The Old 97’s: Music Hall of Williamsburg 10 May 2016

One of my favorite bands playing in one of my favorite clubs? I’m there. Several of us bought tickets a few months ago but by concert night rtb was in Peru on a fabulous vacation and mollyT was at her last night of her movie shoot so it was Mrs. Devereaux, her friend (who was really friendly and nice), and me. I got there early enough to get my spot – audience right, up on the riser, close to the stage. Funk music was playing out of the sound system. I noticed two mics on the corners of the front stage pointed to the audience. So they were recording the show. When Mrs. Devereaux and friend got there, they were flush with excitement since they’d seen Rhett Miller (lead vocals/acoustic guitar) at the restaurant up the street where they had dinner. He was almost on top of them talking to someone else and said, “Hi,” to them before he left. My Old 97’s sighting wasn’t as exciting. Walking to the club from the subway I saw someone who looked familiar. He must have seen the recognition in my face and smiled. After I passed him I realized it was Philip Peeples (drummer). That evening when I was leaving the club and walking to the subway I saw Murry Hammond (electric bass/vocals) walking towards the club, talking with a woman. All that was missing was a Ken Bethea (lead guitar) sighting.

When looking at the Music Hall of Williamsburg’s website I realized that the Old 97’s were not the headliners. But the same acts were playing on Thursday at Irving Plaza and the Old 97’s would be headlining. So at the last minute, I bought a ticket for Thursday also. A man standing next to us in the club said that the MHoW show was the only one where the Heartless Bastards would be headlining.

Opening act BJ Barham is the lead vocalist/guitarist of American Aquarium. This made me very interested to see him because many Lucero fans are also fans of American Aquarium. (For the two or three of you who don’t know – Lucero is my most favorite band.) He came out at exactly 8pm to about five people downstairs and the few tables filled upstairs. During his set the people slowly started coming in and everyone was quiet and received him warmly. Barham is promoting his new solo record that is coming out in August. His band was an hour out of Paris when the terror attacks happened in November 2015. When they got word of what happened the band quickly left the stage and got out of France with 45 minutes to spare before the border was closed. The band holed up in Holland and while there Barham wrote a bunch of very personal songs – songs about home and his family. One song was for his daughter. After a few very sad songs, Barham said that when the songs are played by the band at least you can move to all the musicians playing. But with just him and his acoustic guitar it gets “jump into an empty swimming pool” depressing. He opened with a song about a widower talking about a long happy marriage (“Ain’t It Funny”). He did American Aquarium songs like “Lonely Ain’t Easy” (about divorce) and songs from the upcoming album like “The American Tobacco Company” about his grandfather – one of the Greatest Generation (and if you watch the video you get bonus cute bulldog). I really enjoyed Barham’s songs, which are interesting short stories, and will make a point of seeing the band next time they come to NYC. I get why Lucero fans would like them so much.


During the break the songs playing out of the sound system were “Dear Prudence” and a new wave song that sounded sort of like Flock of Seagulls.

The Old 97’s are an alt-country band from Dallas. They are rock and roll in attitude and spirit. They give all for the audience and the audience loves them for it. Since the band was an opener, their drum kit was in front of the kit for the Heartless Bastards. This meant that there wasn’t any room for leaping but the Old 97’s made use of the small piece of stage they had. And it made it easier to see Philip. Ken walked around with his guitar, taking solos on either side of the stage. Rhett didn’t do his signature jump for “Timebomb” but most of the audience was pogoing anyway. Even though it was an abbreviated set, the band did songs old and new. As always, it was an exciting set that energized the crowd and kept you wanting more. Everyone in the band, especially Rhett and Murry, looks like they’re having as much fun as we are. Rhett sounded like he may be losing his voice and I hope it’ll be okay for Thursday.

Set List

Murder (Or a Heart Attack)
W TX Teardrops
Designs on You
Longer Than You’ve Been Alive
Big Brown Eyes
Can’t Get a Line
Champaign, Illinois
Barrier Reef
Let’s Get Drunk & Get It On







Before the Heartless Bastards took the stage, the three of us were talking about our unfamiliarity with the band. So imagine my surprise when I immediately recognized the first song. It was “The Mountain” and I was trying to figure out how I knew it. I download free compilations and I was sure the song was on one of them (and it is, so it shows up on my shuffle). But there was more. I’d seen the Heartless Bastards open for the Black Keys at Terminal 5 in February 2009. And why was that significant? Because it was also the first time I saw Lucero, who were the other opener that night. I did not become a fan of the Heartless Bastards that night and last night didn’t change my mind. The musicians are all very good. Erika Wennerstrom (lead vocals/guitars) is a very good singer (although I don’t understand the reason for all the reverb on her voice). Mark Nathan (guitars/bass) is fantastic, as are Dave Colvin (drums) and Jesse Ebaugh (bass/pedal steel/backing vocals). There was also a woman on keyboards/guitars/backing vocals who contributed a lot to the band but I can’t find her name anywhere. She gets no mention in the press or websites, which is a shame. Heartless Bastards call themselves a garage rock band, which I can hear, but they lack energy – they certainly brought me down from high I was on after the Old 97’s. They do have their fans, who were singing along with every song but they lost some of the audience before they even got on stage. During their show more and more people left until, by the encore, the room was only three-quarters to half full. Their encore was definitely garage rock with lots of (purposeful) feedback from both the guitar and the bass.

It all ended at 11:45pm so it was a full night of music and a lot of fun.





By Carene Lydia Lopez