Review + Setlist: Old 97's at the Pageant, Friday, February 18
Rhett Miller packs more boyish charm into one pick-clutching pinkie finger than the entire Justin Bieber empire. And don't get me started on his hair. Apologies for invoking the Bieb, but last night at the Pageant, Miller and the Old 97's delivered an energetic, generous set of uptempo alt-country that was enough to make grown women squeal. If only they would have.
Jon Gitchoff Rhett Miller of Old 97's
The crowd was expectedly placid during first opener, the Whiskey Folk Ramblers, who hail from Fort Worth, Texas. The all-male, heavily-hatted sextet opened the early, nine-song set with an atmospheric intro that sounded like the soundtrack of a Tarantino Western. This instrumental, featuring trumpet, accordion, upright bass, acoustic and electric guitar, shuffling drums, and impressive whistling by frontman Tyler Rougeux, led into a version of Hank Williams' "Ramblin' Man." The latter morphed into an even darker gypsy dirge, thanks to Rougeux's low voice. This set the tone for the band's performance: a full, old-timey sound which carries inherent theatricality when played by straight-faced twentysomethings.
Next up was a trio of decidedly not straight-faced (or straightlaced) twentysomethings: Those Darlins, a Tennessee band known around town for its raucous, often unpredictable shows. The band is now officially a quartet -- drummer Linwood Regensburg contributed songwriting to the band's new album, Screws Get Loose, which is due March 29 (as Jessi Darlin reminded us). This was my first time seeing Those Darlins, but everyone seemed on good behavior: The band skipped raunchy stage banter and mainlined at least eight new songs to the audience.
The girls kicked off with single "Be Your Bro," a girl-group garage rock tune on which pixie-haired Jessi chimed in with the almost-signature line, "I just wanna run and play in the dirt with you/ You just wanna stick it in." Nikki, Kelley and Jessi Darlin swapped duties on lead vocals as well as guitar and bass throughout the thirteen-song set. The configuration hinted at the band's sonic future: It brought the "punk" and left the "cow" in Tennessee. Even the hit "Red Light Love," which usually sounds like a rockabilly take on Carter Family-style harmonies, was more of a surf-rock tumble. Though the band didn't play "Wild One" or the country-fried "The Whole Damn Thing," its drunken finger-licking days may not be over yet: After Regensburg apologized to his grandparent in the audience, Those Darlins ripped through a balls-out version of "Fun Stix Party."