The Old 97’s descended on Gruene Hall for two sold out, hot and sweaty nights this summer. Fortunately for those unable to join in the frivolities, the 97’s captured their magical rock/punk/alt.country blend on the 2-disc Alive & Wired.
Most of the band’s better-known songs are here, like “King of All the World”, “Barrier Reef,” and “Jagged”; but the Old 97’s have never been about hits, much less any measure of traditional music industry success. Instead Rhett Miller, Murray Hammond, Ken Bethea, and Philip Peeples focus on creating a sweaty barroom atmosphere no matter what the temperature. And when it’s 90+ degrees outside, and surely 100+ inside the unair-conditioned Gruene Hall, so much the better.
Highlights abound throughout the 30-song compilation: the retro punk of “Rollerskate Skinny,” the smirking “Designs on You,” the straight-ahead rock of “Four Leaf Clover,” Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried” with Hammond on lead, and the Bethea-led and previously unrecorded “Iron Road,” to name a few.
The sound is intense, practically begging you to turn up the volume. It’s also raw, especially on vocals, but that rawness simply attests to the recording’s authenticity.
For a band renowned for its live shows, some might say the Old 97’s were overdue to release a full-length live album. But Alive & Wired should satisfy any critics. It’s an infectiously energetic album that simply smokes from beginning to sweaty end.