Hard to believe but the second night was even better than the first. The band had more energy (I don’t know how after everything they gave us the night before) and the crowd was more energetic and singing and dancing to every song. Even harder to believe was that Rhett looked more beautiful and sexier than he had the night before and he was as preternaturally beautiful the previous night as he is always. Rhett said he’d spoken with the owners of the Brooklyn Bowl about performing there every year. I’m sure the owners were happy – the Old 97’s not only bring a big crowd but they bring a drinking crowd.
Earlier in the day I’d read in Brooklyn Vegan that Tommy Stinson was supposed to be the opening act but he had to cancel – probably because of rehearsals for The Replacements reunion. I wish I didn’t know that because now any opening act already had a mark against them. How great it would have been to see Tommy again. I loved Bash & Pop.
Anyway, Wormburner got on stage about 8:30pm and rtb and I were worried about what that meant for the Old 97’s set if they had to end early. It turned out that the club dancing started an hour later so it was okay that everything was pushed forward. The Hoboken band is lead by singer Steve Henry, who looks like a still intense Jesse Eisenberg who is as animated as Craig Finn (The Hold Steady). Many of the songs are stories also, which adds to the Finn comparison. Jim Spengler plays drums, Terry Solomone plays rhythm guitar, keyboards, and percussion, and Paul McDaniel and Alec Senese trade off on lead guitar and bass (they switched places halfway through the set). John Q. Gruber joined the band when they sang his song “Some Summer.” None of the songs really stood out for me. They’re an okay indie band with stories to tell and they’re…pleasant enough.
This time I was standing on the audience left side of the stage (rtb moved further back into the crowd for this night, which gave her an opportunity to see some things that I couldn’t see). In front of me was a Snoopy bag, which held the Wormburner guitar’s outboard gear. I found that adorable.
The Old 97’s entered to thundering applause and cheers again. Before they got on stage some young skinny thing got herself in-between me and another couple who had been waiting at the stage since 7:00pm. I was a little pissed but saw that she was putting her beer down on the stage in what we now call the violaleeblue spot. (At the Bell House violaleeblue once put her purse and a book on the stage where Ken stands on the lip of the stage. He yelled at us, asking who brought a book to a concert. Now he just pushes anything in his way aside with his foot or he’ll ask people to take their stuff off the stage – I saw him do the latter the night after the book incident. We call that the violaleeblue rule.) I was afraid that Ken would shove the beer aside with his foot and I would get all wet but every time he came to the lip, she picked up her beer in time. When she finished her beer and then didn’t get the empty cup out of the way fast enough, Ken did shove it aside. Since I’d been there both times he was shoving things out of his way I was afraid he was going to associate me with that. Plus some guy touched the top of my head after the empty beer cup incident and I was afraid I was being singled out for something I didn’t do. It wasn’t me Ken! I always am on my best standing against the stage behavior.
The band is Rhett Miller (vocals/rhythm guitar), Murry Hammond (bass/vocals), Ken Bethea (lead guitar), and Philip Peeples (drums). I’ll just repeat what I said yesterday:
Rhett is an outstanding songwriter. Ken is so fantastic on guitar – he has no peers. Murry dances with his electric bass while she pretends to be an upright on the Opry stage. And Philip Peeples is such a powerful and in the pocket drummer.
I have to clarify what I said about Ken (rtb mentioned it and I realized that I, once again, was being unclear). When I say Ken has no peers, I mean in the genre that they play. Of course there are other (a few even better) guitarists in all of rock and roll. But when it comes to speed and beauty with an alt-country twang, Ken stands alone.
The night before Rhett had on white jeans, which I’ve seen him in before, but something seemed off. Then I realized he was wearing sneakers. Never saw that before. This night he was back in his boot, jeans, and work shirt. He also did the sucking spit out of the mic and then facing backwards and spitting it all out up in the air. Yuck.
While playing through Wreck Your Life, Rhett was reminded that all the songs were about whiskey, bad sex, and Murry added bad choices. One bad choice was being stuck on an Iowa on ramp in the snow. They had a bottle of champagne that was a gift from Mojo Nixon (Ken’s addition to the story. He spoke again!) And Murry had liberated a bottle of whiskey. They drank to keep warm and almost got carbon monoxide poisoning keeping the heat running.
There were a lot of moments on stage. Rhett pointing to Ken and Ken shaking his head, “No.” Rhett and Murry playing back-to-back leaning on each other and breaking out in laughter. Rhett drinking an airline bottle of whiskey. Rhett telling Ken that Brooklyn is larger than Houston, which is full of assholes. And Ken agreeing (he speaks again!) saying that Houston is their rival city. Ken making love to his guitar during “Smokers.” Ken speaking again – saying that he wants the rhythm section to open the next song like they’re supposed to and he’s betting that they can’t do it. Rhett looked confused. Murry and Philip conferred and rehearsed. And then the rhythm section opened “Por Favor.”
No photos of any set lists. And they were grabbed up by other concertgoers at the end of the night before I could even get ask to take a shot of them. So I don’t know what songs went unsung or if it was “Coahuila” when Rhett pointed to Ken. Earlier during dinner (at Mabel’s – a great place to get bbq) rtb and I were talking about copying lyrics before the internet and how you’d mishear things. I wasn’t familiar with one of Murry’s songs and looking up lyrics online was not helping. Finally I emailed rtb to ask if she knew what the song was and, of course, she did. Once I watched the video on YouTube I could see where I’d made my mistake (which I’m not repeating).
rtb texted me that Finn was in the VIP section. Synchronicity.
By Carene Lydia Lopez