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Old 97's ages especially well

Teragram Ballroom, Los Angeles, March 18, 2023

Reviewed by Dan MacIntosh

Old 97's has titled its current concert trek its "30th Anniversary Tour," and now that the group has been at it for three decades, the "Old" in Old 97's takes on added meaning. Instead of calling the group aged, however, it's better to take stock and just be thankful we've had this fine band all these years. The act appeared to love every minute of its Saturday night set.

While it's popular these days for Americana performers to hearken back to the outlaw country music movement of the '70s, many Old 97's songs are instead driven by revved up two-step beats that sound a lot like cowpunk music from the '80s. Old 97's can never truly be punk, though, when its songs are sung by the puppy dog good looks of Rhett Miller. He has the energy of punk, but the sweetness of a Teen Beat pop idol. It's an odd, but appealing mixture, nevertheless.

Although Miller sings most Old 97's songs, bassist/vocalist Murry Hammond is no slouch second fiddle. He sings sad traditional stuff, and even took lead on "Can't Get a Line," which he called his attempt to write a Monkees song. Most Old 97's songs are about troublesome girls, sung with self-deprecating humor. Poor Miller always seems to – much like Rodney Dangerfield – get no respect, which is a circumstance he sings about on "Big Brown Eyes." One of the evening's few quieter moments took place when Miller sang "Question," accompanying himself on acoustic guitar, which was pretty/sad. Opener Caitlin Rose returned to the stage to duet with Miller on the theological "Good With God."

Rose opened this early show (with a 7 p.m. start time) with a set of, as she described it, somber songs. Accompanied by a second guitarist, Rose sat down for her whole set. She didn't say why, and she was able to stand up on her own two feet when joining Old 97's later. She closed with a really good smoking analogy song called "Shanghai Cigarettes." She has a sweet voice, but her set was just a little too sleepy. It sure could have used a whole lot more energy.

Even with some gray hair on their heads, Old 97's members still look too young to be called old. Maybe vintage is a better word. This is one band that's aged especially well.

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