The Old 97’s want and need to rock, and the Dallas, Texas roots rock vets are doing what any band would do and hitting the road. Their frontman is just a little bummed out.
Rhett Miller, frontman and solo act in his own right, calls before the band’s show in Asheville, North Carolina where he has a sign on his dressing room that reads “Recording in progress.” Earlier this year he put out his sixth studio album, The Traveler, and while stoked to be out with his band, he’s a little gloomy he didn’t get to play his new solo cuts out on the road.
“I got to do some shows on the coasts, but I didn’t hit the midwest, so it’s been a little frustrating,” he says. “I serve two masters with a solo career and having the band.” While he may be missing out on playing his own jams, there’s no resentment towards getting to kick some ass with his band. The Old 97’s offer a chance to play bigger rooms to bigger crowds, but along with scratching that other song itch, solo shows are a self-care requirement. “Playing solo shows where it’s me out there are also necessary to feed my kids, but I also need them to feed my soul,” he says. “The other night we played Atlanta, and I never would have thought 20 years ago that our band would play some big room in Atlanta, but it was packed and people were so excited,” he says. “These shows are just special!”
For Miller and his other 97’s it wasn’t always big rooms and big crowds. The CMJ Music Festival just wrapped it’s 35th year recently in New York, and Miller recalled a mid-Nineties run for the band from Dallas to Manhattan to have their own turn at the star-making fest. They drove in a van from Dallas to NYC to play a run of shows with other local bruisers the Cartwrights, who were a bit more intense than the Old 97’s, Miller recalls.
“The lead singer was this guy named Donny, and he kept making speeches between their songs like, ‘We woulda whooped y’all asses with corn stalks back in the war cuz y’all just don’t know how to fight like us from down there!'” he says. “I don’t know how much good came out of our trip, but the experience was so great. We got to get back to Dallas with some newfound cred. I always dreamed of playing New York City and I got to live there eventually. It was always the pinnacle of everything for me.”
Those dreams brought him and the band to the Late Show with David Letterman stage a few times in their career, and the talk of old band times in New York brought to mind a certain performance that Matchbox 20 singer Rob Thomas attended in the later Nineties. “He just kind of came to the taping out of the blue, which was cool, and afterwards we went into Times Square all together to get a beer, and he gets mobbed by like 200 people,” Miller says. “So being everywhere in New York City isn’t the dream I guess.” He laughs.
The next trip up for the Old 97’s will be a two-night stand at Williamsburg’s Brooklyn Bowl, which the band has played before. The shows aren’t all Miller has to be excited about for as the man is no stranger to a bowling lane. He’s a self-proclaimed streaky bowler and in high school had an “old hippie dude” for a teacher who didn’t believe in grades, so they went to the local bowling alley. “He was just like, ‘Whoever gets the highest score gets an A+ and everyone else will get an A,” he says. “BOOM! I got the A+!” Miller and the rest of the Old 97’s will rip into songs from their 20-plus decade career, and while he maybe be a bit sullen about his lack of solo performances this year, hopefully a strike or two can knock those blues right out.
The Old 97’s play Brooklyn Bowl on October 20 and 21. For ticket information, click here.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 20, 2015