A recent Monday’s show at The Showbox Market in Seattle was quite a ride. Not only did the opening act Langhorne Slim totally deliver, but Old 97’s shook the Showbox with a steady, churning mix of old and new material. The diehard fans packed the house and partied like it was a Friday night.
Langhorne Slim took the stage just minutes after we arrived. I was thoroughly entertained by his short set of five or six upbeat folk/Americana songs, infused with a lot of soul. Slim has a high, soulful voice, which at times reaches a throat-tightening scream. His charismatic performance was fun to watch; he reminded me of the quirky Ryan Adams. He bounced around the stage and lost his hat, fell to his knees seemingly begging the audience to hear his words, and at one point lay on his back with his legs straight up and kicked the air.
Slim was accompanied by drummer Malachi DeLorenzo, Jeff Ratner on standup bass, and David Moore on keys/banjo. They played off of each other’s energy and absorbed the audience’s joyous noise. Their tight, percussive sound was so much bigger than their compact appearance on the large stage. And David Moore temporarily left the planet every time he picked up his banjo. He shredded that banjo and pounded out percussion sounds in a trance-like state. Moore could give Scott Avett a run for his money. In fact, Langhorne and the band will be opening for the Avett Brothers this spring, throughout Florida, Georgia and Texas.
After about a 20 minute intermission, the lights dimmed, and Stealers Wheel’s “Stuck in the Middle with You” blasted over the speakers. The veteran fans knew that was a cue for Old 97’s to take the stage.
Old 97’s, the Texas alt-country/rock band fronted by the hideous Rhett Miller (yes, girls, I’m being sarcastic) delivered all night, with lots of sweat, spit, windmills, thundering solos and a few broken strings! They fired up the evening with “Grand Theatre” off of their latest album by the same name. Throughout the set, they mixed in several new songs, and the faithful fans gave them enthusiastic props. Within the first few beats of the older songs, the audience (myself included) jumped up and down, hollered and sang along unabashedly. They played many favorites, including “Oppenheimer,” “Barrier Reef,” “Rollerskate Skinny,” and “Big Brown Eyes.” A few of their newer songs are on their way to becoming Old 97’s classics, such as “A State of Texas,” “Champaign, Illinois,” that Miller said he “co-wrote” with Bob Dylan (he added lyrics to the Dylan song), “Dance Class” and the biting and bouncy “Every Night is Friday Night (Without You).”
Miller still has that front man “it” factor. He had the girls in the front row swooning and screaming over “Question,” the cheesy marriage proposal song. Throughout the set, he shook his booty and strutted around the stage. His manscaped chest glistened with sweat. His dripping hair looked like he’d just stepped out of a shower; and when he was head-banging to Ken’s Bethea’s amazing guitar solos, many lucky front-row girls (and boys) got to take a little bit of Rhett home with them that night!
The rest of the band added fuel to Miller’s fire. Murry Hammond, the beloved bass player with Harry Potter rims, had his turn at the mic quite a few times. He sang “You Smoke Too Much” off of Grand Theatre, “West TX Teardrops,” Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried,” and “Smoker.” After a short break, he also came out and did an acoustical version of “Valentine,” honoring a song request from several audience members. Ken Bethea’s guitar skills are legendary, and he proved himself worthy as he dove into raging solos and teased the front row by bending low for an up-close view of his moves–and his soul patch. Drummer Philip Peeples is also impressive. I’m sure he must hit the drums three times more per minute than a typical rock drummer; his sticks were just a blur. He also had to pay close attention to false starts, solos, and keep up with sudden changes in the set list.
The near-capacity crowd got the Showbox shuddering when Old 97’s performed their traditional closer, “Time Bomb.” There was a frenzy of cheers as Rhett departed while the rest of the band stayed to play the final notes. It no longer mattered that it was a Monday; Old 97’s make every night a Friday night.