Old 97's: What's So Good About A Good-Time Band?

When Rocks Off was talking to Old 97's front man Rhett Miller last week, we told him it was going to be nice to see them at the Continental Club. He chuckled and said, "Yeah, it kind of feels like we're going backwards."

It may feel like that for the band - who played House of Blues, Warehouse Live and Meridian their past few trips through town - but it sure didn't feel like the 97's were going backward at the Continental Thursday.

Opening with the Cheap Trick-y power pop of "The Dance Class" from new album The Grand Theatre Volume One, the 97's steamrolled through 21 songs in about an hour and a half, with the bartenders dancing, Miller furiously whipping his hair around (how he manages to avoid whiplash we'll never know) and the entire sold-out club joyfully singing along to old favorites like "Barrier Reef," "Doreen," "Indefinitely" and "Time Bomb," which closed out the night leaving only a picture of a mushroom cloud in Rocks Off's notebook.

We suspect it won't be very long until the crowds are singing along to the songs from the excellent Theatre, either, like "The Magician" the blazing "A State of Texas" and "Champaign, Illinois," Miller's vision purgatory in the heartland by way of Bob Dylan's "Desolation Row" and the Georgia Satellites. If that's what pugatory is really like, we'll take it.

Thursday the Old 97's were a different band than the somewhat tepid crew that showed up at House of Blues earlier this year - actually, they were the same band Rocks Off grew to know and love through too many shows to count, and too many beers to mention, at Austin venues like Liberty Lunch, Emo's and Stubb's. But of all the times we've seen them, this may have been the best.

Late in the set, during Theater's "You Smoke Too Much," all Rocks Off could do was stare at the giant Texas flag over the Continental's stage. We almost teared up, seriously

If the club was wearing a mood ring Thursday, it would have been bright blue. Doesn't sound like going backwards to us.

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