The Old 97's: On 'til morning

Old 97's First Avenue, June 4, 2008 Review by Jeff Shaw

The word "rollicking" was invented for bands like the Old 97's. Primary songwriter Rhett Miller's tunes run the gamut from tuneful pop to sprawling honky-tonk majesty, and the group seemingly wanted to play them all last night.

Lovably loose and energetic, the band played most every song from their first studio album in four years, Blame it On Gravity -- and, in fact, most of the band's canon. Fans got their money's worth during the 100 minute set of more than 25 songs and not one, but two encores.

Serving as an able counterpoint to Miller's country-dappled rock tunes was bassist Murray Hammond. The subtle twang of "W. Tx Teardrops" and gentle amble of "Smokers" stood on their own as great songs.

To begin the first encore, Rhett Miller stepped to the stage solo. The self-proclaimed "usually apolitical" songwriter took a moment to praise Barack Obama before breaking into what is, for Miller, a unique commodity -- a protest song he penned for a friend in the military.

The sentiment was appreciated, and any tune where the refrain is "Fuck you, government man" earns points for earnestness. But sometimes a good rock n' roll band should stay a good rock n' roll band, and Rhett should really stick to hook-laden tunes about romance and regret.

If that number was flat, though, Hammond's gentle rendition of "Valentine" was quite the opposite. And the new rocker "Ride" combined with "Rollerskate Skinny" bridged the gap between the band's past, present and presumable future.

SET LIST (Does not include either of two encores) 1. The Fool 2. Barrier Reef 3. Won't Be Home 4. Oppenheimer 5. Blame it on Gravity 6. No Baby I 7. Victoria (a.k.a. Victoria Lee) 8. My Two Feet 9. Early Morning 10. The New Kid 11. Question 12. W. Tx Teardrops 13. I Will Remain 14. Big Brown Eyes 15. The One 16. Stoned 17. Smokers 18. Murder (Or a Heart Attack) 19. The Easy Way

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