Kicking off a four-city Texas tour celebrating the 20th anniversary of its debut album, Hitchhike to Rhome, Old 97’s arrived at Sam’s Burger Joint on Wednesday ready to rock, performing Rhome in its entirety, followed by other hits from its two-decade career.
Frontman Rhett Miller started out by warning the crowd that some of the songs the band was about to play hadn’t been performed in a while and might be rusty, but it didn’t sound that way to me. Miller’s voice is fully recovered from the blowout he suffered last year, and he crooned and snarled his way through the album, which features such favorites as “Stoned” and “4 Leaf Clover,” as well as “Dancing with Tears,” a song notably covered by legendary L.A. punk band X.
Also included was guitarist Ken Bethea’s bizarre, short accordion instrumental, “Ken’s Polka Thing,” as well as “Tupelo County Jail,” the hidden CD track (remember those?) that followed after an endless 12-minute silence, which Miller insisted was fully intended to “scare the shit out of you while you were vacuuming.”
It demonstrates just how solid that debut was back in ’94 that each track of Rhome would still hold up in live performance today.
Bassist Murry Hammond also pitched in vocally with a cover of Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried,” as well as his own composition, “W. TX Teardrops.” Of course, anything Texas drove the Sam’s crowd wild, and “A State of Texas,” from 2010’s The Grand Theatre, Volume One, was also enthusiastically received.
The band played a couple of songs from its terrific new album, Most Messed Up, which, when played alongside an earlier work such as 1999’s Fight Songs, shows a transition, musically speaking, into more rowdy material that’s no less satisfying. And in keeping with the holiday season, the band also gifted the audience with honky-tonk versions of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and “Holly Jolly Christmas.”
The boys from Dallas certainly haven’t been jaded by 20 years on the road. Even in a venue as intimate as Sam’s (which was the perfect locale in my book), the band gave its all — a full-throttle evening of songs performed by musicians who clearly love what they do and appreciate the fans that they do it for.
[amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00IJE1BM0]