The Old 97's are a band I've been a fan of for years; yet, it seems that every attempt to see them has been thwarted by finances or previous engagements.
Last night, at the Crossroads, I was finally able to see the poppy alt-country act in person for the first time. Thankfully, it was completely worth the wait. The weather was gorgeous, and I've never seen a band fronted by a man so enthusiastic.
Lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist Rhett Miller is the epitome of unmitigated joy when he's on stage. It seemed that the pleasure which Miller derived from performing was just pure happiness that he spread to the crowd. Throughout the band's entire set, Miller was bouncing, bopping, and dancing at the microphone.
It seemed as if every song the Old 97's played was a sing-along -- at least from my vantage point, at the front of the stage. Everyone crowded up to the barricade had their face lifted to the stage and shouted along the choruses to "Barrier Reef," "Doreen," "Night Club," "Stoned," and every other tune the band brought out. Even Drag It Up's "Won't Be Home" got the crowd excited.
The band's touring in advance of a new album, due out later this year, and has a covers EP, entitled Mimeograph, that they've got with them on this tour, as well as a repress of Hitchhike to Rhome. Two covers came from Mimeograph and Rhome: Merle Haggard's "Mama Tried," sung by bassist Murray Hammond, and R.E.M.'s "Driver 8," which Miller and lead guitarist Ken Bethea turned into a raucous romp.
By the time the band left the stage after their encore's final song, "Timebomb," the audience had shouted itself hoarse with enthusiasm and gotten nearly too far to care that it was 12:15 AM on a school night.
Openers Lucero are a band by whom I own nearly every album, but couldn't tell you the name of a single song. Their songs are all fairly mid-tempo, and lead singer Ben Nichols' voice on record starts to grate after half an album. Live, however, they're a pleasure. Rather than the four-piece which they embrace on album, they expanded their ensemble last night to include two horn players, pedal steel, and organ. Their sound was less Son Volt and more Muscle Shoals. Granted, my favorite song of their set wasn't an original, but their cover of Jawbreaker's "Kiss the Bottle," a drinking song whose tropes fit the sound of country like a well-worn pair of boots.
When Jonathan Tyler & The Northern Lights came out, my wife and I were trying to figure out if the skinny young men with long hair and beards would sound more like Bright Eyes or the Allman Brothers. As a matter of fact, they sounded like the Black Crowes -- minus the massive pot habit, and with a heavy touch of Southern boogie rock in the low end. They were entertaining as all hell, with frontman and guitarist Tyler rocking out all over stage. The one song featuring backup singer Mo Brown was even more entertaining. While Brown's voice is a bit thin for lead vocals, the hip-hop bounce the band added to their sound during her song was intriguing.
For those to whom Thursday is the start of the weekend, last night's show must've been the best opening salvo one could hope for. For those of us who had a day job to be at this morning...ah, who am I kidding? It was totally worth it.