The Old 97's at AT&T Performing Arts Center, 4/19/14

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The Old 97's, Black Joe Lewis, Slobberbone, Madison King Annette Strauss Square - AT&T Performing Arts Center Dallas, Texas Saturday, April 19, 2014

On the most pristinely calm night we've seen in Dallas in recent weeks, Saturday's sold-out Old 97's record release show for Most Messed Up proffered a taste of the past, present and future of North Texas country-rock in an insanely enjoyable, raucous package -- and all under the stars in the picturesque grounds of AT&T Performing Arts Center's Annette Strauss Square.

Dallas' Madison King, boasting her promising latest album, Onward and Upward, kicked things off by showcasing her powerful pipes to the largely unsuspecting wine drinkers on the blanket-covered lawn. Immediately afterward, Denton's country-punk kings Slobberbone tore through a tight set of songs with ferocity matched only by the splendid Grizzly Adams-esque beard of lead singer Brent Best -- although the dearth of newer material makes the Slobberbone concert experience one of (admittedly awesome) rocking nostalgia these days. After a quick, spirited set from Austin's Black Joe Lewis -- a group whose live show, while still entertaining, suffers from the loss of band co-founder and lead guitarist Zach Ernst -- it was time for Rhett, Murry, Ken and Philip to greet the amassed throng.

With the excellent Most Messed Up, the Old 97's 10th studio album, due in a few days, this is a band that exemplifies what punk-flavored roots rock is all about around these parts. Dallas or Denton may not have a Prince to bow to, but no matter where Rhett Miller or Murry Hammond live, we have this foursome to be proud of.

Over the span of two hours, the show was far more career-spanning retrospective than it was a typical merch-pushing album release gig. Opening with "Barrier Reef," the crowd of around 2,000 rose to its feet in unison for the first time of the evening and shouted along joyfully. The humorously vulgar "Nashville," a new tune which Miller prefaced by offering a warning to the younger kids in the crowd that sometimes "strong emotions" have to be expressed in an adult manner, was complete with its own sing-along chorus -- that involved the offering of oral sex.

Most of the group's albums were represented well. A few songs from the now 20 year-old debut LP, Hitchhike to Rhome, (including their cover of Merle Haggard's "Mama Tried," "Four Leaf Clover" and "Doreen") were played. The night's best set-list twist was provided when "Longer than You've Been Alive," the scream-along opening track from the new album, was followed by the opening track from that first record, the still incendiary "St. Ignatius." Well played, to be sure.

Between the oldest and newest records, however, there was plenty of ground to cover, and it was handled accordingly. Naturally, Too Far To Care, the group's most beloved album, was well-repped with a wonderfully smooth, melancholy "Salome," and the galloping, Hammond-sung "W. TX Teardrops" proving to still be songs with tons of life left yet. "Rollerskate Skinny," "Question," "Murder (or a Heart Attack)" and another Hammond-led tune, "Crash on the Barrelhead," covering the band's major-label rock era were on-point, as were The Grand Theatre Volume One tracks "Every Night is Friday Night (Without You)" and "Champaign, Illinois."

In just about every sense, the 97's did what they always do extremely well. Miller air-humped his guitar, Hammond jubilantly bobbed around and Bethea buzz-sawed his way around the stage while Peeples looked emotionless as a barely containable pulse burst from his kit. It's not that cool revelations were in short supply, mind you. Miller announced that the band will start hosting an outdoor festival (tentatively dubbed the "All the Way Festival") each year. And the notice that the band will use footage from this show for an upcoming video for the new record's right-to-the-point single, "Let's Get Drunk and Get it On," was another welcome treat.

Of course, to close the encore portion with fiery flair, Bethea strutted to center stage as Miller bounced above him on the drum riser. As Bethea scratched the opening notes to "Timebomb," the band's signature song, and arguably the most recognizable intro in the history of alt-country, the crowd went nuts, and the party was satisfyingly complete. Saturday night was about the Old 97's revving up again, and it was all just for us.

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