Very few bands can claim to have the same lineup for more than fifteen years, make consistently good (oftentimes great) albums, and still find it in themselves to put everything they have into their live performances. It is all too common for groups to either run out of steam after a few albums or become complacent in their work. However, this is not the case for Old 97’s, one of the alt-country movements few remaining relevant survivors. Their blend of country and rock, combined with their pop sensibilities have allowed them to endure since they first came along in 1994. They ably proved why they are still one of the most important bands to hail from the Lone Star State on the second night of their four night “An Evening With Old 97’s” stand at the historic Sons of Hermann Hall in Dallas.

Perhaps the biggest factor that has contributed to Old 97’s longevity and consistency is the fact that the group is made up of four distinct and important personalities. Lead singer/guitarist Rhett Miller and bassist/vocalist Murry Hammond are exceedingly gifted song writers, and they both have unique voices that either compliment each other or stand on their own. Lead guitarist Ken Bethea possess an immense amount of skill on his instrument, and drummer Philip Peeples’ tight rhythms tie everything together. As a result of playing with each other for over 15 years, the group has continued to grow while releasing high quality work. The power of their music and their tightness as a band have given them a reputation as one of the best live acts around, and all their strengths were on full display as they performed. The groups’s fans could not have been happier.

Hammond and Miller started the night off by each performing solo sets. Hammond was first up, treating the audience to a quieter, more subdued set of original songs and covers from his 2008 release “I Don’t Know Where I’m Going But I’m On My Way.” From the opening notes of  George Washington Phillips cover “What Are They Doing In Heaven Today?,” Hammond’s country tinged voice and simple guitar work took the forefront, with yodels and train metaphors rounding everything out. However, it was Hammond’s a Capella performance of “Other, Younger Days” that stood above everything else in his set. A song written shortly after the death of his parents, the lyrics were amplified by being sung without the accompaniment of instruments. The result was both heart-wrenching and beautiful, and a testament to Hammond’s talents.

Miller took the stage next. While the majority of his solo work finds him with a full backing band, it was only him and his guitar as he performed. With four solo albums of material under his belt, there was no shortage of choice for Miller’s set. As opposed to Hammond, he utilized his acoustic guitar to create a more energetic, poppy sound by playing with more energy and speed. Songs such as “Four Eyed Girl,” and “Caroline,” and “This Is What I Do” sounded great on their own, but the real treat of the set was “Fireflies.” Without original collaborator Rachel Yamagata in attendance, Miller was forced to sing both male and female parts, turning one way towards the audience to represent himself and the other way to represent Yamagata’s part. Despite the slightly absurd concept, in practice it worked out splendidly. As Miller left the stage, he had left his mark, and both he and Hammond had pepped up the audience for Old 97’s.

The main attraction to Old 97’s four night stand at Sons of Hermann Hall was that, save the group’s calling card “Timebomb,” each night’s set list would be different. This gave the band an opportunity to play songs that they normally wouldn’t play live, while spreading their hits across each show, making every night’s performance unique.

“Niteclub,” off of 1997’s “Too Far to Care,” started things off with it’s insanely catchy chorus and Miller’s personal but extremely relateable lyrics. From then on, the band ripped through over an hour and a half of hits and deep album cuts that expanded their entire discography.

Right out of the starting gate, Old 97’s were right at home in their sound, each member playing to their musical strengths. Bethea’s guitar parts sounded just as good as they did on record, Miller and Hammond’s vocals gave songs such as “Here’s To the Halcyon,” off 2008’s “Blame It On Gravity” and “Can’t Get A Line,” from 2001’s “Satellite Rides” their lyrical punch, and Peeples drumming was tight and pulsing. More importantly, it was visible that the band was putting all their energy into their set, and were having fun while doing it. This was especially evident in songs such as “St. Ignatius,” the first song they played together as a group, and “Big Brown Eyes,” one of the groups most beloved songs and the closer to their initial part of their set.

During the encore, the audience was treated to two songs by the Ranchero Brothers, a side project of Miller and Hammond that has yet to release a proper album. When the the rest of the band came back on, the group gave David Bowie’s “Five Years” an alt-country face lift before capping off the night with three more of their own songs. “Dressing Room Walls” and the excellent “Nineteen” paved the way for the one constant to their set lists. Played with the same manic energy and technical skill that had been demonstrated throughout, “Timebomb” capped off the evening by putting an exclamation point on a night that saw the Old 97’s doing what they do best. Here’s hoping that the group will still be making music this good and putting on amazing live shows for many more years to come.

Murry Hammond:

Rhett Miller:

Old 97’s:


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