At the second ever Bloodshot showcase/party in Chicago, the Old 97's, who we'd gotten to know from Rhett and Murray's stints in the mythical thrashgrass band Killbilly, came up to Chicago and opened for Robbie Fulks, Moonshine Willy, and Freakwater, and blew the roof off of the Double Door. It was like they came from the moon. They were TOO tight and TOO good and the songs TOO catchy.
They were like a fully formed gang: Ken Bethea's guitar playing like a short-circuiting, post-punk Luther Perkins; Philip Peeples doing things with the train beat that hadn't been done before (and no one, but NO one, has touched him since), he's like the fucking Ringo Starr of the train beat; Murray Hammond on the bass and the surprising high West TX harmonies; and Rhett Miller's manic energy, super-literate songwriting and swoony charisma.
The crowds built from there, and the rest is an after school special about a band quitting their day jobs, going to the big city and striking it rich, more or less. It was one of those rare, special times when we got to see a band up close getting better every show, really hitting their stride--finding that heavenly balance of punk and roots and pop--and scorching every room they played.
Since that thrilling, almost-like-a-dream rocket launch time, they've been on stages that are bigger than the whole clubs they used to play in. We even saw them on the big screen as the band playing when that Grade A Lunkhead Vince Vaughn stood up the fetching Jennifer Aniston in The Break Up. (What in god's name was he thinking?--oh yeah, he's a lunkhead...)With so much water under the bridge, and so much time passed, it's not only easy to take what the 97's are doing for granted, but easy to forget how radical and riotous they were at the time.
- Video for "Over The Cliff" on the DVD Bloodied But Unbowed
- "Dang Me" - Rhett Miller solo on the Pine Valley Cosmonauts' The Executioner's Last Songs: Volumes 2 & 3
- "Por Favor" on Hell-Bent
- "I'm Crying but My Tears are Far Away" w/ John Doe on Poor Little Knitter on the Road
- "Making Love with You" on Down to the Promised Land: 5 Years of Bloodshot Records
- "I'd Be Lonesome" (Robbie Fulks cover) on For a Decade of Sin: 11 Years of Bloodshot Records