Concert Reviews

Last Night: Old 97's at Sons of Hermann Hall (Night One of the Band's Four-Night Residency)

Old 97's, Rhett Miller, Murry Hammond
Sons of Hermann Hall
December 26, 2009

Better than:
most of the aftermath associated with the most wonderful time of the year...

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Like most Dallas-Fort Worth area shows from the Old 97's of late, last night's affair came with both a celebratory and nostalgic homecoming feel--kind of like old friends gathering together to remember how good things used to be and how good they might one day again become.

But last night's display came with an especially informal feel: As the first of four straight nights in which the 97's will hold down residency at the storied Deep Ellum venue Sons of Hermann Hall (which is just two years shy of turning 100), this show saw the band and its members rip through a total of three hours worth of performance--and, sure, things got a little sloppy at times. Of course, in the case of the Old 97's, that's the point.

"We've kind of turned you into guinea pigs for the night," frontman Rhett Miller offered to his sold-out crowd at one point during the Old 97's sets. He was referring, of course, to the fact that the entire room had been rigged for recording ("for posterity" as the show's promoter, Mike Snider, announced at the 97's set start), and he jokingly warned the audience that every stomach grumble could be caught on tape.

But maybe Miller was projecting his own feelings onto the audience; flubbed lyrics and missed cues saw a few more eye-rolls and head-shakes from the band than usual.

No matter, though. And no need for all the added pressure: This show saw an adoring crowd show up at Sons of Hermann--and a largely older one at that. Indeed, this was a crowd that had grown up with the Old 97's. And, as such, for the most part, the band had a blast with its crowd.

Earlier in the night, when Miller performed his solo opening set (the second of the night, following bassist Murry Hammond's phenonemal show-starting, 20-minute performance of country songs, church hymns and, yes, yodeling, too), he warned the crowd that, aside from "Timebomb," the 97's weren't planning to repeat any of their songs over the course of this four-night stay. The crowd, of course, cheered. And Miller quickly replied with a joke: "Sure, clap now. Just wait till we play a song you don't know the words to. And it's the third time of the night that's happened."

But this audience never skipped a beat, singing along to every song the 97's played--perhaps encouraged by the fact that the show was being recorded. And, indeed, it was one well worth preserving, minor flubs and all.

At this performance, audiences were treated to Old 97's favorites like "Barrier Reef" and "Stoned" (something other nights definitely won't feature) and a mid-performance set from Miller and Hammond's "side-project" the Ranchero Brothers (something the rest of the week likely will also see).

But even though the fans knew it was coming--as Miller had told them as much earlier in the night--the biggest roar of the night came as guitarist Ken Bethea ripped off the opening chords to the band's undeniable "Timebomb." And when the song came to its end and and Miller knee-slid across the stage to signal the end of the show, it hardly felt like goodbye--mostly because, given the diehard nature of many of the fans in attendance last night, more than a few of these attendees expected to see the band do it all again tonight, tomorrow and the next night as well.

Critic's Notebook
Personal Bias:
I've seen the 97's more times than I can count at this point, but last night's show was an especially fun one. Miller, channeling his nervous energy, did a fine job of running the festivities, and both his and Hammond's opening sets were highly enjoyable--even if the crowds were a little too chatty during Hammond's performance. The informal nature of it all suited the band just fine. I would've liked to have heard a few other "hits" from the band, but given the nature of this format, it's understandable why we didn't.

Random Note: The band's guitar tech last night was drummer Philip Peeples' bandmate in his side project I Love Math, bass player Andy Lester.

By The Way: Night Four of this extravaganza is sold out, but tickets still remain for tonight and Tuesday night's shows. For planing purposes: This show kicked off with Hammond at about 8:45 p.m. and ended just before 11:30.

Set List:
I took this down last night at the show, but can't find it at the moment. I'll update when I do. Check out the comments for the set list.

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Pete Freedman
Contact: Pete Freedman

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