Old 97’s Live at the Cat’s Cradle
“Do you wanna mess around?/I mean deep down in your bones/In hotel swimming pools/On public telephones”.
As Rhett Miller uttered these lines from the fourth verse of Satellite Rides deep cut “Buick City Complex”, Wednesday night before a packed and adoring Cat’s Cradle crowd, I realized just how great the Old 97’s are at making rock and roll music. The above lyrics have always jumped out at me as they seem to sum up their wondrous dichotomy. Their music can rollick forward at a furious pace worthy of their namesake, filled with bittersweet and rousing choruses of passion, lust, and revenge or gorgeously lope along, anchored by sweet melodies of heartache, longing and regret. Miller wears many masks: the borderline creepy voyeur in “The Dance Class”, the ruthless libertine of “Won’t Be Home”, or the devotedly romantic lover in “Question”. The personalities that populate Miller’s landscape are complex and constantly shifting in their views, thoughts, and actions. In short, they are human: capable of being loved or loathed depending on the scene and situation. Add Murry Hammond’s vivid tales of devotion, doubt, and self-discovery and you get the perfect one-two punch of songwriting genius. Throw Ken Bethea and Philip Peeples into the equation and things just get crazy.
After nearly 20 years of making records and firing off blistering live shows, lesser bands may have lost some of the edge that is necessary to “bring it” night after night in town after town. Not so with the Old 97’s, who show no signs of slowing down with edge, even on a non-descript Wednesday in a venue they have played multiple times before. Throughout the two hour set, Miller sang his heart out, strumming his fingers bloody and dousing the front rows of the audience in sweat. Bethea leapt back and forth across the front of the drum kit and leaned out into the crowd, ripping off the signature Old 97’s chords that make their songs so distinctly unique. Hammond kept things cool on stage right, harmonizing when not taking the lead, and slinging his bass out to the side as if he were taking target practice. And as usual, Peeples held the whole glorious mess together with a thunderous backbeat that emphasized the authoritativeness of the proceedings. New songs such as “Every Night Is Friday Night (Without You)” and “A State of Texas” from their latest release The Grand Theatre, Volume One, mixed in seamlessly with classics like “Big Brown Eyes”, “Doreen”, and “Barrier Reef”. Two other new cuts particularly stood out. In “Champaign Illinois”, Miller re-wrote Dylan’s “Desolation Row”, using the title city as a sort of purgatory for wounded and lost souls. Live, the song demands attention, keeping listeners attuned to the various characters’ travails before leading into a catchy sing-along chorus. The other track, “Please Hold On While The Train Is Moving” is destined to be a future set-closer as the band feverishly ripped and shredded their way through eight minutes of playing so intense, I began to think someone would faint from the exposure. Hammond also proved up for the proceedings, rocking out with “West Texas Teardrops” and “Smokers”, in addition to dialing it back with “You Were Born To Be In Battle” and “Valentine”. Finally, as the encore came to a close, the Cat’s Cradle was left to smolder with the closing chords of “Timebomb”.
Good news for Old 97’s fans as more of these shows seem to be in the cards. The Grand Theatre, Volume Two is primed for a July release and more touring will surely be in the cards. After Wednesday’s display, the band has never sounded better and their enthusiastic bond with their audience looks to only grow and prosper, picking up stragglers on the way. Get on board and hold on for the ride.
The Grand Theatre
Here’s To The Halcyon
The Dance Class
Buick City Complex
West Texas Teardrops
No Baby I
House That Used To Be
Please Hold On While The Train Is Moving
You Were Born To Be In Battle
A State Of Texas
Simple Machine (New Song)
Let The Whiskey Take The Reins
Every Night Is Friday Night (Without You)
Won’t Be Home
Four Leaf Clover
Come Around (Rhett solo)
Medley: The Fly That Rode From Buffalo/Wave of Mutilation/I Wanna Be Sedated (Rhett solo)
Valentine (Murry and Rhett solo)
Big Brown Eyes
Dance With Me