Tribune sports writer Bill Oram attended the Old 97's show at the Urban Lounge Saturday, and here are his thoughts:
Let this be the final word on this issue: Bands should put an end to playing full albums live. Unless the band is The Who and the album is "Tommy,: the concept fails.
When it’s the 15th night of a 19-stop tour, the band is fighting for relevance and the album is a decade-and-a-half past that, it’s nearly miserable.
Saturday night it was the old Old 97s at Urban Lounge, and spending the first hour of the set playing 1997’s “Too Far to Care” straight through did nothing to help that. Make no mistake, the Texas-based alt-country band has gotten better since 1997, and their latest effort, the two volume “Grand Theater,” was a tour de force displaying some of lead man Rhett Miller’s finest vocals ever. But to ignore that progress is to sell a false product.
“Too Far to Care” contained some of the Old 97s most notable songs — “Timebomb,” “Nite Club,” “Barrier Reef,” “Four Leaf Clover,” — and the most studied of the Old 97s fans were delighted to hear hidden gems such as “Salome,” which the band would otherwise never play on tour. But the band seemed to have lost enthusiasm for these songs.
Maybe it seemed like a good idea when the band’s booking agent said he couldn’t wait until the album’s 20th anniversary to hear “Too Far to Care” revitalized. But Miller seemed to fake his way through the songs, often staring up at the ceiling — and not in the coy, crooner way he often does it. Rather than truly performing, he settled for his trademark windmill. Frankly, it felt like watching a biopic of the Old 97s starring actual members of the band. Sort of like the middle-aged Howard Stern playing the teenaged Stern in “Private Parts.”
The concert was not a bust. And aside from Miller’s seemingly disinterest early, he proceeded to put on quite a show. Once the band finished the 13-song album, they opened things up, playing a more diverse and pleasing 13 songs. Miller’s shirt was soaked in sweat, and given the cozy confines of Urban Lounge, he wasn’t alone.
The second half also allowed bass player Murray Hammond to show off. “Too Far to Care” limited the singer to just one song, “W. TX Teardrops.” In the second half of Saturday night, Hammond, whose sound is more folky and sincere, performed “White Port,” “State of Texas” and “Valentine,” which all were worth sticking around for.
So, too, was the end.
It’s an old trick of narrative storytelling to bring the reader, or listener in this case, back to where it began. Not to show that it has come full circle, but to enlighten how the thing that has stayed the same has also changed.
It was a raucous, sweaty rendition of “Timebomb” that closed the show. It had been a comparatively staid effort of the same song that opened it more than two hours earlier.
Finally, an acknowledgement of progress.