Live Review: The Old 97’s at The Bluebird

What is there to really say about the Old 97’s that hasn’t been said at this point? They’re a well-oiled monster of a live show who have been doing this (as the title of their memoir-song suggests) literally longer than I have been alive. However, even though this has probably been said dozens of times each of the last 25 years, I think it’s almost impossible to overstate how ridiculously good the 97’s are live. At 20+ years in, many bands, especially ones who started as hot and have gone as hard as the 97’s, lose a step or start to tend toward being a nostalgia act, but these guys are still on the loud and rowdy top of their game.
Tonight’s show was the second-to-last show on tour supporting Graveyard Whistling, their second album in a row that could be considered one of their best albums ever. The last (and only previous) time I saw them was actually at the album release show for that previous album, Most Messed Up, at an outdoor pavilion in Dallas. It was an incredible, joyous, raucous show that celebrated everything awesome about Dallas and the 97’s, but there’s just something that a concert in front of 1000+ people spread across a giant lawn can’t quite capture about a live show that a small and loud bar really can. The biggest difference between seeing these guys inside instead of outside is holy shit they rock loudly. Some of that might be chalked up to standing beside the giant wall of speakers at the Bluebird, but I think most of it is simply that they still play with a reckless aplomb and energy that any aspiring garage punk band would be jealous of, even though they mostly look like a bunch of middle-aged suburban dads (which, really, they are, minus Rhett Miller’s ageless good looks and New York life these days). They bounced around on stage like men half their age, and for most of the show played their instruments about as hard and as fast as humanly possible (special shout-out here to drummer Phillip Peoples, because good lord that man goes hard when the occasion calls for it).
The near-two-hour set list itself was about what one would expect from a band touring a new album and with a back catalogue as extensive as theirs. They played four-ish songs from the new album, including “Good With God,” which had opener Lilly Hiatt (who was quite good in her own set, in a typical Nashville country rock kinda way) standing in for Brandi Carlisle’s duet part, and “Jesus Loves You,” which was accompanied by an entertaining quip about how the song has gotten them into a bit of hot water back home in Texas because it’s pretty much about, in Miller’s words, “a guy getting cockblocked” by Jesus. The rest of the set was filled out with the usual debauched barn-burners (“Timebomb,” “Doreen,” “Nashville,” etc.), a few deeper cuts (including dusting off their first ever single, “Stoned,” and bringing out the potentially-about-this-Bloomington “Bloomington”), and a handful of always-welcome bassist Murray Chass-fronted songs (including personal favorite “West Texas Teardrops”).
It was, in essence, exactly what you’d want from a band with the track record of the Old 97’s, and was about as perfect a way to spend a Monday as one could want (and will probably leave my ear ringing for the next week). If you’re into very loud, energetic country-tinged punk (or punk-tinged country, depending on the song or how you want to look at it), then the next time these guys come anywhere near here is a can’t-miss show. If that’s not quite your thing, you should go anyways, throw back a cheap beer or two (plus potentially a shot or so of whiskey, to get the mood just right), and let the Old 97’s infectious energy and joy for their music make your night/week/year/life better.