As I said before it has been a rough year and my December has not been good at all. I left the house only four or five times the entire month and one of those times was to see this show. A good friend had given me with a gift certificate to City Winery and I had bought a ticket for the show. The day of I was feeling lousy and wasn’t going to go but somehow I managed to get myself out of the house. I was determined to get some joy out of this holiday, dammit.
When I bought the ticket it was the four-top right by the soundboard (one of my favorite spots). The other three seats were taken. Lucky for me the other three people did not show up so I had the entire table to myself all evening. For dinner I had the duck tacos and the gem lettuce and beet salad both of which I can recommend.
At the very start of Rhett Miller’s set a fan handed him a bottle of Jameson’s with a scarf around it and a note that was puns on the other Old 97’s names (Ken=can, Philip=fill up, Murry=Merry).
Rhett launched into “Won’t Be Home” “Let’s Get Drunk and Get it On” “Holly Jolly Christmas” He said there would be songs about the holidays and songs about getting drunk. And he used his mouth to make a kazoo sound – the second time that week I heard that since The Cactus Blossoms had done it during their set a couple of days earlier. Then we heard “Lonely Holiday” “Wasted” “Doreen” Rhett said that Doreen herself was front row at the recent Old 97’s Dallas shows just like she always is. [An aside – I had only heard the live versions of “Doreen” and recently heard the original studio version. There is no mistaking that this is a song that references Killbilly – the beginning of the song on the album is pure Killbilly.]
First guest was Dave Hill, who told a very funny Santa story. Also an excellent guitarist, Hill played a song with Rhett. They were going to do the Paul McCartney Christmas song but that was too hard to learn. So instead they played Wham’s “Last Christmas”. During the break there was a very funny exchange and Hill played a great guitar solo.
Then Rhett played “Barrier Reef” and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” When someone handed him a drink he wondered if it was spiked, thanked Bill Cosby for the drink, the audience groaned, and Rhett asked “Too soon?” Then he played “Singular Girl”
Next comedian was Jen Kirkman, who told very funny stories about her narcissistic mother and watching Holiday Inn with her and the racism in that movie. Rhett came out and told a story about accidentally telling his 10yo son that there is no Santa Claus. Together they performed “Santa Baby” and during the break in that song Kirkman and Rhett went on in a very funny way about the gifts.
Then solo Rhett again – “Jagged” “Here it is Christmas Time” “Most Messed Up”
Final comedian of the night was Wyatt Cenac. There was a very weird moment when he came out. He looked at an audience member near the stage and said, “Did you just say that out loud? He’s black!” Cenac seemed a bit discombobulated and Rhett came out and reintroduced him and then Cenac got immediately in the groove. Cenac also did a very funny set mostly referencing both race and pot.
Everyone came out to do a very funny Peanuts-based script and concluded with “Santa Claus is a Black Man” with Cenac ripping off his jacket at the end of the song to reveal a Christmas sweater with a black Santa Claus knitted into it.
For the encore, harmonica player Mickey Raphael joined Rhett for “What a Wonderful World” (a song his daughter sings to him), “Over the Rainbow” “Longer Than You’ve Been Alive” and “Wreck of the Old 97” Raphael’s harmonica playing is transcendental. I have never heard a harmonica sound so beautiful and lifting.
It was a wonderful evening and I’m so thankful I was able to get out of the house to enjoy it.
By Carene Lydia Lopez