After 20 years together, the Texas-based Americana band still has plenty of fire.

old 97s photo by patrick ainsworth
Rhett Miller of The Old 97's, by Patrick Ainsworth

(Last week, The Old 97's played One Eyed Jacks with Lydia Loveless opening. My Spilt Milk's new contributor Justin Picard came back with this report. Click on Patrick Ainsworth's photos for larger versions.)

“Every night is Friday night without you!” Rhett Miller of The Old 97’s cried out as the audience screamed and jumped. I heard the kind of fuck you song that made me feel impassioned and powerful in a way that I haven’t experienced since I first heard Cherub’s “XOXO” two years ago. It was a defining moment in the set, which had settled into a mellow valley of swaying initiated by more melancholy cuts. But the crowd’s energy skyrocketed as the driving kick drum from “Nashville” rang out, followed by “Every Night Is Friday Night (Without You).” 

Pulling from their extensive discography, The Old 97’s punctuated a set heavily weighted towards their newest album Most Messed Up with crowd pleasers that had the eclectic New Orleans crowd singing along. The old songs were incorporated seamlessly with the new, with thrumming outlaw country bass lines and thought-provoking lyrics nestled in between the “Let’s get wasted and get it ons” and traveling stories of the South. Even in the song titled “Wasted,” lyrics like “Really it’s a pity that you’re so hung up / missin’ all the mystery… you gotta get rid of that goddamn phone” offer substantial commentary disguised as a carefree party song.

In other songs, The Old 97’s sound hopeful and without regret, like in “Longer than You’ve Been Alive.” With a present voice Miller sings, "There has been alcohol / oceans and oceans but that isn’t all / mountains of weed a handful of pills / none of the hard stuff; that shit kills.” But at the end of the day “rock and rolls been very good to me.” During this song, Miller started jumping and swinging his hips which got One Eyed Jacks going wild.

Despite their growing age, everyone’s still got plenty of swagger. Guitarist Ken Bethea sauntered across the stage during especially blistering guitar solos, and bassist Murry Hammond exclaimed, “I’m gonna have to roll my sleeves up for this one, because it kinda rocks” before he sang “Ex of All You See.” Even towards the end of the set, when Miller’s shaggy hair was plastered to his head and everyone was blinking back sweat, The Old 97’s rocked on just as passionately as they had when they first walked out. They closed with “Four Leaf Clover" with opener Lydia Loveless and brought to fitting end a set that highlighted the juxtaposition of dark reflection and carefree love for life that characterizes Most Messed Up. 

old 97s photo by patrick ainsworthThe Old 97's, by Patrick Ainsworth

- Murry Hammond looks like John Denver.
- Rhett and Murry were vibing hard during “Wheels On.”
- In “Wasted” Miller said the word so many times that it made me reconsider what the word actually means – wasting your body and life away, but not in a sad way. In a rebellious, oh well, fuck everything kind of way. It also sounds heavily influenced by The Eagles.
- Throughout the show, Miller’s primal screams, when backed by drummer Philip Peeples slamming on the tom, were rather euphoric.

lydia loveless photo by patrick ainsworthLydia Loveless, by Patrick Ainsworth

lydia loveless photo by patrick ainsworthLydia Loveless, by Patrick Ainsworth