The year 2018 was a busy one for the Dallas, Texas band the Old 97’s. Right on the heels of the critically acclaimed Graveyard Whistling, the band put together their first Christmas album; frontman Rhett Miller released his seventh solo album, The Messenger; and they celebrated 25 years as a band — a major milestone. All of that came together in a terrific concert at Rams Head Live on Saturday.
The Old 97’s, who also include bassist and singer Murry Hammond, guitarist Ken Bethea, and drummer Philip Peeples, are one of the pioneers of the genre that came to be known as alt-country all those years ago. And although their sound over the years has changed, the songs have only gotten stronger. On Saturday night, Rhett and company brought holiday cheer and plenty of surprises to Baltimore.
Before things even started, I knew this show was going to be different. The stage was festooned with Christmas lights, a giant Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and equally large, inflated Santa Claus. The event, sponsored by local radio station WRNR, started with an energetic set by Rhett Miller himself, alone with an acoustic guitar. But this was no quiet affair. Rhett played through a healthy dose of Old 97’s songs (“Question,” “Ray Charles,” “Nineteen”), along with numbers from his newly released solo album. He even performed one of the songs from the Old 97’s Christmas album, Love the Holidays —“Rudolph Was Blue.”
After Rhett’s rousing set, there was a surprise magic show by Michael Casey, aka Casey Magic, “the top close-up magician in the Triangle area.” A hilarious magician who has performed for some of the biggest names in rock and country music.
And then it was time for the Old 97’s. As the band took the stage, it was clear the crowd was ready for a great time. With smiles across the stage, Rhett, Murry, Ken, and Philip began their set with “Love the Holidays” from the new Love the Holidays. There were a few holiday songs throughout the set, of course — but as Rhett announced at the beginning of the show, the band would go crazy if the show was all holiday songs. Instead, the set was filled with an array of tunes from “Streets from Where I’m From,” off the 1997 album Too Far to Care and “Doreen” from their debut, Hitchhike to Rhome, to 2017’s “I Don’t Wanna Die in This Town.”
Although Rhett played acoustic guitar through most of the night, it was right before the band launched into “Can’t Get a Line” when he brought out a beautiful Rickenbacker that he had just received from artist Lydia Loveless (and which still had a red bow affixed to the neck).
Stream Love the Holidays by the Old 97’s on Spotify:
Some of the biggest crowd reactions came from favorites, “Big Brown Eyes” and “Barrier Reef,” but the hit of the night was in the encore, which included a mashup of “Indefinitely” and the Buzzcocks’ “Everybody’s Happy Nowadays” in honor of the recently passed Pete Shelley that capped a wonderful night of fantastic music.
The Old 97’s continue their Holiday Extravaganza! Tour through December. Definitely catch this amazing show when it comes near you. Tour dates are here.
Love the Holidays
Streets of Where I’m From
I Don’t Wanna Die in This Town
West Texas Teardrops
Christmas Is Coming
Big Brown Eyes
Good With God
Let’s Get Drunk and Get It On
Can’t Get a Line
Total Disaster (Rhett Miller song)
Gotta Love Being a Kid (Merry Christmas)
Everybody’s Happy Nowadays (Buzzcocks)
Here are some more photos of the Old 97’s performing at Rams Head Live on Dec. 8, 2018. All photos copyright and courtesy of David LaMason.