July 22, 2004

NO HOLDING BACK

Old 97ís pull out all the stops

Old 97's/Charlie Mars
The Green Room -- Seaside Park, N.J.
July 15, 2004

The Dallas-based Old 97's have had many labels attached to them over the last decade.

Described in the past as critical darlings, alt-country troubadours and tireless road warriors, the band set out to add "killer live band" to that list of monikers on an uncharacteristically cool summer night at the New Jersey shore.

The set started with "King of All the World," the leadoff track from the band's last studio album, Satellite Rides. It was a fairly good opener that featured the key assets that each member brings -- singer Rhett Miller's energetic delivery, bassist Murry Hammond's moody backing vocals, drummer Philip Peeples' steady-rocking beats and Ken Bethea's Fender Telecaster riffing. However, some uneven sound issues began to spring up, most noticeably on the night's third offering, "Buick City Complex," as the usually charming tune was hampered by screechy feedback and missing backing vocals.

Luckily, the sound was on track for "Smokers," the first of a handful of new songs from their new release, Drag It Up, due July 27 on New West Records. Hammond sang lead vocals on this number, offering a distinct, old-fashioned country feel to it and most of the other songs he fronted. Even rarer was the lead vocal turn taken by Bethea on another new song, "Coahuila," a fun tune that ultimately works well in the live set and offers a slightly different taste. This is one of the reasons why the Old 97's are a great live band. Furthermore, most of the crowd didn't know their newer material, but by changing lead vocalists, they showcased their songs in a different way, ultimately making them more noteworthy.

With Miller back in control on vocals, the band treated the very receptive audience to a barrage of band classics. The crowd sang along and bounced to the runaway-train beats of "Melt Show" and grooved to the mid-tempo, Texas swing of "Busted Afternoon" at the show's midway point.

Hammond returned to lead vocals for an amped-up reading of Merle Haggardís classic "Mama Tried," which was included on the band's debut album, Hitchhike to Rhome. The foursome's near hit "Murder (Or a Heart Attack)," featuring some great lead guitar and an infectious hook, began the first setís closing run.

The highlights of the set came next with the one-two punch of "Niteclub" and "Four Leaf Clover." Both songs feature a nervous and tense lyrical buildup before delivering the goods with shout-it-out-loud choruses. Paired together in this setting, they couldn't be better utilized as set closers.

After a short break, Miller returned alone to offer a couple of songs from his 2002 solo album, The Instigator. Beginning with the soft balladry of "World Inside the World" and finishing with the hyperactive pace of "Our Love," Miller set out to give a spotlight to his own body of work. Hammond returned to lead vocals for another new song, "In the Satellite Rides a Star," a clear standout among the other new tunes.

The full band returned for the double shot of "Rollerskate Skinny" and "Barrier Reef," the latter being not only a crowd favorite but Miller's favorite, as gauged by his extra hip swiveling and cocksure delivery. As the band closed up the set with "Timebomb," the band members rode the buzz-saw guitar riffs right into the night. In their wake was a considerable amount of collective sweat and one tired, yet satisfied crowd.

Opener Charlie Mars fit in nicely by offering his own hook-laden, roots rock. A young singer-songwriter whose latest self-titled release is available on V2 Records, Mars did a respectable job of setting the stage for the evening. The standout was his current single, "Gather the Horses," a pleasant mid-tempo piece with a soaring, albeit predictable, chorus.

-- By Mike Madden

Posted by medleyville at July 22, 2004 10:20 PM
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