As has become a habit with me, it was multiple nights with Rhett Miller. This time I was back on my side of river at one of my favorite clubs. My friend Kenny got rtb and me a table up front so we had the best seats in the house. And it’s a good thing I like the songs a lot because we got pretty much the same set as the night before. That was unusual because normally Rhett mixes it up a bit each night. Maybe he’s more comfortable doing that solo or with his longtime bandmates in the Old 97’s and less comfortable when it’s this relatively newer band? I don’t know. I do know that we got another kick-ass two hours of music. Bassist Greg Beshers told Rhett, who then told us, that in Milan the previous night Bruce Springsteen had played 34 songs in three hours and 40 minutes but on the same night the Serial Lady Killers had played 32 songs in two hours – so they may not be better than Bruce but they were more efficient.
It had been a tough day for me and I wanted comfort food. The Cuban restaurant near my office only serves lunch. The Puerto Rican restaurant in TriBeCa is expensive and noisy. The other closest Puerto Rican restaurant was on Avenue C and I wasn’t trekking out there. So I ate at the new restaurant next to the Bowery Ballroom. The food is upscale bar food and it lives up to the promises on the menu. I sat in the outdoor patio in the back and enjoyed the breeze and the short rib pierogies with porcini sour cream and chicken schnitzel sliders with an apple relish. Just as I took my last bite it started to rain. I ran inside, got settled in a table next to the window, and the rain stopped and the sun was out.
rtb texted me that she was inside the club so I finished my drink and joined her. Since we had a table we took our time talking at the bar and saw Kenny where he told us stories of being outbid on items from Les Paul’s estate auction. A stool went for over $3800 just because it was from Paul’s studio. We heard the first notes from the stage and hurried upstairs to see the show.
violaleeblue and rtb both mentioned having seen The Spring Standards before. It’s possible they saw them on a night that I wasn’t there so because I couldn’t remember having seen them before the previous night I looked it up and they did open for the Old 97’s the [what I thought was my] first time seeing them in 2008 but we had missed the opening act. The Spring Standards did come out to play an encore song with Rhett that night so I got to see a bit of them. At the time I thought Heather Robb seemed a little awkward on stage. Well, that’s no longer true. She along with bandmates James Cleare and James Smith totally own the stage they’re on. I liked them much better when I could see them but I much preferred their older songs. The newer songs were more pop-ish and even though the older songs were played in a similar style there was something that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. When rtb mentioned that they were more rootsy the first time she’d seen them it all made sense why I preferred the older songs. Up front are keyboards, a small xylophone, and toms that Robb plays. The two James trade off on electric bass, acoustic and electric guitars, and the drum kit that is also on the front line. Behind them was Noah playing electric guitar and pedal steel and dancing around like crazy. There was a table near us that was very talkative during Rhett’s set. It turns out they were friends of Noah’s. The James and Robb trade off lead vocals and Robb impressed me when she was singing lead and playing xylophone and tom at the same time.
The room filled by the time Rhett and the Serial Lady Killers got on stage. It wasn’t a sold out show but it was decent crowd. rtb and I did some people watching – there was one guy with a mic on his forehead and rubber band around his head to hold it in place. He was showing off his equipment to some people next to him. I was trying to figure out how he was going to get a decent recording that way. And how bad a headache he was going to have after having a rubber band around his head all night.
Other Serial Lady Killers – guitar is Tommy Borscheid and drums are Angela Webster.
Differences between the two nights – there were more “whoos” from Rhett so even though he wasn’t drinking a lot on stage he must have been drinking more backstage. He did that thing where he sucked the spit out of his mic and I thought I was going to throw up. His tech Jason Garner switched Rhett’s mic after the sucking but the sound was different – it was muddier and not enough volume. Mics were switched again. And then again. I think they may gave gone back to the original mic because with the last switch everything sounded as it had before. During his set with Robb, Rhett’s acoustic lost sound and there was a switch to his new electric and it wasn’t until the encore that he got the acoustic back. After these incidents it felt a bit like the air had been taken out of Rhett. His focus seemed off and it took him a while to get back into the groove. We were close enough to see some of the frustration in his face but he never made a show of it to the audience and never stopped playing and singing through it all.
“My Valentine” and “King of All the World” sounded just a bit faster as if they were trying to rush through them. He played “Wish the Worst” during his solo set and it was one of the best versions I’ve ever heard from him. I got more of the lyrics from the song that I couldn’t identify the night before and it’s “Marcy Anne.” I’m not familiar with the song because it’s the bonus track if you download The Grand Theatre, Volume 1 from iTunes – you have to download the entire album in order to get it. Amazon offers a different bonus track with their download. It’s frustrating when bands do this.
And you know what else is frustrating? People sitting next to you who insist on carrying on conversations and they have to speak loudly because they can’t hear each other above the band on stage. Here’s a suggestion – go downstairs to the bar and have a conversation. You can still hear the show but the musicians won’t annoy you and you won’t annoy me. The most annoying part of the conversation was that this is what it mostly consisted of: “I know this song!” “I don’t know this song!”
For “Timebomb” Rhett told us that he was going to try to sing it quietly but it wouldn’t be easy. It wasn’t – he rocked out on some parts – but for the most part he made it a quiet song and it worked beautifully that way.
So even though I got mostly the same songs I did not get anywhere near the same show. And it wasn’t better or worse because all Rhett shows are great.
With Heather Robb and band
By Carene Lydia Lopez