So here’s what you’ve been missing – or better yet, seeing – on the Old 97’s current tour. From the Chicago Sun Times:

Old 97’s

January 19, 2004


In the big picture, the Old 97’s weren’t really gone that long. Only three years passed between the band’s last album and its return to Chicago, and in the interim, ringleader Rhett Miller was a regular presence on local stages and radio waves.

All the same, fans treated the band’s Saturday show at Metro like an event. Well ahead of the date they snapped up tickets or clamored for extras in online forums; come showtime, they lined up around the block in bitter cold.

Anyone who thought all of this a bit excessive should have seen the band in action. On the third night of a 10-date tour that precedes their return to the recording studio — in Woodstock, where they’ll track tunes for an album on New West Records — the Texas-bred four-piece didn’t disappoint.

They also didn’t waste any time. One swaggering lick from lead guitarist Ken Bethea launched the band into “Victoria,” and the crowd into a lusty sing-along that mostly drowned out Miller; over the next 90-plus minutes, the last echoes of one tune barely died away before drummer Philip Peeples was rapping out a rhythm for the next. The late-night set — which started after 1 a.m. and didn’t end until nearly 3 — drew from every corner of the band’s catalog but emphasized songs from the band’s beloved 1995 disc “Wreck Your Life” and its follow-up, “Too Far To Care.”

Not all of that was flawless, of course; the 97’s naturally showed some rust. Almost off the top Miller flubbed a few lines of “Rollerskate Skinny,” and later Peeples rushed the intro of bass man Murry Hammond’s Johnny Cash cover, “Let the Train Blow the Whistle.” But nobody was too picky, so they just grinned and blasted past the rough spots.

Frankly, the time off — which Miller used to make a solo record, while he and others explored such side projects as marriage and kids — has done the band a world of good. Although 1999’s “Fight Songs” and 2001’s “Satellite Rides” blazed modest radio inroads and made Miller a geek-rock poster boy, they lacked the spark of the band’s beloved “Wreck Your Life” — a disc that launched both the band and Bloodshot Records to wider acclaim.

Saturday’s set included plenty of references to those early days. Miller introduced “Dressing Room Walls” with an anecdote about writing it in the basement at Lounge Ax, and he needled Jon Langford before banging out an aptly rowdy version of his “Over the Cliff.”

Fueled by their second-home affinity for our fair city, the nostalgia was nice. But warm and fuzzy only goes so far, so the best part of the electric evening was its promise for the future. Judging by the few tunes the 97’s debuted — including an uncharacteristic riff-rocker called “Smokers” from Hammond, Miller’s low-key lament “The Moonlight” and especially the signature witty wordplay of “Won’t Be Home No More” — the recharged band’s horizons look bright.