Old 97’s have been kicking ass for over twenty years, and what better way to celebrate than to play the album that put them on the map in its entirety live. Normally the full album live concept can be hit or miss to say the least, but when a band is celebrating their accomplishments with an anniversary it only feels right to pay tribute. Hitchhike to Rhome is by no means the best Old 97’s album in this writer’s opinion, but it’s unquestionably an exceptional debut from one of the most notable acts to emerge from the “alt-country” scene of the early Nineties following Uncle Tupelo and right alongside groups like Son Volt, the Bottle Rockets, and the Jayhawks among others.
In front of a sold out crowd at the Parish in Austin on Thursday, lead singer Rhett Miller dropped the fun fact of the band entering the now gone Cedar Creek studio right here in town to record their first ever demos as Uncle Tupelo had just finished their final album there. This remark set a special context for the band as they made their way through Hitchhike to Rhome’s tracks with the same cow punk energy that got them noticed by labels twenty years ago. On songs like “Doreen” and “If My Heart Was a Car” the band captured a quintessential Texas spirit that continued throughout the set after they finished playing the album.
Onstage at the Parish the songs on Hitchhike to Rhome sounded just as fresh as they did twenty years ago, proving that, much like perpetually youthful Rhett Miller, the Old 97’s sound has not aged in the last two decades. The same can be said for the band’s newest songs off their recently released album Most Messed Up. The tongue-in-cheek autobiographical “Longer Than You’ve Been Alive” was a perfect way to transition out of the first album and into the now, while the light-hearted party anthem “Let’s Get Drunk And Get It On” made a defiant rock and roll statement that age is just a number. As one might expect, longtime favorites like “W. Texas Teardrops,” “Jagged,” and “Barrier Reef” brought out the biggest crowd response. Going on two hours, the band had some fun with alt-country renditions of “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” and “A Holly Jolly Christmas” before closing out the night with one of their fastest and catchiest tunes, “Timebomb.” Through and through, Old 97’s are the living definition of a Texas band, and their show in Austin only solidified the fact that after twenty years they have more than earned a place in the rich musical history of this great state.
All photos by Arthur VanRooy.