Not Even The Threat Of Rain Can Keep The Old 97's From Their Appointed Rocking

The Old '97s have outlasted a lot of their alt-country contemporaties.
The Old '97s have outlasted a lot of their alt-country contemporaties. Photo by Violeta Alvarez
Old 97's
House of Blues
May 8, 2019

We’ve written enough times about the Old 97’s here at the Houston Press that you could probably cobble together a passable write-up of last night’s show by cutting and pasting relevant passages about coming *that* close to mainstream success and front man Rhett Miller’s solo career (he recently toured Europe with Steve Earle). The band’s been doing what they do now since the early '90s, outlasting alt-country contemporaries who are often nonetheless more critically acclaimed (Uncle Tupelo, Whiskeytown).

But the 97’s endure. The occasional album hiatus aside, the band still tours semi-regularly, playing several Texas dates every year. Last night was the 10th or maybe 20th time I’ve seen them live (in my defense, some of those early shows are a bit hazy), and in spite of bassist Murry Hammond’s insistence that they never rehearse, they’re as reliable a live act as you can hope to find these days. An Old 97’s show is both a nostalgia trip and an opportunity to see how much your increasingly brittle ass is able to tolerate a full-blown rock show.

The big question before the show actually started was: how many occasionally fickle Houston music fans would brave potential downpours – on a Wednesday night, no less – to come downtown for the show? As it happened, the expected rains never materialized in force. Unfortunately, neither did the fans.

Wednesday nights are just about the worst for club shows, and last night wasn't much of an exception. And whether because of anticipated thunderstorms or general apathy, the sparse audience responded enthusiastically to the show, as the set list swung between albums of the band’s early heyday (Fight Songs and Too Far to Care, especially) and their two most recent releases (Most Messed Up, Graveyard Whistling).

click to enlarge Unfortunately, not too many people made it out on a Wednesday night amid all the rain and flooding predictions. - PHOTO BY VIOLETA ALVAREZ
Unfortunately, not too many people made it out on a Wednesday night amid all the rain and flooding predictions.
Photo by Violeta Alvarez
“Let’s Get Drunk & Get It On” was a newer-ish live staple, as are “Good With God” (though necessarily missing the Brandi Carlisle contribution) and “I Don't Wanna Die in This Town.” If nothing else, the 97’s know how to mix it up, sprinkling the newer cuts alongside singalong faves like “Bel Air” and “Big Brown Eyes.”

Would it have been nice to see a more sizable crowd screaming along to "Timebomb" or "Doreen?" Sure, but sometimes life gives you Coachella, and sometimes it gives you a couple hundred weary suburbanites glancing at their watches while reminiscing to "Four Leaf Clover." And there's nothing wrong with that.

What About The Opener? Here's a thought: when the guys opening for your headliner happen to be alt-country greats the Bottle Rockets, maybe advertise the fact? Nowhere on the House of Blue's web site or promotional material was it mentioned. Not saying it would've boosted crowd numbers appreciably, but it couldn't have hurt.

Personal Bias: If you’ve ever seen/heard someone driving around town with his windows down and screaming along with “Barrier Reef,” there’s a good chance it was me.

The Crowd: Possibly the only people in Houston not interested in the Golden State game.

Overheard In The Crowd: "Is anybody *really* good with God?"

Random Notebook Dump: "I respect Murry for allowing his hair to go as gray as mine."
KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar