The Old 97’s: Irving Plaza 12 May 2016

I’ve been remiss in my posting so I have a backlog of May reviews. Passion was the theme of the day – first there was my passion for Hamilton and seeing and reading about Hamilton’s passions and then going to see one of my favorite bands and their passion for performing. After my Hamilton day, I walked over to Irving Plaza, which is not one of my favorite clubs in NYC. And even though I’d just seen the Old 97’s two days before, at Irving Plaza they were the headliners. Irving Plaza holds a little over a thousand people so it’s almost twice as large as Music Hall of Williamsburg. I got there before the doors were open – there was a Ken Bethea (lead guitar) sighting – so I was one of the first people in the club. There was plenty of room for me to stand in front of the stage but I don’t like the set-up with the stage high up and the metal grating in front of the crowd. So I stood in my usual spot near the back. Motown, soul, funk, and R&B were playing through the sound system and one of the bouncers joked about dancing with me but just as he approached me a slow song came on and we both laughed and shrugged our shoulders.

The room was still pretty empty when Rhett Miller (lead singer/acoustic guitar) came out to introduce BJ Barham (American Aquarium). Rhett didn’t introduce Barham at MHoW and I’m guessing that was because the Old 97’s weren’t the headliners and, therefore, not the hosts of the evening. This time people were not quiet for his set. They may have been quieter closer to the stage but back where I was – closer to the bar – they were very noisy. I was beginning to remember another reason why I disliked this club. Barham played mostly the same set and told the same stories from the other show, although not in the same order. He talked about the November 2015 Paris attacks and writing the solo album because he was thinking of his family and home. Barham talked about his songs being depressing. I remember there were American Aquarium songs like “Wolves,” “Ain’t It Funny,” “Burn.Flicker.Die,” and “Lonely Ain’t Easy” and solo songs like “The American Tobacco Company” and a song about his daughter. Again, I enjoyed Barham’s set a lot and want to see more of him and more of American Aquarium.


I don’t know if the Heartless Bastards played a lot of the same songs or not. They certainly didn’t play “The Mountain” again. There are frequent comparisons between Heartless Bastards and the Black Keys (not only because they’re both from Ohio) and for the first time I could hear a little of the Black Keys in the Heartless Bastards’ performance. But it wasn’t enough to make me love or even like them. All the musicians are good – Erika Wennerstrom (lead vocals/guitars), Mark Nathan (guitars), Dave Colvin (drums), Jesse Ebaugh (bass/backing vocals), and I finally found the name of the woman on keyboards/guitars/percussion/backing vocals – Kyleen King, who adds a lot to the band. It wasn’t a sold-out crowd but it was crowded and many of the people enjoyed them.



The Old 97’s came out to the same new wave song that had played at MHoW. There was a lot of excitement in the crowd and I could feel that back where I was but it wasn’t enough. I was really regretting my choice to stand so far back but I don’t like feeling like I can’t escape the crowd. There was another couple making out during their set (one couple had made out during their set at MHoW). And this time several couples were dancing in the back. As always, the band gave everything they had for their audience. Since they had more room this time there was a lot of their jumping and running back and forth and interaction among the band members. And with more time, Murry Hammond (electric bass) got to sing more than one song – “Valentine” was introduced as channeling the Everly Brothers. Rhett was in much better voice – the one day of rest helped. And, as usual, he joked with the audience like coming out for the encore and saying, “I can’t lie. I planned for this contingency.” Rhett also remembered playing Irving Plaza before but it was in the 90s so he didn’t really remember. All are excellent musicians, including Philip Peeples (drums). It wasn’t one of my favorite nights with the Old 97’s but that’s only because of the venue and how far away I was from them. Their set was energetic and the crowd was totally into them.

Set List

Rollerskate Skinny
Melt Show
Crash on the Barrelhead
Dance with Me
Big Brown Eyes
Won’t Be Home
Longer Than You’ve Been Alive
Buick City Complex
Barrier Reef
Give It Time
Every Night is Friday Night (Without You)
Most Messed Up


Four Leaf Clover




By Carene Lydia Lopez