News

Yet another great review, this one from the Indianapolis Star:

concert review

Old 97’s strut some new stuff

• Where: The Vogue, 6259 N. College Ave.

• Bottom line: Old friends return to roots.

By David Lindquist

January 21, 2004

A feeling of renewed hope filled the Vogue nightclub Monday as the Old 97’s delivered a rollicking performance of roots-rock yarns.

Many observers assumed this band was history after singer-songwriter Rhett Miller issued a solo album in 2002. But the quartet is back together and kicking tail (despite some random rustiness heard in botched lyrics and misplayed notes).

The Old 97’s make music so spirited and polished, you might think you’re catching the Beatles circa 1965 — had the Fab Four hailed from Dallas instead of Liverpool and been followers of Johnny Cash, not skiffle pioneer Lonnie Donegan.

To underscore the comparison, Miller captivated the crowd with an unplugged rendition of “Question,” his tender and melodic cousin of John Lennon’s “Norwegian Wood.”

Miller also has looks to rival a young Paul McCartney and the charismatic insight of author J.D. Salinger, who happened to inspire the “Catcher in the Rye”-themed “Rollerskate Skinny” from the band’s last studio album.

At the same time, if the Old 97’s are so good, why aren’t they superstars? The quick answer is that the band’s idiom of country-meets-rock- Americana never caught on with the mainstream. Artists such as Lucinda Williams and the Jayhawks have made brilliant albums, but they have yet to earn a platinum sales award.

Miller, bass player Murry Hammond, guitarist Ken Bethea and drummer Philip Peeples recorded five albums from 1994 to 2001. Thanks to sustained support from one mid-level radio station, WTTS-FM (92.3), Indianapolis ranks as an Old 97’s town.

A new album is expected later this year, and the band previewed four compositions on Monday. Miller sang one dark rocker about restless travel and a breezy tune that seems to be titled “Bloomington.” The latter, which recounts an afternoon spent with a pretty girl in a park, should be a crowd-pleaser in any number of same-named cities.

It was a rarity to see and hear Bethea sing lead. After revealing a case of nerves through awkward and rambling banter, he let rip a self-deprecating ditty: “I’m sittin’ here suckin’ on my cavity, thinking of things you used to say to me — tragedy.”

Hammond — the band’s winning X-factor because of his ability to yodel and generally summon that high, lonesome sound — unveiled “Smoker,” a jaunty tale suggestive of They Might Be Giants in a European folk mood.

Still, for all the twangy adornments and Miller’s recent penchant for polite pop, the live 97’s galvanize into a rough-and-ready crew. Anyone on hand for the final sprint of “Barrier Reef,” “Big Brown Eyes” and “Timebomb” will tell you that.