Old 97’s don’t break but break a sweat for packed house
San Antonio Express-News Staff Writer
NEW BRAUNFELS “Oh, man, it’s hot,” said Old 97’s singer/guitarist/front man Rhett Miller, stating the obvious to a packed crowd at Gruene Hall Friday night. “But we’re rolling tape, so you guys gotta clap like it’s 60 degrees.”
Playing the first of two sold-out shows being recorded for a live album due sometime in 2006, the alt-country quartet charged throught a sweaty two-hour show in the sweltering hall. It turned into something of an endurance contest for both band and fans, one of whom passed out near the front of the stage during the first encore.
Miller, who later reported that the stricken fan was OK, said he was unaware what he was getting into with the old hall, which was warmer than usual thanks to a breeze-free night.
Saying he had heard the temperature had hit 97 degrees earlier in the day, Miller said, “I took that as a good omen. Then I found out that the club didn’t have air conditioning.” That changed his mind, he added.
The fan’s moment of distress reminded bassist Murry Hammond of a similar incident at a 1999 show in Denton. “I passed out right in the middle of my own song (‘W. TX Teardrops’) once.”
It’s amazing they didn’t need to take a break for intravenous fluids.
Miller, Hammond, guitarist Ken Bethea and drummer Philip Peeples played with a fervor that left them soaked with sweat long before they waved goodnight.
The band obviously wanted to have a wide range of material to choose from for its first live CD. The set list ranged from cuts off the latest CD, “Drag It Up” (2004) to longtime club favorites from the early days to one cut (“Cryin’ Drunk”) that had been released only on a seven-inch vinyl record.
Kicking off with “Streets of Where I’m From,” the band emphasized its twangier side most of the evening. Two “Drag It Up” cuts, “Smokers” and “Won’t Be Home,” had extra bite in concert. Hammond introduced “Smokers by saying, “This one’s about the bad ol’ days when we all used to smoke before we all quit.”
Bethea sang lead on “Coahuila,” which he said was inspired by seeing Joe “King” Carrasco at Gruene Hall back when he was at Southwest Texas State.
Hammond offered a Waylon Jennings tribute in the form of “Iron Road.”
Ending the main set with crowd favorites “Big Brown Eyes” and “Four-Leaf Clover,” the band returned after Miller did a solo acoustic “Questions” and backed Hammond on another encore staple, “Valentine.” The pop-rock gem “Rollerskate Skinny” and the raveup “If My Heart Was a Car” completed the first encore and the band bowed out, presumably to towel off, after a second encore that featured Don Walser’s “Rolling Stone From Texas” and a band oldie “Stoned.”
Responding an audience request, Miller said, “We have to leave something for tomorrow night.” If they did, it didn’t show.
Opening act Bobby Bare Jr. turned in an entertaining 55-minute set despite being out of his element a bit. His set began with daylight still streaming throught the hall’s chicken wire. “It’s like playing for summer camp,” he said.