The Old 97’s Too Far to Care Tour stopped at The Vic this past Friday, and it was a real treat to hear that seminal 1997 album in its entirety live. Their third album and major label debut, it served as a perfect showcase of everything they had done so far (it included re-recorded versions of a song from each of their previous releases), and a wonderful culmination of the alt-country scene that had been brewing that decade.
They tore through those 13 songs, stopping only briefly every once in a while and rarely saying a word. The non-stop live album approach is much different from other album tours I have seen in the past. For example, They Might Be Giants played Flood at the same venue a few years ago, and every three or four songs were punctuated by cuts from their new children’s disc and an accompanying sound effect that announced to the audience, “You are now leaving Flood.”
After Too Far to Care was over, the band could hardly wait to jump into a second full set of music, kicking it off with their version of Merle Haggard’s Mama Tried. So much has been said about their particular blend of country and rock music that it probably wouldn’t do much good for me to babble about it here. It does seem to have a very wide range of appeal, though. I saw an equal number of hipsters, bikers and middle-aged dads in attendance, and I think that’s a wonderful thing.
The Old 97’s Chicago connection is deep, and it is clear on stage that Rhett Miller and crew feel very passionately about this town. The crowd responded with equal fervor, and they belonged completely to the band that night. Sadly, the same could not be said of Rhett’s opening solo set. It was short and sweet, but his voice and acoustic guitar unfortunately didn’t cut above the troubling number of people who were talking over the music. It just goes to show that singer-songwriters as openers never quite get the reaction they deserve, even when the audience is waiting to see that same guy’s band later on.
The one strange thing that I noted from this evening was that they closed their encore with the same song they opened with: “Timebomb,” the first track off of the album. I wasn’t sure what to think after it happened, but oddly enough the energy of the evening had me thinking it would have been a perfect way to end the night before they even played it. After all, we were there to celebrate the album, and in other genres of music it’s not at all strange to hear a reprise of a tune multiple times throughout a concert. The second performance was obviously much more reckless. After nearly 30 songs, the band was understandably wiped out and they were really going for it by the end.
I’m a fan of bands playing long sets, and I’ve been known to want for more when my friends start complaining about their legs being tired. Old 97’s left me perfectly satisfied though, and I mean that as a good thing. Make it a point to see these guys next time they are in town, as I’m sure they will be fairly soon.
- The Texas-based Old 97’s is Rhett Miller, Murry Hammond, Ken Bethea and Philip Peeples. | Facebook
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