Old 97's

They may sing about Mustangs and Bel Airs, but as a live band, the Old 97's are the sonic equivalent of a stripped-down Honda Accord. No fancy set pieces, no instrumental esoterica, no ironic covers--just their songs, played hard and loud and well. I've probably seen the 97's in concert more than any other group save my high school marching band, and each time is a brand-new exercise in quashing the 15-year-old girl ready to jump onstage and sing harmony. Which is why I was excited by this live DVD, and also why I was disappointed by it. The band to whom I pledge my undying adolescent screams is off its game here, with bassist Murry Hammond offering tone-deaf harmonies, front man Rhett Miller fumbling for falsetto. It's not bad--the 97's are never bad--but it's also not great, which makes me wonder why the label chose to release this particular concert at L.A.'s Troubadour. Just because recording a live concert is cheap and easy doesn't necessarily mean you should do it. Of a bit more interest is the mini-documentary, featuring interviews with the band during the recording of its last album, Drag It Up. "This is the album that all the other albums were trying too hard to be," Miller explains, and regardless of whether or not you agree, it's poignant in light of the critical sneer that met Drag It Up upon its release. But after 11 years, this band is anchored enough to weather a few storms. They're grown men--who have learned to take their music seriously and themselves a little less seriously. When the interviewer asks how they've been able to keep making good music, it's Hammond who gives the best response. Like his best songs, it's simple, earnest and true: "We just respond to our own hearts, and those hearts evolve over time."
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Sarah Hepola