So This One Time At the Bowery Ballroom...
Okay, so last week Geo and I were vacationing with family in Northern New Jersey at the same time Old 97's just happened to be performing in New York City not once, but three times. How serendipitous!! I love synchronicity. Synchronicity ROCKS! I jumped online and was lucky enough to buy tickets to the back-to-back shows (Wednesday and Thursday) at the Bowery Ballroom in the lower east side.
The guys had driven all night to the Big Apple from their gig the night before in Baltimore. Over the next two days, they did one presser after another in between energetic shows that ran into the early morning. Rhett and Murry had the unenviable task of performing bright and early Wednesday on Good Day Fox 5. They were visibly scruffy and road weary in a completely Rock 'n Roll way, but still managed to belt out a terrific version of Champagn, IL for the morning folks. After only two hours sleep, Thursday morning pulled out its task-master whip and had the entire band up and in Don Imus' studio at the inhumane hour of 5am for four top-of-the-hour performances, then off to WNYC radio to play "A State of Texas" for Soundcheck before they could remotely think about a cat nap. Whew! Hardcore, man. Most bands would wilt under that kind of grueling schedule, but I’m here to tell you what we witnessed was the polar opposite
Wednesday's show was classic Old 97's. Interspersed amongst old crowd favorites, Won't Be Home, Rollerskate Skinny, and Big Brown Eyes, we were treated to a couple of new tunes like the lovely "Love Is What You Are", the chugging "Please Hold On..." and even a growling version of "I'll Cry Instead" in honor of John Lennon.
The sold out gathering was all aglow as they exited the steamy venue into the cool street for home.
But Thursday night's performance was On. Its. HEAD!
From the first chord of The Grand Theatre until the long, lingering, last note of Time Bomb the energy was pegging at eleven!! Outside of Love is What You Are and Question, they never let up. EVER. Ken's grinding guitar, Rhett's bellowing vocals and brain-bruising head bangs, Murry's heart-thumping bass punk stance, Philip's signature cadence... we were puddy in their hands. They played the audience to perfection, whipping us into a whisky-soaked, sing-along frenzy. The packed house willingly filled in the vocals for Barrier Reef, Big Brown Eyes, Stoned and Rhett's acoustic set of Niteclub and Our Love. Seriously, how cool is it to step away from the mic and listen to hundreds of people sing your words back to you unprompted?
They all looked like they were having a blast chatting to each other on stage, Ken and Murry playing to the crowd as well as each other.
Several times Ken perched precariously at the end of the stage, teasing the crowd while his telecaster sizzled.
But Dude. The set closing "If My Heart Was a Car".
Holy Mary, Mother of God!
It was completely off the charts INSANE! I've never seen this live before. It started off slowly with Ken literally sitting on the edge of the stage plucking the opening, then it just exploded with a balls-to-wall energy generally reserved for Time Bomb. The front row was anointed with Rhett sweat from his fevered head bobs. This was Rock 'n Roll, Baby!!
All of that and they STILL put in a high octane performance of Time Bomb. Aaaa Time Bomb. The first chord strike of that song is always bittersweet for me. I love it because they all play it with such abandon, squeezing every bit of energy they have left into the performance, but it signifies the end of the evening and I'm never ready for the doors to close. Like an insatiable child, I want to stand up and say "Do it again!"
If this is how they play after walking through the Valley of Exhaustion. Clearly sleep deprivation works for them.
Initially I was bummed not to be able to go to Brooklyn for day three of Old 97's Take Manhattan, but after Thursday's incredible show I was satisfied. I couldn't imagine how they could have topped that one.
In hindsight, I wish I would have recorded more but honestly I just wanted to drink it all in and sing at the top of my lungs.