Rhett Miller and the Old 97’s love Seattle. For somewhere so far away from their home state of Texas, both geographically and culturally, they have always been outspoken about how impressed they are with the city. He spent time Monday praising KEXP and comparing Seattle to Austin in “weirdness,” but noting that Seattle has a more “cosmopolitan” feel. “City freaky” is how he described us, a distinction that received a big ovation. From the audience’s side of things, the night was spent letting the veteran alt-country foursome from Dallas know how much Seattle loves them. They played an impassioned set from start to finish, hitting all their usual marks and leaving no one disappointed. Old 97’s, you’re welcome back any time!
Portland roots rocker Langhorne Slim kicked things off, and he found a quick breath in between songs to let the crowd know how good of a time he was having and that he had always wanted to play the Showbox. He didn’t need to tell us. His set was wildly energetic at times, as his band – consisting of a drummer, upright bassist, banjo/keyboard player, and Langhorne — regularly broke into rabid, foot-stomping, hoe-down style jams that left me half-expecting something on stage to spontaneously combust — they were going at it so furiously it seemed like something had to give. That isn’t to say Langhorne couldn’t slow it down and play some touching solo acoustic numbers that his raspy, emotional wail and magnificent songwriting made just as effective. The slow jams were always followed up, however, with more raucousness, as Langhorne would get on his knees, roll across the stage, and kick his hat around, the whole time wailing away as David Moore played his banjo as hard as is humanly possible without being charged with instrument cruelty. His thumb actually began to bleed several times during the set, leaving a red splotch across his banjo where he would continue to hammer down on the strings. Like I said, something had to give.
The Old 97’s simply know how to put on a show, and it starts and ends with the serial lady killer himself, Rhett Miller, who I refuse to believe is 40 years old. When the Old 97’s came to the Showbox last June, I was amazed at how young Miller looked, but attributed it to the fact that I was watching from a distance. On Monday, I was right up front and still could not detect a single sign of aging except maybe his eyes bagging up a bit; he could legitimately pass for a 20-year-old under the right light. As someone next to me said, he must have sold his soul to the devil.
Miller made the ladies swoon with his usual assortment of hip shaking, coy looks, and wry smiles in addition maestro-ing a tour-de-force of freewheeling country rock. The Old 97’s catalog is extensive and yet they still seemed to play everything anyone could have wanted to hear, with some more recent numbers mixed in at just the right intervals. Every time they’d play a few newer, more unfamiliar songs and the show would start to “lull” (emphasis on the ironic quotation marks), they would reel off four or five classics in a row that would bring the crowd back into a frenzy. Their energy was off-the-charts as always and they finished the set by playing my last remaining requisite song, “4 Leaf Clover.”
For an encore, Miller came out by himself, but quickly called Murry Hammond on stage to play “Valentine” after repeated requests from some fans on the rail. The rest of the band came out for a few more songs before, as always, they brought the house down with “Time Bomb” to close out another spectacular show.