Over The Weekend: Old 97's, Telegraph Canyon at Bass Hall

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Old 97's, Telegraph Canyon
Bass Hall, Fort Worth
August 21, 2009

Better than: a night at the opera.

Make no mistake: The crowd came to Bass Hall--some dressed in their operahouse best, others in more dive bar attire--for the Old 97's. And though they'd sure get the Old 97's--to the tune of a good 90 minutes of performance no less--they first got another treat, courtesy of Fort Worth's own Telegraph Canyon.

And, actually, of the two bands performing on this night, it was Telegraph Canyon that took the most advantage of playing in a room like the impressive Bass Hall.

In the cavernous 2,000-capacity room, which normally plays home to operas and symphonies, Telegraph Canyon enraptured the slow-arriving audience with its carefully arranged, delicately preformed baroque rock; Chris Johnson's voice trembled throughout the 11-year-old performance hall and the band's music slowly built to crescendos that crept up to the rafters and wormed their way into the compelled crowd's guts. It was an impressive debut for the band in a room such as this--something culled as much from the jaw-dropping performance as from the crowd's enthusiastic applause at the end of each song.

Indeed, once the band's time on stage came to an end, the crowd rose from its chairs to offer the band a standing applause.

But whereas Telegraph Canyon was content to let its audience sit and soak in its performance, the Old 97's weren't.

After a token "Hey everybody!" from Murry Hammond and sheepish waves from Rhett Miller, Ken bethea and Philip Peeples, Hammond addressed out at the crowd, seeming somewhat confused: "Some of you are just sitting there. It's OK. If I was you, I'd probably just sit there, too."

Course, it wasnt long before Miller, beer in hand, chimed in to offer his take on the sit-or-stand dillemma presented by Bass Hall's layout: "It's OK. Stand up. I asked them. You're allowed to stand up."

And, with that, the crowd stood and the 97's began its performance, which, sure enough, elicited a no doubt rare sight in this room: dancing in the rows and aisles.

But it was hardly a perfect performance: While Telegraph Canyon's music lent itself well to the acoustics of the room, the Old 97's' music seemed at odds with them; the music, at its best when a little boozy and sloppy, didn't resonate perfectly in this setting. It didn't help that the band's mix seemed off; both Hammonds bass and Miller's guitar's were barely audile at times. And though that sure allowed Bethea's parts to come off as muscle-y as ever, it seemed to confuse even the band at times, which noticeably tripped over its own pacing during slowers songs like "Blame It On Gravity" and "Color Of A Lonely Heart Is Blue."

Still, even dressed in this fancy setting, this was a party setting, as most 97's shows tend to be. And, predictably, songs like "Barrier Reef," "Won't Be Home," Miller's solo hit "I Need To Know Where I Stand," "Big Brown Eyes," "Four Leaf Clover", and the encore performances of "Stoned," Smokers," "Victoria" and "Timebomb" resonated quite well with an audience looking to hear more than just the latest release--and, sound issues be damned, that's what the crowd got.

Critic's Notebook
Personal Bias:
I don't think anyone familiar with our coverage is gonna be shocked to hear that I'm a huge Telegraph Canyon fan, or that I was rooting for them at this show, which, again, they killed. As for the 97's, I love the older, faster stuff and can give or take much of the rest of the band's catalog. But I will say this: If you can't have a good time watching the 97's perform "Four Leaf Clover" or "Timebomb"--especially with the ferocity with which the band performed those songs on Friday night--well, then you don't have a pulse.

By The Way: This was my first trip to Bass Hall, and as soon as I pulled up to the place, I was pretty much floored. What a facility that is. The fact that it was dropped right in the middle of downtown Fort Worth doesn't hurt, either.

Random Note: Just as impressive as Telegraph Canyon's performance? The fact that, even well after the 97's played, crowds were still approaching the band's merch table, looking to buy CDs and posters and seeking the band's autographs.

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