Show Review: Old 97’s at the Fillmore, 3/24/2017

by Becka Robbins on April 4, 2017

Old 97’s: Ken Bethea, Rhett Miller, Murry Hammond. Not pictured: Drummer Philip Peeples. Photo by Mark Couvillion, used under Creative Commons.

Old 97’s: Ken Bethea, Rhett Miller, Murry Hammond. Not pictured: Drummer Philip Peeples. Photo by Mark Couvillion, used under Creative Commons.

The Old 97’s are an alternative country band hailing from Austin; they have been playing twangy rock and roll for the past 24 years. Their songs are three minutes of catchy hooks, marrying country twang with a dash of punk. Their wry cynicism doesn’t mope or lecture – it bursts with joyful irreverence in songs about angst, or love, or angsty love, or drinking, or drinking and sex. Their love songs are what keep me coming back to them: well crafted little songs about the messy complications of being so entwined with another person.

There’s a reason I love their cynical love songs as much as I do. Fellow Gen Xers will recall a dire love song landscape in the ‘80s pop charts, saccharine anthems of feelings about amorphously passive fixations, who are always sexy in the videos. During the summers of my junior high school years, the office where I filed papers pumped the air full of these empty promises of blind devotion, while the Boomers who lapped them up broke records with a 50% divorce rate. Gen Xers lived through this selfish gaslighting, and, as such, know what a sham these sugar coated romantic declarations are, and how fucked up love really is, even when it’s perfect and awesome.

The Old 97’s are not the first band to write a better love song, but “She Hates Everybody” strikes squarely against the misogynistic ideal, seen in so many anodyne ballads, that women are better when they’re smiling and accommodating, and what matters, when a man is singing, is the male gaze. This anthem turns this idea on its head, celebrating the love of so called “difficult” women — smart, opinionated cranks who don’t suffer fools, thoughtful, intimidating bitches, dangerous for having the audacity to express opinions. He understands that this misanthropic woman has standards and strength and wants more from her relationships, and he loves her for her impossible standards:

She’s a lovely girl but she’s a misanthrope
She’s sick of the world, she’s at the end of her rope
She’s had it up to here with everyone but me
Cowboys, bankers, bikers too
She hates ’em all and she might hate you
But when we’re alone, she’s as sweet as she can be
[Chorus]
It’s why it feels so good when she takes my hand
When she tells me I’m her man
So good when she holds me tenderly
I’m the only one that she don’t mind
The one man out of all mankind
She hates everybody but me

“She Hates Everybody” is a highlight of the band’s eleventh and newest album, Graveyard Whistling, which they’ve been promoting heavily on their latest tour. The song is one of the album’s many bright spots — as gothic and bitter as moonshine, and just as strong. They opened their set at the Fillmore with “Bad Luck Charm”: “I got a four leaf clover / And it ain’t done one single lick of good / I’m still a drunk I’m still a loser / Living in a lousy neighborhood.”

If you’ve seen enough legacy bands, you’re no longer surprised when musicians past the age of your basic pop diva serve up a show that’s electric and vibrant. The Buzzcocks, Sleater Kinney, Devo, The Who, and countless others have been overpraised for being high energy at the ripe old age of thirty-plus. These people aren’t dead; they just traded the overvalued aura of youth for experience. So it is with Old 97’s. Their fans come back to their shows because we know that they’re committed. Rhett Miller is a veritable lightning bolt; on the band’s last tour he arrived on stage at the Fillmore already sweaty from playing ultimate frisbee in the park all day. It’s both surprising and also lovely to see the affection that bassist Murray Hammond and Miller have for one another; they’ve been friends since middle school, and have managed to keep that going. Like it says in one of their recent songs: “Most of our shows were a triumph of rock / although some nights I might have been checkin’ the clock.”

Old 97’s aren’t phoning anything in, and they also aren’t pandering to their longtime fans. They played a few of their classics; “Rollerskate Skinny” from 2001 was served up with new gossip for fans that it had been written about Winona Ryder. Mostly though, the band paraded out their newer material with the exuberance we’ve come to expect. Graveyard Whistling is as playful and strong as their classic albums, and that’s what keeps the band from falling into the nostalgia trap that have caught so many of their peers. As a longtime fan, I already like their next release best.

Setlist:

  1. Four Leaf Clover
  2. Dance With Me
  3. Nashville
  4. She Hates Everybody
  5. Salome
  6. West Texas Teardrops
  7. Lonely Holiday
  8. All Who Wander
  9. Big Brown Eyes
  10. Good with God
  11. Longer Than You’ve Been Alive
  12. Valentine
  13. Buick City Complex
  14. Bad Luck Charm
  15. Barrier Reef
  16. Designs on You
  17. Nobody
  18. Rollerskate Skinny
  19. Jesus Loves You
  20. Let’s Get Drunk & Get It On
  21. Doreen

Encore:

  1. Question
  2. Victoria
  3. Timebomb

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