Brian Jacobson

The Old 97s at Turner Hall Ballroom

By - May 3rd, 2012 08:08 pm

The Old 97s threaten to get drunk and burn this niteclub down. (Photo: CJ Foeckler)

When you think of an all-ages show, you would believe that the median age of the audience would be around 18. Thanks to the “outlier” of someone bringing their baby (sporting bright pink headphone dampeners) to Turner Hall Ballroom on Wednesday night to see Old 97’s, this is still true.

Rhett Miller gets sweaty at Turner.

In fact, there were plenty of age-variant Vans and sandal footwear tapping on the magically springy (and spilled beer sponge) floor of Turner, but much of the actual unabandoned dancing and whooping was saved until the final rounds of the Texas-born band’s better known numbers “Doreen” and “Four-Leaf Clover.” For a 19-year-old rockabilly, honky tonk, post-grunge, power-poppy outfit that—if equated in Milwaukee terms—reached a success plateau of the BoDeans but never quite the Violent Femmes, lead singer Rhett Miller still has the looks and sounds of a teen contestant on American Idol.  His bandmates Murry Hammond, Ken Bethea, and Philip Peeples look more seasoned and musically reflect that honed skill level.

In the fog machine-induced humidity of Turner, Miller’s boyish moptop hair turned to manly, stringy sweat which he eventually headbanged back into the front rows filled with cell phone video recorders. Where the subtlety and depth of his singing on songs like “Niteclub” and “Victoria” were lost against a live wall of noise, the crowd generally enjoyed hearing an even discography and got into the alt-country vibe. When Hammond would take over singing duties, things veered into Pogues territory, but then the crunchy and twangy guitar riffs from Bethea returned things to the American South.

Overall, it was a fine evening with a band that doesn’t get out much (there are only five touring dates listed on their website, with Milwaukee being the first) but always seems to hit our town once or twice a year. Old 97’s two-volume album from last year, The Grand Theatre, is definitely worth the purchase for the sound value of recording in the historic Sons of Shermann Hall. If you’re in Chicago this weekend, the band plays The Cubby Bear, and if your headed to the Kentucky Derby they’ll be rocking Louisville this Friday.

Categories: Life & Leisure, Rock

0 thoughts on “Review: The Old 97s at Turner Hall Ballroom”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Not agreed about Rhett Miller. Lyrically? And integrity of the guy? Seasoned is a word that he gets at least as strongly as his band. He just doesn’t take himself too seriously… and kudos to a good looking man who could. Maybe its his “hottiness” that makes others take him less seriously now and then, rather than overlook that stuff for the talent & generosity of personality on the stage.

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