The wife and I planned a family trip down to Mardi Gras 2011 over a year ago. You can imagine how thrilled I was to learn that the boys were going to be playing the night we were to arrive, at Tipitina’s. Talk about serendipity. I’ve seen the Old 97’s play live somewhere close to fifty times, but never outside of Texas. And though I grew up just a couple of hours from New Orleans, I’d never been to a show at the legendary Tipitina’s, so that made the prospect even more exciting, if that’s possible.

We spent most of the day Friday on the road. Baton Rouge traffic is some foul, foul stuff. Once into New Orleans, we worked our way through side streets to get around all the street closings, and got to the hotel just as a parade started rolling by around sundown. Three parades and an obscene amount of cheap plastic beads later, we handed off the kids to the Mom-in-law and caught a ride over to the venue.

Tipitina’s did not disappoint. Very cool neighborhood bar. You can just feel the history there. Loved it. We got there about halfway through the opening set from Those Darlins, to my chagrin. I was really wanting to see their entire set, as both Phillip and Ken have raved about them to me. Then we run into Murry outside, and he also insisted that we get inside ASAP.

And am I glad we did. I only caught their last four songs, but they were everything I’d been told to expect — fun, cocky garage rock from a band that has to be on the verge of blowing up in a big way. I expect to hear their name a lot during SXSW in a couple of weeks. Even better, all four of the Old 97’s joined them onstage for their final song, in a raucous blowout you had to see to believe. Luckily, when I saw Ken jump on stage I started my camera.

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Sorry about the audio there, I was right in front of the speakers. So I moved back a bit for the main show, and soon thereafter the Old 97’s came on stage and proceeded to tear it up, as always. It was a good crowd, not as enthusiastic as most Austin crowds, but plenty appreciative. Dancers and sing-a-longers abounded. My immediate neighbors were a friendly, happy lot.

The setlist started out heavy on the new stuff, but ended up being quite eclectic. Rolling Stone from Texas was a surprise. I recall The Grand Theatre, Dance Class, Every Night is Friday Night, State of TX, Champaign, IL, Jagged, Indefinitely, Salome, Victoria Lee, Here’s to the Halcyon, Crash on the Barrelhead, West TX Teardrops, WoBeHoNoMo, Wish the Worst, Big Brown Eyes, Coahuila, Question (full band), Smokers (which I think should be mandatory at all shows), Doreen, and the following:

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You could tell they were having a good time. The loose vibe from the Those Darlins show prevailed, and was just a blast to be a part of. I think they ended with Doreen, a sweaty, exhausted mess, the whole lot of ’em. Then Rhett comes out to start the encore with the acoustic portion of the show, doing Come Around. But halfway through, the lights go out, and he gamely finishes sans amplification, in grand sing-a-long fashion:

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Sorry about the guy behind me on the audio — he meant well, but damn he can not sing.

So everyone stood there in the dark for awhile, waiting for the lights to come back on. But it never happened. And that’s when Rhett chose to end the evening on an unexpected, inspired note:

Amazing Grace.

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I have to admit, I was a little bummed at first that we didn’t get the matchless energy of a 3-song encore. No Timebomb. No… Barrier Reef, maybe? But I got over it quickly.

Amazing Grace. Wow.

That moment, to be cliche, was magical. I doubt the video conveys the feeling in the room at all, but I could watch it over and over just to relive it again. It wasn’t a Kumbya moment, really, but something about it just felt right. That city, that night… I am so glad I was there to see it. I wish all of you could have been.