The sound of Deep Ellum

Or: How I went to London to find the next Jam, and found Rhett Miller instead

It was worth it. Miller, in the midst of writing material to follow up the Old 97's last album, Fight Songs, was in relaxed, gracious form. He played two songs in the evening's first set and two in the second; three of the four tunes were brand-new and spectacular. He wasn't giving out titles, although for his last number he told the story of its inception, which had to do with his seducing a hairdresser. (For the record, Old 97's bassist Murry Hammond, who caught the set via the Kashmir Club's Web site, reports that the set list was as follows: "Jagged"--off Fight Songs--"Haphazardly," "Annette," and "Rollerskate Skinny and The Terrible Twos, Two Years In and It's Time to Choose.") The songs were funny, lyrically more sophisticated than anything he's done before, and all suspended on the most limber of melodies and the most muscular of chord progressions. He strummed it out on his acoustic with the professional enthusiasm of a guy who's done this for 15 years, and he never once patronized the audience--he may as well have been playing to a roomful of label moguls.

Miller's family and friends sat in the back of the room, patiently waiting for his turn. Among the dozen or so in attendance were his sister Christi, an ex-Dentonite, and even Chris Weber, the organizer of the Good/Bad Art Collective's music benefits. Weber lives in Brooklyn now and handles the collective's New York dealings, but he was in London for a few weeks on business, and he, like myself, had decided that the London music scene was more than a bit hollow. Even four songs by Miller in the basement of this amateur-night club would be much, much better than the second-rate Bush he and I caught a few nights before at a famously shabby Brit-pop venue, the Falcon.

Once Miller finished, Weber and I sat in impressed silence for a moment, savoring the echo of songs well written and performed. Yet as Miller thanked the crowd and cleared the stage, another act stepped up to play, and I found myself hugging Christi goodbye and lurching for the exit.

A new England with an Old 97: Rhett Miller's four-song set at the Kashmir Club has been one of the highlights of Christina Rees' stay in London.
Nancy Newberry
A new England with an Old 97: Rhett Miller's four-song set at the Kashmir Club has been one of the highlights of Christina Rees' stay in London.

But honestly, I'm not homesick. How could I be? I mean, sitting there with Christi Miller and Chris Weber, listening to an Old 97 try out a few new songs, it almost feels like I never left Texas.

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