Tonight’s Tulsa show is the penultimate stop on Old 97’s winter tour. While we wait for the reviews and photos to come in, we handed the writing reins to Pittsburgh Wrecker, Cindy Anthony who drove 290 miles to catch the final southern performance of this leg.
Virginia is for (Trainwreck) Lovers
The stars at night are big & bright deep in the heart of Texas, it’s true. Deep in the heart of Virginia, on an unseasonably warm, clear evening in late January, six big, bright stars rocked the stage at the historic Jefferson Theater on the Mall in Charlottesville. Fun Fan Fact: The Wreck of the Old 97 occurred in Danville, VA in 1903.
The Jefferson is one Grand Theatre indeed, a lovingly restored landmark that long ago hosted Harry Houdini and The Three Stooges. A wooden dance floor and balcony above overflowed with adoring Old 97s fans, rollicking and frolicking, southern style.
(Philip’s view of the venue from his kit at soundcheck)
Opening Act The O’s, a duo from Dallas, affably took the stage with offerings from their current release Between The Two and debut release We Are The O’s. Taylor Young and John Pedigo were far outnumbered by their instruments – a banjo, guitar, harmonica, kick drum, tambourine and lowebro. A string break was handled with good humor and grace. After this tour, they’re headed to Ireland — definitely a cool duo worth watching. The O’s beautiful harmonies and high energy proved a portent of fab music to follow.
Soon Murry introduced Rhett, clad in a casual tee shirt generally reserved for post-show greetings, for a set of solo acoustic restylings. Some were Old 97s classics and some are featured on his new release, The Interpreter. Rhett was luminous on “California Stars,” blending his charm and sincerity with the timeless sweetness of Woody Guthrie’s simple serenade.
After a quick break, the boys claimed the stage with a burst of “Doreen,” and the energized crowd stood ready to reciprocate. Rhett had changed his shirt into a blue button down. They powered through an incredible set of old and new favorites, including “Salome,” “Simple Machine,” “Friday Night,” “Dance Class” and “Victoria.”
At a Charlottesville show nine months before, Murry proclaimed “White Port” his new favorite song. Who doesn’t love a scalliwag? This time out “I’m A Trainwreck” held the honor. I’ve never been able to pinpoint a favorite, but Saturday’s rendering of “Smokers” built to an almost unbearable crescendo that left me stunned.
As expected, the guys covered a lot of stage. Ken was all over the place. I counted just one air-spit from Rhett, one leap from the drum platform during the closer, “Time Bomb,” and about half a million hair sweat-shakes and windmills. Somewhere toward the end was a toast from Rhett — of Jameson, I presume.
After 20 years, these guys haven’t grown tiresome, or tired of each other. Murry gushed over the adorable Philip Peeples, claiming that he would like to adopt him. Murry and Rhett crooning side-by-side on “Valentine” looked something close to in love (but in a purely masculine way). And Ken continued to be Ken, feeding sly glances to the audience.
The Old 97s brought the love, and the audience gave it back. Benevolent fans had the chance to purchase a CD Murry is selling to fund his church’s project to build homes in Tijuana before scorpions and tarantulas take up residence in the Spring. You can still support this effort by clicking the link here.
Nearing the end of this swing of the south, each song seemed polished without sounding trite, rehearsed or automatic. They gelled, seemingly effortlessly.
I barely know a power chord from a power cord, but I am a dang good judge of character. And though these guys are characters, they have character, too. And they work hard.
As I drove home to western PA the next night through a blinding snowstorm, I considered the sacrifices these guys make, away from their families and homes for long periods of time. I thought about their approachability, and how they make time for their fans, when maybe they’d rather be asleep, or alone. It seems like they are fans of their fans, and that can only be a good thing.
The Old 97s fan doesn’t think twice about forsaking friends, family and full-time job to support these guys who never, never disappoint. We love them not only because each one is ridiculously handsome and talented, but straightforward, kind and clever. They energize us, and somewhat mysteriously, given some of their lyrics, they make us better people when we listen.
More magical than Houdini, less silly than The Stooges, Old 97s deliver. After the show, I asked Manager Mike for suggestions to account for their longstanding appeal, show after show. He simply offered this: They’ve got a good beat, and you can dance to it.
And dance we did.