with Deathray Davies
Nightclub 9:30 • February 8, 2000
With last year’s CD, Fight Songs , the Dallas-based Old 97’s smoothed out their trademark alt-country sound a bit and tried some different things. Sure, many of the elements of their previous work were still there around the edges: Philip Peeples’ galloping drumbeats, Ken Bethea’s off-kilter “strangled” guitar sounds, and bassist Murry Hammond’s great harmony vocals. But the band also wrote some of their best songs to date, and singer Rhett Miller turned in some of his best vocals.
At their recent 9:30 Club appearance, catchy, poppier numbers from Fight Songs , like “Oppenheimer” and “Murder (Or a Heart Attack),” sounded strong. But the band seemed to shine most brightly on older songs, especially those from 1997’s Too Far to Care , which was heavily featured. After some initial sound problems, the band seemed to work out the kinks on their third song, “Barrier Reef,” in which Miller proclaims himself a “serial lady killer.” Hammond took one of four lead vocal showcases on a beautifully harmonized “W. TX Teardrops.” But it was the almost speed-core versions of “Melt Show” and “Timebomb” that stole the show and ignited the crowd.
The band reached back to their first album Hitchhike to Rhome for “Stoned” as well as a cover of Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried.” A main set closing high-powered, high energy “Four Leaf Clover” was also a highlight.
The six-song encore included a beautifully harmonized, acoustic “Valentine” in honor of the season with Hammond on lead vocals. Miller lived up to the self-proclaimed tag of “serial lady killer,” flirting with the club’s coat check girl in introducing “Big Brown Eyes.” The encore also included a terrific faithful cover of Cheap Trick’s “Southern Girls.” Not quite as good as seeing Zander, Nielsen and company perform the song on the same stage five months earlier (with Robert Pollard of Guided By Voices) but a pleasant surprise nonetheless.
Opening band Deathray Davies are a six-piece from Dallas with a great name. While their music didn’t quite live up to that name, they do have a few interesting melodies amidst a barrage of early-’80s new wave staccato chords and nagging riffs, as on their set closing “Clever Found A Name.” Imagine a cross between, say, Pylon and Possum Dixon. However, note to band: I don’t think the goofy-looking guy playing maracas and tambourine is pulling his weight in the band. And I think the keyboard player spent more time doing his silly robot dance than actually playing. If you’re looking to save money on the next tour, you know what to do.