cowpoke punk

so i was in a winery last night, on a very trendy strip of chicago that’s packed with restaurants from famous chefs, and i was there to see a singer-songwriter play a solo show with just his acoustic guitar.  the concert tickets assigned you a specific seat in the venue, but not in rows; they were chairs at tables fanning out from the stage, where you would be served by a waiter before, after, and during the show.  the friends i went with ordered a carafe of wine & it came in—i swear to god—an actual beaker (like, from a laboratory—with the mL markers up the side & everything).  i ordered a can of beer, which was opened in front of me & poured into a very fancy chalice.  we were seated less than 10′ from the singer’s microphone stand (and there were others even closer—right up to the edge of the stage, no more than 2′ from our troubador).

i tell you all that because it seems so unexpectedly bourgeois given who i went to that venue to see.  i’ve been a fan of the old 97’s for years now, and this show was starring their frontman, rhett miller.  i guess you could call them an alt-country band, but that somehow doesn’t do them justice (kinda like that label never really did uncle tupelo justice).  in fact, even as a fan of their music, i don’t really know how to do them justice with words.  this is no less true even when just talking about a single man, a mic, and his guitar.  so i’m gonna need some a/v support on this post.

rhett is an entertainer, in the old school kinda way.  he loves to tell off-the-cuff stories between songs, and to engage with his audience, and he’s an absolute showman.  he howls, he croons, he jumps around, and he does this little half-windmill strumming thing (à la pete townsend) that just fuckin’ kills me.  this is a video from the same venue i saw rhett in last night, but from his previous show there, to give you an idea.

rhett is also a songwriter, in the old school kinda way.  he writes about girls, and drinking, and drugs, and all the trouble boys get themselves into when mixing them together.  his songs are catchy, but never quite corny.  they’re stories that will stick with you (certainly far longer than “sms (bangerz)” ever will).  and he seems very aware of his place in the history of rock’n’roll, perhaps no better exemplified than with this video, which begins with him playing “champaign, il”—containing lyrics he wrote over the music of “desolation row”—followed by a conversation about how his/bob dylan’s song came to be.

rhett is explosive.  i’m not sure i’ve ever seen someone play an acoustic guitar so quickly & with so much power.  no joke, i think the only other guy on that level is tom morello.  i shit you not.  some clown in the crowd last night shouted out a compliment(?) about tripled quarternotes or something.  rhett’s response?  i don’t know what that means—i’m just doin’ my thing up here.  i think the only accurate way to describe his playing is “ferocious.”  and what better way to show you what i mean than with his frequent show-closer: “time bomb,” which is just two and a half minutes of pure dynamite.

fyi, ya’all: rhett is probably coming to a town near you soon, with dates in portland, seattle, denver, dc, pittsburgh, & more.  don’t miss him.



  • Melissa says:

    I’m pretty sure he’s playing the Triple Door in Seattle, which is such a sweet venue to see someone like him– up close and practically on top of the stage. I wish I could make it but if I remember right, the show’s on like a Tuesday or Wednesday night.

    We were talking recently about how strongly we associate certain bands with periods of time in our lives & the people in those periods of time, and Old 97s do that so much for me. Man. And Rhett’s first solo record– not the folksy one, but the pop one? I’m pretty sure I drove my roommate nuts with how often I played that album. I was totally into the idea that he’d written a super-catchy pop song about Kafka. Hahaha.

    Glad you got to see him live!

    • Karen Maner says:

      I’d never heard of Old 97s before this. Got any song recommendations?

      • Jason Sommer jason says:

        melissa might have a better idea of what you might like – but, in addition to all the songs in the videos above (which are all old 97s songs), i can highly recommend these, too:
        “victoria” – wreck your life
        “w. tx teardrops” – too far to care
        “nineteen” – fight songs
        “the new kid” – drag it up
        “here’s to the halcyon” – blame it on gravity
        “a state of texas” – the grand theatre, vol 1
        and basically the entire satellite rides record

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *