The outstanding TFTC 15th Anniversary tour has ended for this year. Can it really be over already?? As a way to stem our withdrawal while we all wait patiently for the dates of the next tour, we thought it’d be fun to relive a couple of midwest shows through the eyes of long-time fan and Chicago resident, Annie Viña. Annie shares her reflections of her 15 year devotion to the 97’s as well as a new-found love of Salim and company.
-Too Far To Care – The 15th Anniversary Tour –
Madison & Chicago
Once upon a time, in 1997, perfectly enough, a certain band from Dallas released their third album. An album on a ‘REAL’ label. An orange & blue album with cowboys & cacti on the cover. An album beloved by people from every corner of this fine country. An album that made an impact in the newly coined ‘alternative country’ genre or as it is sometimes known, ‘alt. country’. This is the album that most people refer to when gushing love for Old 97’s. And love, I mean, deep down to their bones. It is the quintessential encapsulation of all that they were at that time. Fresh, young, pulsing with energy & fervor, plaintive lyrics & howling vocals, twangy gee-tars & crunchy amps, thumpity drumming & bumpity bass. This year is the 15th anniversary of the album, and it is being played in its entirety on a whirlwind, 2 week tour of the midwest and east coast. Exciting!
My initial exposure to the Old 97’s was through a live show in early 1999. At that time, their latest album was on the verge of release and Too Far To Care was all I could get my hands on without going special-order for the previous two. Timeline snapshot: I was almost 25, single-yet still disentangling from a long-term-live-in boyfriend. I’d just started living with a good friend in a cute rental house and my beloved car got me safely to and from work at the trendy salon/spa where I was a fabulous receptionist. I was reconnecting with my art and spent the summer painting with this album jangling its way into my heart and psyche as it played virtually nonstop (switched out only for Fight Songs, when that was released!). These boys were truly my own; there was no pre-existing emotion to tie this album to anything but my wonder at how much I could love something so twangy and well…country. But in a Johnny Cash kind of way, or as I’ve been known to say, “If the Beatles continued on a Carl Perkins path, following rockabilly a la ‘What Goes On’ or ‘Act Naturally’, rather than the more experimental, psychedelic path, sprinkled with some punk influence.” Or as Ken Bethea himself has distilled it down to, ‘Cash, Clash, Bowie, Beatles’. It’s really just a true & pure form of rock, with some regional seasoning, that’s all. I was taken hostage by this album and Stockholm syndrome was in full effect. I was truly in love with my captors.
After a few years of going to quite a few shows totally ALONE, I happened upon someone who would become my greatest companion for the rock n’ roll adventures, Karin aka K. This would be in 2002. Through that fateful meeting and the subsequent Rhett Miller show, we would become virtually inseparable for future, innumerable Rhett solo shows and full band gigs. Once again, the boys descended upon our towns and the reason for living returned to the forefront of our minds. Another great adventure & mini-road trip. K and I got to the Capitol Theatre in Madison in time to miss Rhett’s opening set 🙁 but still able to get prime area at the front, Murryside. The Travoltas were playing. I took no pictures of them at this show, because I was absolutely mesmerized. I’d longed to see Salim Nourallah in action, he has produced the last three Old 97’s albums, along with a Rhett Miller solo album. He has also released many awesome albums of his own and with his brother, Faris. I already knew I liked him. The Travoltas were all clad in these 1970’s formal suits of tan with brown piping. They looked to be enjoying their time onstage. Each of them pretty much in love with whatever instrument they were playing, and Salim crooning to the crowd, mic in hand, enticing us to clap along. The songs were generously dipped in retro-flavorings, but done very well as they were kitsch-tastic! I was enamored. I am enamored, hahaha.
Then our boys came out, and began the album, first song ‘Timebomb’. It’s a hell of way to start a show. (For the uninitiated, this is ALWAYS the closing song. It packs an extremely satisfying punch as a closing number.) As the opener, it set a fierce tone. It was interesting to hear it live, song for song in order. They didn’t really mess with perfection, and just plowed through it with minimal chit-chat. The usuals all made their appearance. The Rhett microphone suck & blow, the windmilling and hair flailing, Murry taking aim with his mighty bass. Ken exploring both sides of the stage, barely able to make it to our side due to the length of the guitar cord available to him. Philip crashing and bashing. Beautiful to my ear-holes. The remainder of the setlist was equally powerful, though I have no paper to prove it. You’ll just have to trust me.
When the entire show was over, we went looking for the Travoltas. There they all were, working their own merch table, meeting & greeting us all. I asked them to huddle up and Salim was like, ‘Come on and get in here!’ Well, say no more! So K and I posed with them and then we were inquiring about the album and other things for sale. I was lost in the euphoric haze that usually accompanies the aftermath. I’m all but worthless for a good 20 minutes, but I’m usually OK by the time we get shooed out of the venue. I tried to not be too starstruck as I told Salim how much I enjoyed their set and that I really appreciated his work as producer for the 97’s. He really gets how they should sound. I told him that I considered him their George Martin, even maybe a smidge Geoff Emerick. I hope he took it to heart, I meant every word. The boy plainly loves his Beatles! There was a greeting and high-fiving with Jeff, the 97’s traveling merch-meister. He’s great and we’ve known him since the Drag It Up tour. We caught up for a minute with Murry and Ken for hugs and thanks, little more. It’s enough. These boys are cool, humble and best of all, REAL. No bullshit. And then we were off, making the trek back to Karin’s. It would take me an hour after we got back to settle down enough to be able to sleep. Good stuff.
I listened to the newly acquired Travoltas album no less than 4 times, as that is approximately how long a drive home from Wisconsin is. The album is exactly 30 minutes long. Short but sweet. I learned enough of it to be able to fully enjoy their Chicago show. Once I got to the show anyways. Friday traffic in the city is no joke. And I was fully aware of this. But I was hindered at every turn. Thankfully, upon arriving and finding ridiculously close and cheap parking, my friends awaiting inside had secured front row status. Rhett did take the stage earlier than expected. He whet the appetite nicely for the Travoltas. I was giddy with anticipation. Yay, more Travoltas! They were equally as entertaining as at the Madison show. The only problem during the show was a moment where Salim’s acoustic guitar was not coming through the amp, but he took it in stride and just played air guitar on his actual guitar. The show must go on! Nice. They all looked like they were having a blast. I like to think that they WOWed Chicago.
The crowd started closing in on us right before the Travoltas left the stage. When those Old 97’s bounded across the stage and picked up their instruments, there was a resounding intake of collective breaths before the squawking, hooting and hollering started. Ken’s amp had ghoulish purple lights strung about it and some kind of creepy skeleton character slapped in the center. They just powerhoused right into things and ate up every bit of adulation we could throw at them. It was plain that they were enjoying themselves almost as much as we were. That’s a wonderful thing to witness. The whole audience was singing along, it was terribly cool. The show went off without a hitch, no broken strings or straps, no amp or pedal problems. No tumbling or tripping or knocking the mic stands over. It was a flawless event.
So the setlist was torn in two as it was removed from its place on the stage. Ken hands me a piece and the other to some stranger. She let me photograph it wholly before she took off in glee. In all honesty, I have a fair amount of setlists and probably should have given her the matching piece. But I’m just a sentimentalist. Maybe Ken thought we would catfight over it. In fact, I’m fairly sure that was the hope. Hahahaha
Another show, another night well spent surrounded by friends and fans. I had a fabulous time, we reunited with familiar souls scattered throughout the venue. I got to schmooze with the Travoltas again afterwards.
Then we were dispersed to the outdoors to wait for a chance to chat. Sure enough, after letting the gigglies get their turn for pics and signed vinyl, Ken ambled over to catch up. He asked if we noticed his Halloween lights and decor (of course we did!) and says that he might go back to the Walgreens and buy more. We get him for a good 20 minutes which usually includes regular life chat, video game or book recommendations, the odd dirty joke/anecdote from the road. Just regular stuff. He’s a good dude. I enjoy our banter. Murry, Rhett and the ever elusive Philip made brief appearances for hellos, hugs and thank yous before being loaded up and whisked away quickly like a dream that dissolves upon awakening.
And now we wait for next time. Because even after all these years, it’s still pretty much the greatest thing EVER.
Agreed, Annie. Thanks for sharing your experience!