The Old 97’s at ACL Fest

The last time I saw the Old 97’s was at The Argo in Denton sometime in the last century. A gutter-punk couple was square dancing, which felt perfectly appropriate to the twangy yet gritty music that night. As the group got poppier and poppier with each subsequent release, they gradually lost my interest.

But their 12:30 set was full of the electricity that has seemed to be missing since 2001’s Satellite Rides, concentrating on upbeat tunes like “Barrier Reef” and “Victoria,” an old favorite off Wreck Your Life. A couple good songs off their newest may just bring me back around again. “The Fool” and “Color of a Lonely Heart is Blue” are just as witty and fun as anything that got me into them as a teenager.

“We use weird tunings,” Murry Hammond said to explain the delay before their set began. “If we don’t get them just right, we sound like an art band.”

They must have got them right, because there was no mistaking their perfectly polished country-tinged pop songs for anything remotely pretentious. I didn’t spot any square-dancing gutter punks this time; in fact, hardly anyone in the listless, sun-beaten crowd did much of anything until the last song. But crowd-pleasing closer “Time Bomb” had a middle-aged pair of Festival Info volunteers grooving. I couldn’t help but join them in spite of myself. -- Jesse Hughey

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