Modern-day boxcar vagabonds and alt-country rockers Old 97′s rode into Columbus last night like tattered gunslingin’ gauchos looking to cause a good old-fashioned dustup. Rhett Miller with his signature raspy croon, sang country standards infused with contemporary vernacular that tell his sometimes painful, sometimes pleasurable, and always playful trials and tribulations. As a distinguished songwriter, Miller is able to wax poetics without getting too deep. But he and his band ran into trouble at the Newport during the first half of their 24-song set.
The band’s first 10 songs, which included “The Grand Theatre” and angsty “The New Kid” felt forced and, as crazy as it sounds, a little too rockin’. The temporary identity crisis eventually faded, giving way to the Old 97′s doing what they do best: playing tongue-in-cheek ballads filled with scorned desire set in front of an acoustic backdrop.
Rhett gave the audience what it wanted relatively early by playing “Question,” an imaginative and moving story about falling in love as he scaled back his vocals and sang with sincerity. Miller’s frontman persona is something of wonder. Bouncing between Axl Rose-esque crab-crawling dance moves circa “Sweet Child ‘o Mine” and mini Townshend windmills, Miller’s stage presence is more endearing than excess. However, over a long enough timeline it still wears thin.
“Big Brown Eyes,” “Rollerskate Skinny,” and “Let the Whiskey Take the Reins” gave Columbus’ 97-ers a reason to raise their plastic cups in celebratory style. The show itself reached a pinnacle when Miller played “Come Around” to a silent, captivated audience.
During their 17-year career, the Old 97′s have transitioned from aimlessly stumbling Texan broncos to legitimate contenders of Americana folklore and rockabilly roots. When their pace settles and they let their musical influences naturally permeate, the Old 97′s are something to behold. The only problem is it might take them half a set to find it.
This review was written by Josh Fitzwater and brought to you by the Franklin University Plaza at the LC Pavilion. For more information about shows that Josh and the Franklin crew will be attending and for chances to win tickets to concerts all year long, visit us on Facebook.