Archive for June, 2011

You can listen to “Marquita” and the rest of The Grand Theatre Vol. 2 streaming on kxt.org.

MURRY: Ken wrote this instrumental about this little apartment building we were all living in when we got the 97’s together. I lived across the hall from Ken, and Rhett — who had been my roommate was now living with a girl — Ivy — in a unit in the rear of these apartments. Philip came along during that time, too, but never moved in, though we probably tried to talk him into it. The building is still there, it’s called “Marquita Courts.” It was a wonderful time — so many friendships were formed that I still have — one of those magic times in our lives in that place. On record, you hear only half the instrumental — our take was twice as long with a fast punk rock beginning, that hopefully they will put somewhere as a bonus track at least — we honestly sound like a straight Southern California hardcore punk band at the top of the unreleased version.

KEN: I had been fooling with the chord progression for “Marquita”* for about 10 years. Every time I would write lyrics to for it I would hate them so last summer I just decided to let it be an instrumental. When we went back to the studio in October ’10 to finish up tracking for Volume 2 I told the guys I had an instrumental that I wanted us to take a crack at. We had been drinking wine all evening and everyone was pretty loose. We had already recorded “Ivy”, “The Actor” and “White Port” that day, and we were flush with booze and accomplishment. I knew Murry was going to be excited about the speed of of it. He’s a huge fan of early 80’s hardcore. I taught them the song and we ran through it a few times, laughing at how much fun it was to play that fast.

It actually has a slow beginning that we wound up editing out during mixing. I kind of wish we hadn’t. Someone got to me in a weak moment and I agreed. Dirty bastards. I have dreams of doing a “Marquita/Bright Spark w/White Port” 7″ at some point in 2012 and I would want the full length on something like that.

It was Salim’s idea to cross fade it with “Bright Spark” which was a badass idea. That six song run from “No Simple Machine” to “White Port” to “Ivy” to Manhattan” to “Marquita” to “Bright Spark” is about as good as we’ve ever done I think. It’s just a great batch of songs working well together. If someone ever asks me what my band sounds like, I could go on and on about 9 albums 18 years blah-blah-blah or maybe I could just carry around some discs with these six songs and I could say: “We sound like this.”

* Oh yeah, why is it called “Marquita?” It’s the name of the street where I met Rhett and Murry and we started the band. We lived in a brownstone called Marquita Courts. Murry and I were “fronties” and Rhett was a “backie.” We fronties considered ourselves a bit more sophisticated than the backies. We drank martinis, listened to jazz and paid our bills on time. The backies stayed up all night eating cereal, playing Genesis Hockey and smoking. It was a great place and time to start a band.

Song-a-Day Countdown Table of Contents

Old 97’s show review by David Welsh

Sunday, June 26th • Fort Worth Botanic Gardens

Having seen the boys burn down countless niteclubs since we first saw them in Dallas’ Gypsy Tea Room during the 1997 tour behind Too Far To Care, my party of four diehard fans was simultaneously jazzed and jittery. After all, it was a very large outdoor stage in the midst of a record-breaking Texas heat wave in front of several thousand people. And many of those in attendance would be there more for the outdoor-picnic-and-fireworks family-fun atmosphere rather than the experience of irradiation by the musical meltdown that is a 97‘s rock show.

We did have to drag our cooler through an unsettling number of strollers and walkers, but we felt better by the time we made our way to our table near the front of the stage. At least we began sighting the occasional Old 97’s t-shirt and the number of toddlers seemed to drop off. Better yet, there was Murry talking to old classmates from his alma mater in Boyd, Texas—while Ken stood off to the side chatting with fans about the upcoming release of TGTV2. Several cold beverages helped pass the time.

By the time the boys took to the stage shortly before 9:00 PM, the sun was setting and the air was slightly less sweltering. After Murry’s cheery “Hello, everybody!”, the band ignited “The Grand Theatre” and for the next 70 minutes never looked back. The venue’s constraints (fireworks at 10:15) dictated a setlist (see below) shorter than the usual club show. Nearly half the songs were from TGTV1&2, which was just fine for this reviewer.

photo by Danny Hadley

“Please Hold On” is an incredible showstopper live, and Murry’s rousing “White Port” was an instantly rollicking crowd-pleaser even for those hearing it for the first time ever. Rhett’s reworking of Murry’s “Brown-Haired Daughter” shows just why these two long-time collaborators are the Lennon-McCartney of the Lone Star State. Ken’s tremolo on “Lonely Holiday” positively shimmered, while his honky-tonk licks on the perennial “Question” completely reinvented the usual Rhett solo take. In honor of the literal sunset, we got the lyrical “Sunset”; Murry dedicated “W TX Teardrops”’ to the afore-mentioned high school classmates. And secret-weapon Philip kept the backbeat steady and relentless while sporting a new moustache.

photo by Danny Hadley

The sound quality was absolutely impeccable and the guys were clearly having a whale of a good time. After twenty years of performing together, it’s astonishing to witness yet another performance every bit as explosive and incendiary as long-time fans have come to expect. It’s hard to know what the general crowd thought. There was not much vocalizing in our section (although my party sang its collective brains out), and no one even stood until near the very end! But for those pilgrims visiting one more time the Temple of Old 97’s, the fireworks illuminating the night sky as the band left the stage were but a pale imitation of the pyrotechnics we had just witnessed. Goodnight everybody!

photo by Danny Hadley

1. The Grand Theatre
2. A State of Texas
3. She Loves the Sunset
4. Lonely Holiday
5. W TX Teardrops
6. Brown-Haired Daughter
7. Please Hold On While The Train Is Moving
8. Question
9. Perfume
10. Champaign, Illinois
11. Victoria
12. White Port
13. Every Night Is Friday Night
14. House That Used To Be
15. Big Brown Eyes
16. Dance With Me
17. Timebomb

photo by Danny Hadley

You can also listen to “Manhattan (I’m Done)” and the rest of The Grand Theatre Vol. 2 streaming on kxt.org.

JEFF: This song was originally known as “Grand Rapids,” and I think the name change was smart. Because while I am admittedly not familiar with that place, I feel like there’s an element of Manhattan that this song captures perfectly. That melancholy feeling of being alone in a place so crowded — this song just nails it. The word that comes to mind on this one is “mature.” It’s the product of a band in full control of its abilities, one that’s capable of tackling damn near any genre and making it their own. What I hear in this song is the perfect melding of Rhett’s solo style and the sound of the Old 97’s. It’s a song that wouldn’t have fit on any of the band’s albums from the 90’s, yet works perfectly here. It’s a beautiful little number that sticks in your head, a catchy melody that belies the sorrow in the lyrics. There’s an easy, groovy vibe, with a guitar sound I’m not thinking we’ve heard Ken use before (see his note below). It’s definitely a highlight on this album, and easily one of my top three songs on it — and that’s coming from a guy who normally prefers the rockers.

MARIE: Warning: Gushy Fangirl Alert.

I absolutely LOVE “Manhattan (I’m Done).” I cannot get enough of this song! Seriously. It’s become my go-to track. I don’t know if it’s the catchy, Kinks-ish power-pop melody, or the way in which Rhett delivers the lyrics with a whisper or how I find it impossible not to feel upbeat while singing its darker-toned sentiments.

Manhattan
saddest of Saturday mornings
thinking what I shouldn’t be thinking
thinking how it could have been

Whatever it is, I can’t bear to hear Ken’s last note linger without at least three or four consecutive replayings. I’m like a petulant child, torturing her parents on a long drive with the constant cry of “again, again, again.” Thank God I’m usually in my car alone, right? This gem bears all the hallmarks of the classic 97’s dichotomy, marrying misery to a ridiculously poppy beat.

Did I mention how much I dig the lyrics? I do, a lot. They aren’t complex, but for whatever reason this collection of words has struck a chord in me. Is the protagonist done with the rat race of the Big Apple or is he through chasing the elusive metropolitan girl he’s been seemingly stalking?

Cold shoulder
keeping it warm for the next guy
and I wonder where we go when we die
and I want to do it over again

I was watching you for so long
kiss me goodbye once and I’m gone
Manhattan, I’m done

I could quote on and on and on, but I’ll spare you. Go listen for yourself. There’s even a nod to the Psychedelic Furs buried in there. I think it is anyway. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go hit the repeat button one more time…

STEPHANIE: When I think of Manhattan and the Old 97’s, I can’t help but to think of the crooked man in TFTC‘s “Broadway” or Holden Caulfield’s disgust with the phonies of Catcher In The Rye.

Manhattan is known for swallowing souls and spitting out cynical shells. This song sounds like a melancholy break-up song, (in a stoic Brit pop, upbeat tempo sort of way,) but in the end, I think it is more bittersweet than absolutely sad. After hearing a song about a rebel, the actor, and a creepy boyfriend, “Manhattan, (I’m Done)” is a nice visit from Rhett the romantic. 

It’s the saddest of Saturday mornings, but unlike the typical jaded New Yorker, this Manhattanite makes a clean cut (kiss me goodbye once, and I’m gone) from “the scene” (I was watching you through windows, restaurant tables, all those candles) and does not give up on the idea of a simpler time and place. 

I believe in white tuxedoes, blue moons, and early Beatles.

This song beautifully conveys a heart that is broken, but not irreparable. 

KEN:* The coolest story on this current session was on this song “Grand Rapids.” The song is very sad. Rhett sounds miserable on his vocal and I remember the day he wrote it. He was not happy. But we just aren’t a sad band. The basic track (bass, drums, acoustic, vocal) was just melancholy. I had tried twice and failed to dress it up. Once sort of 70’s jazz style and once sort of big open ‘The Who’ chords. Both failed. I was running out of time and was freaking out that I was going to have nothing. On a Saturday night I woke up at 4am and for two hours fretted. I finally came up with what I thought might be a reasonable solution. I was going to ‘Belle and Sebastian’ it. (BTW, this is really the way we talk. As in, I ‘AC/DC’d’ the big chords towards the end of “The Easy Way.”)

I got to the studio a few days later and laid down some really nice sounding Belle and Sebastian tracks using Salim’s Rickenbacker through a Princeton. Then on a whim we decided to lay down some spaghetti western style guitars on the bridge and then the back half of the song. Sounded marvelous. The coup de grace, however, was added when Salim suggested to add what he called ‘Jackson 5’ style rhythm chords underneath the solo and then at the end of the song. I’m talking about those kind of little ‘clinky’ chords you hear underneath tons of 70’s soul songs like “Love Rollercoaster.” When I was first starting to play guitar, I was told those were called ‘street chords.’ I’m not sure if that’s true or not but suffice to say it was the first time I got to play that way in the 97’s.

Anyway, the guitars on the song are just terrific. In my top ten all time I’ve ever done. It just works so beautifully with the song, as it still starts out just Rhett and an acoustic, all sad, and ends with a total Belle and Sebastian/Spaghetti Western/Jackson 5 party. Kind of like something the Clash would have put on Sandanista. I hope people like it.

Song-a-Day Countdown Table of Contents

* Originally appeared in this post.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QBn0ukVkOoQ&feature=player_embedded[/youtube]

You can also listen to “Ivy” and the rest of The Grand Theatre Vol. 2 streaming on kxt.org.

MARIE: Formerly relegated to an EP, long-time fan-favorite “Ivy” is finally getting the cred it deserves by being included on a full album. This rocking remake holds true to the original spirit of the antics of a familiar rakish, yet likable reprobate from the 97’s deep catalog. Like the prodigal son (or should it be daughter), “Ivy” will be welcomed back to the fold with open arms.

MURRY: Our GTV2 recording of “Ivy” brings up another reason I love my band.  We might push our boundaries out a bit in order to have more room to frolic, but we’ll always know exactly what to do with a truly old-school 97’s song: it will sound in 2011 like it sounded in 1994, and I mean exactly, cuz that’s how we naturally play, even after all these years.  It was in the bones then, and it’s still in there.  You don’t want the RAMONES to “update” their sound on a good meat’n’potatoes Ramones tune, you want them to do it like Rocket to Russia forever.  Can I get an Amen!

JEFF: My iTunes collection was already graced with two versions of “Ivy.” One is from the iTunes-exclusive EP affiliated with “The Breakup” which is no longer available. The other is from 2003’s The Music of Sons of Hermann Hall Volume One. According to Murry, the version on the latter — actually called “Ivy’s Got A Boyfriend (Problem)” — is from one of their earliest recordings, a live set at Chumley’s in Dallas in 1994.

Ivy’s got a boyfriend problem
Ivy’s got a creep

You may recall I was in the studio the day they were working on this one. Rhett tweaked the lyrics a bit, and the rest of the boys jumped right in like they’d been playing it regularly for years. It certainly has a comfy feel to it, like a pair of boots nicely broken in. It wouldn’t have been out of place on Wreck Your Life, and that’s high praise.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=goIliQxqghY[/youtube]

Song-a-Day Countdown Table of Contents

We celebrated the launch of The Grand Theatre Vol. One with a t-shirt design contest that resulted in the fantastic new motel shirt. So we’ve decided to do it again for The Grand Theatre Vol. 2, but with a new wrinkle: this time, the design theme has to reflect one of the songs on Volume 2. You can head over to kxt.org to hear the new tracks and get inspired, then:

• Design an Old 97’s t-shirt that’s based on a song from TGTV2

1. Brown Haired Daughter
2. I’m A Trainwreck
3. Perfume
4. The Actor
5. No Simple Machine
6. White Port
7. Ivy
8. Manhattan (I’m Done)
9. Marquita
10. Bright Spark (See What I Mean)
11. Visiting Hours
12. How Lovely All It Was
13. You Call It Rain

• Upload your design to the t-shirt contest Flickr group

• The band will select finalists and post them to Facebook for voting in early August

The winner will get an awesome prize package that includes tix to a show and a meet & greet with the band, some exclusive autographed merch and the joy of seeing his or her shirt printed and worn by rabid fans from coast to coast. We know you’ve got skills. Here’s another chance to prove it.

You can also listen to “White Port” and the rest of The Grand Theatre Vol. 2 streaming on kxt.org.

MURRY: This is NOT a pirate song, it’s a hobo song. I have a friend named Bill Daniel (check out his site) who for years has ridden freight trains as a filmmaker in order to track down the hobo artists behind hobo graffiti that you might see on train cars. He took a shot of one that stated simply “I ride the longest, hardest, fastest routes there are to ride, and all is done with style and grace and white port at my side.” It was my chorus right there. I just channeled the character of the man that wrote it — the proud cocky hobo who loves his freedom more than anything — and wrote the rest. I wanted everyone to sing at the top like it was our “Yellow Submarine” and we all had a ball doing it. We didn’t mean to sound so British in that moment, but if you listen close, we started out normal, then — yes, in our beer-fueled states of mind at that moment — we all instantly decided to yuck it up by sounded very obviously British, complete with a Johnny Rotten sneer at the end. Also — the guitar power chord that comes after that Rotten moment is played by one Audie Bethea, Ken’s boy. Family band!

MARIE: The first of Murry’s two outstanding contributions to Volume 2, “White Port” is one big ole, rollicking party! It starts with an a capella Pirate chorus, sung in their best Jack Sparrow accents, then launches into a rousing, high-energy romp, complete with some kick-ass yodeling. Yeah, I know Murry insists it’s a Hobo song, but c’mon! He uses the word “scallywag.” How much more pirate can you get, right? As evidenced in the video, clearly they’re all having as much fun playing this song as the crowd is reveling to it. The banter at the end of the track confirms it. I love that the band leaves in these spontaneous gems.

So come on all you wenches, hitch up your skirt, hoist your mug of rum and get swept up in the current. The spirit took Rhett, it’ll surely take you, too. Yodel-A-E-Hoo!

STEPHANIE: Now that I know that it’s a hobo song, I get it… but on my first listen, I heard the swashbuckly intro and lyrics like, “treasure in the silver stars,” and “no roots under my shoes,” and imagined these guys decked out in the duds of Captains Sparrow and Morgan. Whether storming the seas on a pirate ship or hitchhiking the land with a bindle stick, there is a liberating beauty in navigating the world without anchors. (Sorry, Murry, for the continued pirate references.) You know that feeling when you’re driving aimlessly in the car, the windows are down, the weather is brilliant, and you have all of the time in the world? It’s a hobo’s life, I guess, and in those rare moments, it’s nice to have a song to yodel to in celebration. This song will definitely make my next roadtrip playlist!

JEFF: If you can listen to this song within grinning, you’re a zombie. Or a Lannister. I heard about this song months before I got the chance to hear it, in a post-show parking lot discussion with Ken soon after it had been recorded. Ken called it “the pirate song” and was pretty fired up about how it had come out. When the album first arrived, I was tempted to skip straight to it. Okay, maybe I did. It’s a rollicking good time, and I think what really makes it work is that the camaraderie of the band comes through. These guys have been together so long, spent so much time in the trenches, that there’s a genuine bond, and you can you just tell they’re having a good time. That, coupled with a seasoned confidence to ham it up on tape like this, is just refreshing. And then they back it up with what is, at its core, an excellent song… hell yeah. At this point in listening to the album straight through, the entire affair just got ratcheted up a notch. Time to start thinking of new superlatives.

Song-a-Day Countdown Table of Contents

You can also listen to “No Simple Machine” and the rest of The Grand Theatre Vol. 2 streaming on kxt.org.

MURRY: It cracks me up to hear Rhett write as a tough cowboy type. He lives in the country now, y’ know. He’s turned into a danged ol’ redneck.

JEFF:

Girls go crazy for guys who talk funny
and men who treat them mean

Lord knows that’s the truth. And that’s rock-n-roll: truth well told. This is a rockin’ number that swings. Or a swingin’ number that rocks. I’ve heard this one on the Sirius Outlaw Country station already, and it doesn’t surprise me that they gravitated to it — there’s a confident swagger punctuated with a vicious lead guitar that makes you want to crank this one up loud.

STEPHANIE: My favorite song from this album is different every day, but “No Simple Machine” is always in the top three. Marie and I saw them perform this song for the first time in Rochester, NY a few months ago and I was immediately smitten with this bar-brawly romance. This is sure to be yet another fan favorite.

In my (four-hour) dream set-list, “No Simple Machine” would follow “Barrier Reef.” The Serial Lady Killer has met his match with the chivalrous version of himself. Now he has his pride and he wants to defend his lady.

He said, who’s this fool on your arm
And I said, let me at him
His bell begs to get rung
And his nose begs to get flattened
Kept your composure, I’ll give you credit
You led me away from that scene
He might have had you, but he never had you
You are no simple machine

Unlike the guy in “Barrier Reef” who “goes through the motions with her,” this smarter, wiser man has what it takes to make a girl forget about that mistake at The Empty Bottle.

Just give me one night
To wipe the slate clean
Yeah, it’s gonna take all night
You are no simple machine

MARIE: One of the reasons I never ever tire of Old 97’s is their ability to successfully tackle a wide variety of musical genres. So far on Volume 2 we have a ballad, rock, Brit Pop, garage and now good old-fashioned country. “No Simple Machine” is a honkytonk treasure of a drunken bar fight of a song. It’s chock full of vivid imagery of male posturing between the man of the hour and the scoundrel whose place he took.

He said, who’s this fool on your arm
And I said, Let me at him
Well his bell begs to get rung
And his nose begs to get flattened

I love that line. Can’t you just see these two Alphas bumping chests? Aaaah, but like all of Rhett’s heroines, this cowgirl is a smart gal who’s no pushover…

You’re not a girl who’s easily swayed
By quick-witted, sure-footed dancers
Yeah your heart is as large as your great big brain
But sometimes there is no answer
You had your eyes closed and he saw you coming
His good one’s the one side you seen
Ah he tried to break you, but he didn’t realize
You are no simple machine

This song’s charming country twang is destined to get the crowd up and swaying, beer in hand, but it’s the abundance of these clever turns of phrase that will have everyone hitting the repeat button over and over and over, singing along with Rhett in his native Texas tongue. Another one on my long list of favorites from this disc, this one makes me want to open my car windows wide, crank it to eleven and seriously disturb the peace.

Song-a-Day Countdown Table of Contents

Listen to “The Actor” and the rest of The Grand Theatre Vol. 2 streaming on kxt.org.

MURRY: This started out as a “talking-blues” style thing — I had seen Rhett do this in LA solo and that was how he was doing it live — y’all should track down an early live take of it done this way, it’s really cool. Anyway, when the 97’s got ahold of it, we initially had trouble with trying to make that talking blues style work — it just didn’t rock. Fortunately (and I’m about to take some credit here), Philip and I were feeling very 60’s garagey that day and he and I just spontaneously busted into this jacked-up speed-fueled beat that you hear, and everyone just jumped in. We did about half a take like that then the whole band took a real crack at it with the tape rolling and we got what you hear here — the keeper take. We left in this wonderful moment of banter at the top where Rhett says “Ok, let’s do one like *that*!” or somesuch, counts it off and we’re done. Rhett yelled his head off, Philip and I channeled The Wipers “Youth of America”, I think, and Ken, I swear he’s channeling Steve Wynn or Karl Precoda from the Dream Syndicate’s “Days of Wine & Roses” for that take. This is our band at our best, when we are truly firing on all cylinders performance-wise and inspiration-wise.

MARIE: Recorded in one take, including a fun bit of studio chatter at the top, the Actor combines the subdued backbeat of “Let the Whiskey Take the Reins” with the frantic pace of “The Dance Class.” Murry’s thumping baseline and Philip’s steady cadence propels us along beneath Ken’s blistering garage-guitar licks. It’s rough and raw and in your face punk that escalates into a frenzy. The perfect frenetic energy to convey the blurred lines behind a performer’s splintered, chaotic life, be he an actor or musician. Or are they one in the same…

He loves his job, but it’s an awful lot
of faking his feelings and fumbling around …
that is life for the next two hours
yeah, he is ours beneath the lights

I love the power and intensity of this song! My attachment to this one grows with each listening. I cannot wait to hear it live!

STEPHANIE: I love this song more with every listen. This dark, bitter character comes to life with his own soundtrack of drunken punk rock. As much as I enjoy blasting this song in my car, I really need to hear this one live. With a shot of whiskey. And I want to be a little bit pissed off when it starts so the song can drive my anger to elation in 3 1/2 minutes. The actor isn’t in a better place by the end of this song, but man… I sure am.

Song-a-Day Countdown Table of Contents

STEPHANIE: So, the ogling agoraphobe from “The Dance Class” manages to get the girl. It’s kind of like Rapunzel, but creepier. Sadly, their ill-fated fling is not enough to help him break free from his self-imprisonment.

You think it’s fine, I know it’s broke
You think it’s all some kind of joke
But how can I laugh while I’m locked up in here?

I was driving to work a couple of days ago when this song started to play on the radio. (Kudos to WTMD in Towson, MD.) It was not a beautiful day outside, but hot, humid, and grey, just as I imagined the inside of this guy’s apartment despite the winter setting. By the last verse, I feel like it’s been weeks since the dancer was in his lair. Her perfume is stale and fading and he can’t stand that soon there will be nothing left of their affair. Dude needs to wash the sheets and get some therapy, but I’m grateful for his crazed existence that worked it’s way out of Rhett’s head and into this song.

MARIE: There are so many amazing songs on this disc, it’s difficult to chose one favorite because it changes for me everyday. That said, I must confess I adore “Perfume.” In this sequel to Volume One’s “The Dance Class,” our recluse has miraculously won over his dream girl, but love is bittersweet for an agoraphobe who can only gaze through the glass at his lady living a life outside the confines of his tiny window frame.

You’re on the town again and I’m drowning in your bed
Your perfume is in my head
And it’s driving me, driving me, driving me, driving me

I’ve loved this bouncy romp ever since we heard Rhett sing it solo at the City Winery in New York City this past February, and my love for it continues to blossom. All this bitterness and resentment wrapped up in a beguilingly buoyant melody will have you humming the chorus all afternoon. It’s a beautiful day outside, indeed.

JEFF: Rhett says that “Perfume” is a sequel to “The Dance Class,” and in that case I declare it this album’s Aliens — a sequel that’s a positive step forward from an already solid original. (Actually, this entire album is sort of Aliens-esque. Or dare I say Godfather II?) “Perfume” was a good choice for the first single, as it captures the band’s sound perfectly in a very accessible way. I enjoyed it at SXSW the first time I heard it live, and I think the studio version is everything you could want it to be. I love the addition of the tinkly piano in the chorus. A Salim touch perhaps?

Song-a-Day Countdown Table of Contents