Old 97s | 07.10.07

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 Throughout the night, Miller's (at times overly) flamboyant personality mixed well with guitarist Ken Bethea's laid back, cool-guy stage presence, Hammond's vocal harmonies and drummer Phillip Peeples' signature country shuffles.   




w/ The Drams

The Pageant, St. Louis, MO

In 2006, singer/guitarist/songwriter/gyrator Rhett Miller released another cheesy solo album and played one of the three worst shows I've ever witnessed. After this detour, fans of Old 97s undoubtedly were psyched to see him back with his old band at the Pageant. You see, people who love Old 97s truly LOVE the Old 97's - they're an endearing, alt-country/pop band with deep catalogue, and over the years they've developed an intense connection with their fan base. Central to this connection is the persona and lyrical ability of Miller, whose witty tales of sex, relationships, drinking, being down too far to care, and living in a lousy neighborhood have fueled a cultish relationship between the band and its fans.  

With the Old 97's, Miller's trademark persona is that of the womanizer who is constantly victimized by women, a character both heroic and tragic, and by telling stories that everyone can identify with (or at least aspire to identify with), his lyrics are remarkably accessible. He's no simpleton, however-what he forsakes in subtlety he makes up for with wit and wordplay, and Miller makes the process of getting blind drunk, sleeping with a random barfly and feeling like hell afterwards seem strangely appealing. Simply put, when you listen to Too Far to Care (the band's greatest album), you want to sit down and drink with Rhett Miller.

When you listen to his wimpish solo material, however, you want to punch him in the face (I do at least), and Miller's personality works best in the context of Old 97s, a band of alt-country pioneers with a reputation for delivering a fierce live show. The band is currently touring in support of their career retrospective Hit By a Train: The Best of the Old 97s, and with Miller back on board, the stage was set for a crowd eager to sing along with old favorites. 

After opening with "Doreen," the band built momentum slowly, switching gears between rockers and slower songs such as "Adelaide" and "Salome." A few early duds such as "Buick City Complex" were overshadowed by powerful renditions of "Won't Be Home" and "The New Kid," and the band showed its versatility early in the set with bassist Murray Hammond taking a few turns on vocals, including a cover of Merle Haggard's "Mama Tried." 

The Pageant dance floor started to liven up about halfway through the set when the band tore through "Barrier Reef" and "King of all the World." Throughout the night, Miller's (at times overly) flamboyant personality mixed well with guitarist Ken Bethea's laid back, cool-guy stage presence, Hammond's vocal harmonies and drummer Phillip Peeples' signature country shuffles.   

As a unit, Old 97s have an incredible chemistry, and when they closed with "Big Brown Eyes" and "Rollerskate Skinny," an appreciative crowd got the chance to shout out loud with some of Miller's signature lines, such as "I got issues..yeah...like I miss you...yeah" and "I believe in love....but it don't believe in me."

The band ended up playing two encores, the first including two of Miller's solo songs (done acoustically), along with "Smokers" and the furious "Four Leaf Clover" (without question the highlight of the night). The second encore closed with "Timebomb," an all-time classic that, in retrospect, would've caused a riot if the band had played it right after "Four Leaf Clover." The crowd wanted the band to stick around all night and the two separate encores were much appreciated - Rhett Miller was back where he belonged and it was a great night for Old 97s fans. | Andrew Scavatto

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