The Old 97’s: Bell House 14 July 2011

According to my saved documents this would be the eleventh review I’ve written about The Old 97’s. And then there are ten reviews I’ve written of Rhett’s solos shows. Obviously I’m not tired of watching them perform. And one of the reasons is that they are not tired of performing. It was another fantastic night with the boys.

This time it was only rtb and me. The night before we saw the food cart outside the Bell House and decided that would be nice way to enjoy a quick meal. We met early and watched as the food cart guy told everyone he didn’t have any food. So we walked over to the Chinese restaurant (which seemed to be confused as it was really Asian – there was Vietnamese and Thai food on the menu in addition to the Chinese. Plus there was an emphasis on being vegetarian friendly, yet the dishes seemed to lack vegetables. I realize vegetarian means more than vegetables but in the choice of salads at least one should be a vegetable salad.) and had an okay meal.

On the way to the restaurant we saw Rhett and Philip crossing the street towards the club. Part of me was wishing we were on the same side of the street so that we’d walk past each other and the other half was thanking god that we weren’t.

On the way back we could smell the food cart and there he was serving up food to the people sitting outside. Either the food cart guy’s English wasn’t very good and he didn’t know how to say, “Wait 10 minutes and the food will be ready,” or he was just screwing with us.

We were the first ones in the club again. On either side of the sound board is a reserved section with table and chairs. The night before I’d noticed that one side was open. So this night we walked to the open section and got the only table and two bar stools and settled in for the show. It was a totally different experience from the night before – not better or worse, just different. We still had a great view but now it was of the full stage and the sound was wonderful, as always.

Robert Ellis was in a t-shirt this time and he changed the order of some of the songs and played other George Jones covers – “The Grand Tour” and “I Really Had a Ball Last Night,” which was in honor of his hangover and how fun NYC is. His original, “What’s in It For Me?” sounds just like George Jones. I’m definitely more enamored of Ellis than rtb was but then I was always a sucker for a great country song and singer. They again killed with their punk bluegrass version of “Ruby (Are You Mad)” – the pedal steel guitarist Will Van Horn lost one of his finger picks. He again was terrific as was guitarist Kelly Doyle, drummer Ryan Chavez, and bassist Geoffrey Muller. A hangover wasn’t going to stop them from putting on a great show.

The night before “Rockaway Beach” was playing when The Old 97’s entered. Bassist Murry Hammond told the sound guy to keep it playing and Murry and drummer Philip Peeples played along. I believe singer/guitarist Rhett Miller was singing along with Murry and then lead guitarist Ken Bethea played along. This time they entered to “Chinese Rock” (Ramones version) and then another Ramones song (that my old brain can’t remember) but there wasn’t any playing along this time. Just before the band launched into “The Grand Theatre,” Ken leaned over the lip of the stage at the infamous book/purse spot, pointed and motioned that all that shit had to be taken off, and then started playing. That I didn’t fall off my chair laughing hysterically is a mystery to me. If Ken does this at every show I will be proud to be part of the group of people who have changed his routine. One thing I noticed when I was up close is how in the zone Ken is. Once he’s on-stage he does not want to break out of the zone and I’m sure that’s why the stuff in his way was more bothersome than it would be to others. Rhett steps in and out of the zone all evening. It’s an interesting contrast and makes for a fun dynamic on stage.

Rhett and Philip looked pretty bouncy when they were crossing Third Avenue but on stage everyone seemed to be showing the effects of a night in NYC. Late in the set (and this time Rhett thanked Ellis) Rhett mentioned that they were drunk and tired. When Rhett changed from electric to acoustic guitar there was a problem. This has happened before –usually Rhett sings and waits until they replace the guitar or figure out the problem. This time he wasn’t singing lead so wasn’t needed right away and he started to pout. Pout. He didn’t sing his back-up vocals for Murry (leaving it all to Ken) and just kept wandering around the stage showing everyone that his guitar didn’t work. I can see why some of the guys still treat him like the kid in the band. It was later in the set when the problem was finally fixed and Rhett couldn’t help but talk about it again.

When Rhett came out for his solo set (rtb reminded me that the night before he opened with “World Inside the World”) he noticed that someone had already stolen Murry’s set list. But then said it was okay because Murry can’t see anyway. And once again Rhett was gifted with an airline bottle of Jamesons – this time Murry got one also.

The set included some of the new songs but enough of the old songs to keep us happy. And their catalogue is so big that there were few repeats from the night before. At one point Ken said something to Murry and they decided to go off the list and have Murry sing Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried.” I was disappointed that we didn’t get the French version of “Question” in honor of Bastille Day but you can’t have everything. What I did get was another great night of music by a band that loves their fans and plays their hearts out for their audience.

Set List

  • The Grand Theatre
  • A State of Texas
  • Brown Haired Daughter
  • Stoned
  • W. TX Teardrops (and Rhett’s pouting episode)
  • Perfume
  • You Call It Rain
  • Lonely Holiday
  • Ivy (about a Cuban girl that Rhett almost married)
  • Please Hold On While the Train is Moving
  • Question
  • You Were Born to Be in Battle
  • Manhattan (I’m Done)
  • Barrier Reef
  • I’m a Trainwreck
  • The Other Shoe
  • Mama Tried
  • Every Night is Friday Night (Without You) (both nights Rhett had us clap along and it felt ‘off’. He couldn’t possibly be off-beat so it would have to be me – right?)
  • Won’t Be Home
  • If My Heart Was a Car
  • Encore

    [Rhett solo]

  • Lashes
  • [Ranchero Brothers (Rhett and Murry)]

  • Visiting Hours
  • [Full band]

  • Melt Show
  • Murder (or a Heart Attack)
  • Timebomb
  • By Carene Lydia Lopez