Rhett Miller, Hayes Carll, Martha Wainwright: Summer on the Oval 30 July 2011

Summer on the Oval is a series of free concerts in the park that sits in the middle of Stuyvesant Town. violaleeblue emailed rtb and me about the concert on Saturday. Unfortunately she couldn’t go but rtb was nearby and I decided it was worth a trip in from Queens. The site is beautiful. We surrounded by trees that are in turn surrounded by the apartment buildings. But you don’t feel closed in. Since it’s so far off the street you don’t hear the normal car/truck noises from First Avenue or Avenue A. The bathroom (which I’m guessing is open only to residents on non-concert afternoons) is the most beautiful one I’ve ever seen – all stainless steel with everything automatic and very very clean. There are food trucks available and games and balloons for the kids. Another beautiful day and fun free summer concert in NYC.

The listing on all the sites said the start time was 4:00pm but the official site says 3:00pm. rtb was there at that time and nothing was happening. She went home for a bit and was back by the middle of Hayes Carll’s set. I arrived in the middle of Martha Wainwright’s set. Teddy Thompson is listed as one of the performers but the afternoon is called “American Music on the Oval” and maybe someone checked and realized that, even though he lives in NYC, Thompson is British, his legacy is that of British folk music, and didn’t fit in with the theme. We’re not sure what happened but neither of us heard any mention of him.

Martha Wainwright is half-Canadian so there is the half-American part. She was already on stage when I arrived. I put my towel down on the ground and tried to listen but the sound sucked. It was just her and acoustic guitar and her vocals were unintelligible. It didn’t help that most of the crowd was noisy and not paying attention. Some other musicians joined her for a few songs and the vocals seemed to improve a bit but not by much. It’s a shame because I really like her voice and songwriting and I would have liked to have heard her. I admit I put my head down and dozed off for a song or two.

Hayes Carll was joined by his band – I didn’t get the names but besides Carll on acoustic guitar and vocals there was a drummer, electric bass, one guy playing pedal steel, electric guitar, banjo, and accordion, and another on electric guitar, dobro, electric mandolin, and pedal steel – all excellent musicians. Carll has some rocking numbers and whenever he sang one he’d get part of the crowd dancing. I enjoy his songs and his exaggerated twang but he seemed to concentrate on the slower numbers and I think that was a mistake. Maybe he thought they fit for a lazy Saturday afternoon but he wasn’t keeping people’s attention. The sound was much better and I could understand the lyrics and when he spoke between songs. There was at least one story I’d heard before (about Ray Wylie Hubbard and the chicken song) and a new song, “One Bed, Two Girls, and Three Bottles of Wine.”

There was the wait for the next set and at one point I looked up and saw Rhett Miller on stage and bending over talking to the most adorable white blond boy who had to be his son. And he was. Later I saw a girl who had Rhett’s eyes (only a lighter blue) and said to rtb that that must be his daughter. rtb told me we had had this conversation. For “Fireflies” Rhett asked if anyone felt confident enough to sing it with him and everyone on the blanket in front of us pointed to a woman who turned out to be his wife and I asked who that could be. Apparently rtb had already pointed out Rhett’s daughter and wife sitting on the blanket in front of us (with a large group of sometimes annoying people). I had no memory of it. Either I was so besotted by Rhett or so annoyed by the bad sound that I wasn’t paying attention.

First it took some time for Rhett’s acoustic to work – they finally had to replace it. When he sang the first line of “Every Night is Friday Night (Without You)” his voice blasted out and you could barely hear the guitar. His voice was brought down a lot but the guitar was never brought up so they weren’t balanced and that was making me crazy. But he only did two songs solo and the sound improved when he brought out the Serial Lady Killers (Angela Webster, drums; Tommy Borshceld, guitar; Greg Besher, bass) for the rest of his set. There were some songs from his solo cds but others from The Old 97’s oeuvre and having just seen them this band sounded like a very good cover band. Each of the 97’s has a unique sound and it can’t be recreated – not that Rhett was trying to do that – but it just made the Serial Lady Killers sound like a pale imitation. For “Barrier Reef” they paused before the chorus and then played it punk until the end of the song. The last song was (Surprise! not Time Bomb) by what Rhett called the quintessential group – The Ramones.

After his set his daughter was up on stage hugging him and it was such an “awwww” moment. We stuck around for a while to kind of stalk the family but the kids must have gone off with Daddy to the green room and his wife soon followed.

Set List

Rhett solo acoustic

  • Every Night is Friday Night (Without You)
  • Perfume
  • Rhett and the Serial Lady Killers

  • Singular Girl
  • The El
  • Nineteen
  • Need to Know Where I Stand
  • Barrier Reef
  • Come Around
  • Murder or a Heart Attack
  • Fireflies
  • Help Me, Suzanne
  • Four Leaf Clover
  • Our Love
  • Rollerskate Skinny
  • I Wanna Be Sedated
  • By Carene Lydia Lopez