Did we even know how to do this anymore?
Yes. Yes we did.
Well, pretty much. When the show got out at 11, 18 hours after I’d woken my kids up for school that morning, I was at first shocked, then relieved, then downright ecstatic to know I’d be getting home so early. I suppose I should be embarrassed by that. I’m not.
The first time I bought tickets to see the Old 97s was for a show at the Paradise in Boston. But the first time I saw them was at Irving Plaza in New York City. So impatient was I to witness this band I’d just discovered that I decided I couldn’t wait an extra two days for the local date. Finding no willing partners, I drove the four hours to New York alone. By the time Rhett sang the line that had singlehandedly detoured my casual curiosity into outright fandom—“It’s not funny like on TV, and it’s not smart like it is in books”—I knew I’d never let a lack of a sidekick keep me from seeing this band.
But that said, sidekicks are the best part of showgoing. Tonight I’d be meeting up with Jen and Julie, as well as Mark, Julie’s cousin, who’d never seen the band. Snow delayed our flight and we arrived at the Wild Note Café, the restaurant adjacent to the Belly Up, just in time to be an hour and a half late for our dinner reservation. But our friends were well into their cocktails, the door to the venue was in my line of vision, and Ken was dining two tables away. All felt right.
Old 97s crowds take on different characteristics in different cities. Some places — say, Denver — I’ve been able to wait almost until they take the stage and easily make my way to my preferred spot: one row back from the front, Murryside. In other cities, like Dallas or Chicago (so I’m told; Chicago’s a city I’ve missed thus far), you damn well better stake your claim while (or before) the opener comes on or you’re out of luck. Frankly, in cases like that I usually choose to be out of luck. If being up front it means staring at the back of some guy’s T-shirt or being bumped by screaming girls competing for their share of Rhettsweat, I’m gonna take it to the back without complaint.
Julie and I evaluated the crowd. The path to Murryside looked impossible. We exchanged looks and wordlessly agreed to head to the second-most important location at an Old 97’s show: the bar. This helped. The bar was on a riser, and we had a better view of the crowd density. “We can so navigate that,” I told her, and she agreed. Beer in hand, we entered the crowd midway back, Kenside, and slowly smiled our way through. We caught the last few songs of Langhorne Slim, whose fans were in full force in the front. In my crotchety older age, I’d rather not stand for hours at a time, so opening bands are usually not my thing. But I have to say, I liked the sound. I wasn’t disappointed I’d be seeing them for three more nights.
I should admit up front that I’m not much of a show reviewer. I know my limitations. I’m more of a list maker, a reporter of observations. So here’s my list of what stands out from Solana Beach:
- Brie burger: fantastic. I highly recommend it.
- Sound: Thumbs up. Even from right up front, often the worst place for the best sound, it was phenomenal.
- Venue: For that matter, I’ll say that the Belly up is one of the best rock show venues I’ve been in.
- Murry’s shirtwear: pearlsnap, shortsleeved.
- Ken’s hair: Mohawkish.
- State of certain band members’ sobriety: questionable.
- Band Julie’s cousin compared them to, mid-song: Replacements
- Notable shirts available: the brown crown shirt, which I own and recommend, and a new Strike Anywhere matchbook one, which I scored.
- St. Ignatius. Hell yeah.
- Girl in the front row who held up two different cameras recording video of the show the entire time: My arms got sore just watching her.
Mostly, I just stood there and existed, knowing the experience wasn’t mine alone. The best word I can use to describe being there with Matt for the first time in over three years, hearing “Wish the Worst” and “Doreen” and songs that we’d been watching together since the beginning of us was … contentment. I know that’s not the most exciting way to describe a rock show, but there it is. Hearing Rhett and Murry harmonize on West Texas Teardrops or seeing Rhett’s windmill during Barrier Reef just brings an order to things. On the floor two rows back from the stage, Murryside, at an Old 97’s show, nothing feels out of place.
I’m on the way to the Santa Ana show and I’m exhausted. Delayed jet lag. More tomorrow.