Concert Reviews

The Old 97's Played an Impromptu Set at Twilite Lounge Last Night for Rhett Miller's Birthday

This one might've gotten by you last night. It nearly got by us.

Thursday night at Twilite Lounge is normally the territory for Good Luck Karaoke, but last night the routine got put on hold and singer-songwriter Madison King played a show instead. Oh, and it was also Rhett Miller's birthday. Which is how the Old 97's wound up playing a surprise 20-minute set in Deep Ellum just a little after midnight.

See also: The Old 97's Ken Bethea is Still Blown Away By the Toadies' Rubberneck The Old 97's at AT&T Performing Arts Center, 4/19/14 The Best North Texas Albums of 2014, So Far

The timing was serendipitous. Across the street at Trees, the packed house for Red Bull Sound Select's Isaiah Rashad show was just beginning to stream out the doors and onto Elm Street. Somewhat unusually, there was real live music blaring from inside Twilite whenever the doors swung open. Soon cellphones were going off with text messages: The Old 97's were in there.

The bar was packed. People crowded around the stage and back past the bar, with plenty more out on the patio. Among some of the familar faces, standing not too far away from the band, was The Ticket's Corby Davidson. Just a few feet away was Miller, dressed in white pants (because what else would he be wearing?), his shaggy hair hanging down messily over his face as he swung his head back and forth. Alongside him, Ken Bethea was swinging his guitar around, coming perilously close to members of the audience.

Missing in the lineup was Murry Hammond, who was replaced on bass by Cantina and Polyphonic Spree member Jason Garner. (Cantina, which Old 97's drummer Phillip Peeples also plays in, played earlier in the night.) That meant Bethea played facing Garner as much as he could to show him through the chords, but he still couldn't help some of his rock star impulses taking over.

The birthday drinks probably helped with that, as well. It was the perfect environment for the Old 97's, who rarely if ever play venues as tiny as Twilite these days. Getting them in such a loose, impromptu mood was perfect, as it lent a particularly rowdy flair to songs like "Let's Get Drunk and Get It On."

Impromptu was certainly accurate in this situation. The band weren't even playing their own instruments; they borrowed guitars from Cantina, which Bethea admitted caused some fumbles. "We tune everything down a half-step. I don't know why we didn't bother to re-tune," he admitted afterwards, laughing.

This should all bode well for anyone planning to attend Dia De Los Toadies Festival in Fort Worth this weekend (Miller plays a solo acoustic set tonight, while the full band will be there on Saturday), for which Twilite suddenly became a convenient warm-up. That experience isn't likely to match the fun and intimacy of Thursday. But it would seem the Old 97's are ready to party.

Speaking of which, happy birthday Rhett. You don't look a day over 20.

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Jeff Gage
Contact: Jeff Gage