. His bio says his lyrics are introspective or political but I couldn’t tell because the sound sucked. He was okay and maybe I’d have liked him better if I could understand the lyrics but truth be told, I’d rather his half-hour/45 minutes had been given to The Old 97’s so that they didn’t have to cut their encore short.

The Old 97’s hit the stage running as they always do. And, despite the endless soundcheck by the guitar tech after the opening act, Ken Bethea’s (lead guitar) amp stopped working by the second song. There was a lot of switching of cables and guitars before they changed the amp. Ken spoke more about this then I’d heard him speak about anything on stage. Murry Hammond (bass/vocals) contradicted Ken’s contention that the band was professional (which got a laugh) but you could feel the frustration because of the problems with the equipment (the band played through any problems so there wasn’t any lull). Rhett Miller (lead singer/rhythm guitar) had to switch out his electric for the acoustic when he couldn’t get a sound out of the electric guitar. And during “Please Hold on While the Train is Moving” Rhett seemed to be shouting at the lights – he didn’t seemed pleased with the focus on the band. A few songs later on “Oppenheimer” he asked that the lights come up on the audience so they could dance and the lights be turned off the band.

But did their frustration affect their playing? No. We never got “it’s not our best show, I’m pissed off, and we’re not going to play well.” What we got was “it’s not our best show, we’re not playing well, and I’m pissed off.” That frustration only fueled their playing and the band’s personality shone. Ken still gave us the fastest guitars this side of punk rock. We still got Rhett singing out, despite his hoarseness, a broken guitar string, and missed lyrics. We got plenty of “Whoahs” also. Murry’s harmonies were spot-on, as usual. And Philip Peeples played the drums with his incredible timing – fast and loud. Rhett lead the audience in hand-clapping and had us sing the parts we love to sing for “Big Brown Eyes.”

At some point an audience member gave Murry a airplane bottle of whiskey that he set aside. When the band joined Rhett for the encore, Murry whispered in Rhett’s ear and gave Rhett the bottle, which he drank and then threw against the back wall. And that’s when Rhett said the lines I quoted at the beginning.

I’ve seen The Old 97’s enough times to have experienced good shows and great shows. I’ve yet to experience a bad show. The band simply won’t allow it.

Set List

  • The Grand Theatre
  • Here’s to the Halcyon
  • Desperate Times
  • The Dance Class
  • Lonely Holiday
  • W. TX Teardrops
  • Champaign, Illinois
  • The Other Shoe
  • The Magician
  • Barrier Reef
  • Please Hold on While the Train is Moving
  • Won’t Be Home
  • Question
  • You Were Born to Be in Battle
  • Oppenheimer
  • A State of Texas
  • Big Brown Eyes
  • Let the Whiskey Take the Reins
  • Smokers
  • I’m a Trainwreck (new song from The Grand Theatre II)
  • Every Night is Friday Night (Without You)
  • Doreen
  • Four Leaf Clover

Encore (Rhett solo acoustic)

  • Manhattan I’m Done (new song from The Grand Theatre II)
  • Come Around

Encore (full band)

  • Timebomb

This was posted to The Old 97’s Facebook page (Webster Hall before the show):


By Carene Lydia Lopez