erasing clouds

They're Back: Live Review of the Old 97s (At Luther's Blues, Madison WI, 1-18-04)

by steve hanson

The Old 97s have not put out any new material since their 2001 slbum Satellite Rides, and the members of the band have taken time on their own side projects and solo endeavors, leaving many to speculate on the future of the band. This tour is a prelude to their new album, scheduled to be recorded within the next couple of months. Knowing that, I was expecting to hear mostly new material. However, that was not the case. A majority of the songs played at the sold-out show were from 1997's Too Far to Care, with a good number of songs coming from Satellite Rides and Wreck Your Life as well.

I've seen several shows in support of the older material, and this was among the best performances of those songs. They did play several new songs. Among the best was Ken Bethea's first song he has sung live with the Old 97's. "Couhuila" is a great song, and Ken is a no-longer secret, secret weapon of the band. The other new material continues into traditional Old 97's fare, from slow tragic ballads ("The Moonlight" ) to the lyrically masterful, and the quite danceable ("Bloomington"). Perhaps the reliance upon the older material will affect the new album, since it's a bit of a new start for the band. Their last three albums have been major label releases on Elektra, and the new album will be independent, on New West Records.

The Old 97s had plenty of energy for the evening, playing a full set, and a five-song encore (including bassist Murray's version of Merle Haggard's "Mama Tried"). I am taking a wait-and-see approach to their new album, but at least I am waiting for it now.

Opening for the Old 97's was the borderline band the Damnwells. To this point, they have not released any full-length albums, but have a good reputation as a solid band with very good skills and plenty of possibility. The had a good set, with tremendous energy, both from them and coming back from the crowd. In Dave's review of their last EP (see our January 2003 issue), he thought they would be good live, and they definitely are. Unfortunately, the band still has not caught that groove that will take them places. Because they fall into a place somewhere between country-fried rock and just plain-old rock, they have to do something a bit more unique to stand out among all the other bands in both genres, and they have yet to do so (aside from having a kick-ass logo).

Issue 20, February 2004

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