Old 97's At Saint Rocke
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By Nate Hertweck
Hermosa Beach, Calif.
Stitching together a nearly 20-year career as a rock band is not easy, but for Dallas alt-country road kings the Old 97's, it sure has been fun. On July 7 the foursome transformed Saint Rocke in Hermosa Beach, Calif., into a rowdy Texas roadhouse, blistering through highlights from their vast catalog in what felt like a single burst of high-octane country rock energy.
The Old 97's are an endearing crew, led by their relentlessly likable frontman Rhett Miller, whose vocal delivery was equally charismatic when screaming through "Bel Air" as it was crooning out "Adelaide." Bassist Murry Hammond showcased his melodically adventurous technique, wandering masterfully up the neck of his instrument and adding perfect background vocal harmonies throughout the set. As the band's secret weapon, Hammond took the vocal lead on "W. TX Teardrops," "Smokers" and his own Texas take on the Merle Haggard classic "Mama Tried." Hammond's prowess and quirk was the ideal complement to Miller's passion and cool. Rounded out by guitarist Ken Bethea's simple yet daring lead work and drummer Philip Peeples' train beat on steroids rhythms, the Old 97's jangled and jammed together onstage like a group of road-tested buddies.
However appealing the sizzle of this band of Texans may be, the core of the Old 97's is their songs. Their songwriting is crafty, mischievous and full of hooks, and on this hard-driving night they unleashed bombastic versions of some of their catchiest upbeat tunes, including "Won't Be Home" and "Every Night Is Friday Night (Without You)," as well as more dynamic performances of the despairing "Let The Whiskey Take The Reins" and the romantic engagement-themed "Question." There is something magnetic for everyone in the songs of the Old 97's, and even when they sing about being wronged, they do it with such relentless fervor, conviction and redemption, convincing the audience that perhaps Miller and company wouldn't have it any other way.
At one of the rare pauses in the evening, Hammond said, "Garage bands rule … and tonight we're a garage band." Miller joked off the sentiment by rebutting, "Are you talking about a video game?" The band subsequently launched into another tight yet raucous tune, proving Hammond's point.
With each song Miller's purple shirt grew more drenched in sweat like a rising tide leading up to the band's triumphant encore. After jumping around all night with an acoustic guitar over his shoulder, Miller strapped on an electric guitar, raising the energy level onstage even higher and keeping the packed audience in the palm of his hand right up to the closing number, their signature basher "Timebomb."
After nearly two decades, it is safe to say that the Old 97's are still having an absolute blast.
"Won't Be Home"
"W. TX Teardrops"
"Book Of Poems"
"Four Leaf Clover"
"Mama Tried" (Merle Haggard cover)
"Big Brown Eyes"
"Dressing Room Walls"
"Let The Whiskey Take The Reins"
"Can't Get A Line"
"Every Night Is Friday Night (Without You)"
"Dance With Me"
To catch the Old 97's in a city near you, click here for tour dates.
(Nate Hertweck lives in Los Angeles where he serves as Content Manager for The Recording Academy. Hertweck also plays guitar in a rowdy rock band, produces artist tribute projects and collects musical gems in all formats. Connect with Nate on Tumblr.)