Rhett Miller – Maxwell’s (Hoboken, NJ)
If “Nineteen” had become a hit, the prospect of a Rhett Miller solo tour may have sent young America into a frenzy. Millions of teens would have wondered, “Is Rhett pulling a Ginger Spice?” Alas, the world is still normal. Besides, according to Miller, the reason for his recent East Coast solo tour is simple. He needs money to spend in Europe while the Old 97’s take a break as guitarist Ken Bethea adjusts to life as a dad.
So, armed with his “kitty notebooks,” Miller looked to fill his wallet with a handful of shows in the Northeast, including a stop in Hoboken. Without his bandmates, Miller had to rely on his abundant charisma to impress the sparse crowd that came to see him on a Sunday night.
Though an acoustic show naturally lacks the kick of a full-band performance, Miller injected some intensity with his usual eye-rolling, head-shaking, leg-twitching delivery, albeit while seated on a stool. He spent a good portion of the show previewing songs that will appear on either the next Old 97’s record or the debut of the Ranchero Brothers, Miller and bassist Murry Hammond’s side project. Though some of the songs sounded a bit incomplete, most were in line with Miller’s previous work. One of the best of the new crop was a song Miller wrote for the last Emmylou Harris/Linda Ronstadt album that, though ultimately rejected, enabled him to explore more of what he called his “George Jones side.”
Between the new material, Miller threw in some Old 97’s standards and a few covers. When choosing what to play from the 97’s catalog, Miller picked songs that might seem odd in an acoustic setting, such as “Victoria” and “Melt Show”, substituting what he called “mouth trumpet” solos for Bethea’s guitar. These songs came off surprisingly well, as did the covers, especially encore versions of “Summertime Blues” and a medley of the Pixies’ “Wave Of Mutilation” and the Ramones’ “I Wanna Be Sedated”. (He said he included the latter because “I’m wearing Converses and I’m close to Manhattan.”)