Over the weekend, "Jennings in Boston"--otherwise known as the person who runs the very top-notch MP3 blog known as rbally--posted a 7-year-old Old 97's show recorded at the Bijou Theater in Knoxville, Tennessee, on July 9, 1999. The band was on the road promoting its second Elektra Records release, Fight Songs, and the setlist reflects it; most of that album turns up, as does much of the band's 1997 Elektra debut Too Far To Care. Used to be, this is where the band lost me; for whatever reason, its transition from twang to pop left me feeling like the 97's had just turned into Sleepy Heroes, Rhett Miller and Murry Hammond's pre-97's band. Coulda been worse (Rhett could have been singing in that fake David Bowie accent again), but Fight Songs felt like a step backward nonetheless.
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Of course, now the two Elektra records are the ones I go back to most often; they're kinda great, but you already knew that. Though New West released Alive & Wired last year (an in-concert two-fer recorded entirely in 2005), this soundboard show from way-back-when is the one I'll dial up on the iPod when I wanna hear in-their-prime Old 97's. And the quality's awfully great for a boot; you can even hear the crickets chirping in the audience when Rhett jokes about going to Los Angeles in a few days "to perform on the Johnny Carson show" before the band launches into a killer "Murder (Or a Heart Attack)," which Blender actually deemed N0. 176 on the list of The 500 Greatest Songs Since You Were Born. I almost buy it after hearing this performance of it. Best hurry over if you want the show; Jennings is cleaning house and moving to a new server, and these things are limited-time-only downloads. Also, that Specials show from 1980 is worth grabbing. So's that Beck concert from 2003. And the R.E.M.-Radiohead show from 1995... --Robert Wilonsky