Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Old 97s / Sleepercar - Floore Country Store - San Antonio, TX - 07/18/2008

I can’t say much for Sleepercar, as I only caught their last couple of songs. Gotta say that, while their energy was to be admired, the music didn’t make an impression on me. It’s pretty standard practice to close a set with a few of your best, most memorable songs (oldest rule of show business – leave ‘em wanting more). If Sleepercar was adhering to this paradigm then I unfortunately have some serious doubts about them. I’ll wait to hear the record before passing final judgment, but God knows when that will happen.

An Old 97s show, in the right venue, is always something to behold. Floore Country Store is one of those venues – large enough to comfortably hold a crowd that will generate an enormous amount of enthusiasm and energy (around 500) while not being so large that the sense of intimacy and camaraderie with the band is sacrificed. I’ve seen The Old 97s in every setting from a smallish club to an arena, and they’re never so engaging as in this setting.

The songs roll out of them like a hit parade, each one sounding at once as familiar as your favorite Old 97s song – even if you’ve never heard it before or had time to get familiar with it. Even their weaker songs, of which there are more than a few from their late 90’s/early 00’s offerings, take on a new and exciting life.

They ambled unceremoniously onto the stage with an enthusiastic “Howdy, y’all!” from bassist Murray Hammond and launched into “The Fool”. Immediate technical problems arose, as Murray Hammond’s mic had cut out sometime between “Howdy, y’all!” and his first backing vocal. Always charmingly unprofessional, Rhett Miller took a long tuning break while the band vamped on the opening riff of second song “Barrier Reef” for 16 measures or so. Once Rhett wandered back center stage and started the song Hammond’s mic kicked in and it was four on the floor for the next hour and a half.

While they're in the midst of ripping a song out of their instruments it’s difficult to believe this is a band that, by their own assertion, never practices. It’s occasionally at the beginning and often at the end of songs that it’s easier to believe. The fact that some songs lurch into gear and many others simply fall apart rather than end is part of that unprofessional charm I mentioned, and certainly feeds the camaraderie that builds between audience and band as the show progresses. It’s a beautiful thing to observe.

I think one of the reasons seeing the band in this kind of setting really appeals to me is it reminds me strongly of the punk/underground shows of the 1980’s. This is really unsurprising as all four of these guys came up in that milieu, but, man, do they engender the whole feeling of being a part of something and that there’s no real line between the guys on the stage and the people in the crowd (while avoiding the epidemic violence that ultimately, as far as I’m concerned, ruined that scene). It helps that the audience is generally so enthusiastic, and this was certainly true at Floore. Most of the crowd sang along, danced, and went nuts to almost every song in the set right up until the first encore, which is where my inevitable complaint comes in.

I’ve found the “acoustic interlude” at a rock show obnoxious since at least the days of Uncle Tupelo, which is the first band I can remember doing it. I didn’t fork over my money to watch one member of the band self-indulgently hog the spotlight and the audience’s attention to play their thoughtful, acoustic songs. It’s boring and it shatters the energy of a wonderfully careening set like a bottle hitting a wall. For the love of God, Rhett and Murray and anyone else out there doing it, save it for the fucking coffee shop. Or your solo tour. If you simply have to play these songs slap together an arrangement that includes the whole band. I don’t think I’ll be the only one that thanks you for it.

To be fair, The Old 97s as a whole band were able to more or less pick up where they left off for the final two encores and close things out with a truly rafter rattling rendition of “Timebomb”. It was hard to ask for or expect anything more after that.

Overall, this show was so close to a home run as makes no difference. I know bands dream of selling out arenas and enjoying the freedoms that such a level of success brings, but I’m glad The Old 97s have settled into the level of success they’ve found. It’s enough to keep them comfortably viable and doing what they do for years to come without shoving them into a realm in which they don’t translate. As it is, give me a medium sized room, a sound system, The Old 97s, and 500 rabid fans, and I’m sure as shit going to have the time of my life.


leigh said...

hey! i have an idea for your blog, but i don't know how feasible it would be. i enjoy reading your posts but i am not always familiar with the bands or their music. i wonder if you could include a small sound clip of one of the songs. that way people could listen to it while they read the post. it's just a suggestion, but i would really enjoy it!

MiseryCreek said...

I'll see what I can do, but you have no idea how long it took me to figure out how to include pictures on these fucking posts. There's also a proprietary rights issue - while many bands wouldn't mind a non-downloadable sound clip on some random site promoting their record or career, others are under contract with promotional companies that keep an iron grip on public band perception. This can lead to uncomfortable Cease and Desist writs, having my site closed by Blogspot and, at worst, a lawsuit alleging self-promotion at the expense of the band. While the idea of poking a stick in THE MAN's eye, every time I've tried I've missed and landed in a pretty uncomfortable situation.

Tell you what - if it's an artist who's management I can easily get ahold of and I can secure permission I'll figure out how to do it. Otherwise you're just gonna have to take my word for it.

It's not a bad idea - I'm just gonna need a lot more leverage with these stuffed shirt business side cockroaches to make it universally feasible. Certainly calling them "stuffed shirt business side cockroaches" will go a long way towards that end.


Anonymous said...

one way to accomplish it would be a link to their myspace page. Aquarium Drunkard does that a lot.


MiseryCreek said...

I'm on it.