Old 97’s / Picketts – Roseland Theater (Portland, OR)
“Isn’t it kinda cool that no one has to go to work tomorrow?” asked Old 97’s singer Rhett Miller midway through his band’s blistering two-hour set, a reference to this show falling in the midst of Memorial Day weekend. “When I was a kid, I used to hate Sundays. School was back in on Monday, and I’d spent the whole day in church all day, feelin’ bad…” Miller trailed off with a faraway stare. “Well, not tonight, y’all.”
While the 97’s in particular seem to be in the midst of allowing their sound to drift toward a more open-ended, diversified pop (welcome to the age of the de-twangification), tonight’s show demonstrated that for all of the “maturity” they’ve supposedly gained over the past couple years, they haven’t forgotten how to kick up their heels and stomp up a good-time storm.
Seattle band the Picketts opened their set with a medley of TV tunes, sloppily raking out the chords to the Vince Guaraldi chestnut “Linus & Lucy” before shifting gears and segueing into the “Star Trek” theme, with singer Christy McWilson spoofily singing along in falsetto. For a band with such a surfeit of great self-penned material, tonight’s set was curiously long on covers. Though their swingin’ take on The Clash’s “Should I Stay Or Should I Go?” and their balladized reinterpretation on The Who’s “Baba O’ Riley” have become staples of their live set over the years, one wishes for a few more moments of the honky-tonk bliss they offered up on their own “Hitchhike To Heaven”.
The Old 97’s spent the better part of a twenty-song set (plus two beer-soaked encores) trading in the prettiness and perfection of their latest Elektra release, the ’60s-informed Fight Songs, for a kind of loose-limbed propulsion. As guitarist Ken Bethea explained after the show, “it took us about an hour to figure out that y’all didn’t want to go home, so we just kept adding songs.” This evening’s crowd seemed typical of the partisan gatherings in the band’s native Dallas, with folks singing along at the top of their voices and bouncing up a frothing ball of sweat.
While new numbers such as “Oppenheimer” and “Jagged” have clearly found their rowdy live legs, the band wisely remembered many of the gritty uptempo songs that have become a hallmark of their live sets, including the smart-assed “Barrier Reef”, relative oldies “Victoria” and “The Other Shoe”, and a rousing rendition of “Niteclub”.
Opening the first encore with a solo turn on the new album’s acoustic charmer “Valentine” bassist Murry Hammond made a great case for his role of “secret weapon,” while hard-working frontman Miller played his Buddy-Holly-in-the-’90s persona for all it was worth, closing the festivities with a rapid run-through of the Too Far To Care leadoff fireball “Timebomb”. This is the Old 97’s we’ve come to love — a raggedness to cherish.