SHOW REVIEW: Old 97's
Los Angeles - Monday,
October 15, 2001 (House of Blues)
Perhaps Mel Brooks said it best in
History of the World Part I: "It's good to be the king."
Rhett Miller, front man for the Old 97's, basked in that
feeling at the House of Blues Monday night.
Miller, playing the part of a rock n' roll star,
opened the show doing the hippy-hip-shake while belting
out the first cut off their new album, aptly titled
"King of all the World." The upbeat number was
accompanied by enthusiastic screams and near swoons from
the many 20-something ladies in attendance, proving that
the King is alive and thriving in this boyishly-charming
quartet from Dallas.
The 97's, once considered royalty of the
alternative-country scene, took their name from a 1950's
Johnny Cash hit, "The Wreck of the Old 97," a story
about a train conductor who lost his airbrakes, then his
life, when he fell behind schedule and attempted to ride
his engine too hard. Monday evening, led by their own
conductor Miller, the 97's also pushed their engines to
the max, but stayed on the tracks in an effort to prove
that it is now (with a few exceptions) strictly rock n'
roll that stokes their fire.
Instead of concentrating solely on new material from
Satellite Rides, a good quality album displaying various
shades of rock n' roll, the 97's song-list focused on
every hollering, head-bopping tune they ever recorded.
The rockin', rattling pace was largely appreciated by
the 97's core audience of post-slacker hip-kats, many of
whom discovered the band after their break-out smash hit
"Murder (or a Heart Attack)" off the 1999 Fight Songs
But what is good for the conductor is not always good
for the passengers. The 97's have often been accused of
leaving their lamenting, alt-country fans behind in an
attempt to break on through to the other side.
Commercially speaking, no one can blame them for
changing tracks, although only time will tell if their
train arrives in the pop-sensation station.
In their determination, the band's
strive for rock n' roll acceptance was a little overdone
and obtrusive. It was as if they were pandering to every
recording bigwig in Hollywood, flashing a big neon sign,
advertising that they belong in the pantheon of greats
which have come before them. Their engine roared so
steadily, and their brows were so lathered, that rarely
was there a moment for a breath, or a display of a
different shade to add range to the show. Miller himself
looked like he was trying to personify a "god-like
creature" and came off as a faux-Jim Morrison. Perhaps
one less hip-shake, wink to the girls in the peanut
gallery, toss of his hair, or Pete Townshend windmill
strums, and the band's fine musical direction could have
spoken for itself. When the king is constantly reminding
his subjects that he is the ruler, he risks losing the
credibility that his voice already carries.
Opening the show, and exemplifying the exact
opposite, were the alternative rockers Minibar,
originally out of Great Britain. This appealing,
musically-skilled foursome let their infectious, diverse
blend of rock and ballads do the talking...less fluff,
more filling...and charismatic, front man Simon Petty's
(no relation) humility only added to the refreshing
display of camaraderie that these "gee-whiz we're just
happy to be here" kids exhibited. With their melodious,
skilled debut album Road Movies as proof, these are four
lads that we could be hearing a lot more from.