AUSTIN – For SXSW bands, the good news about being scheduled to play at 12:30 a.m. is that you’re clearly the headliner of the night. The bad news is, you’re banking on everyone else playing in front of you to end on time.
That didn’t quite work out for the Old 97’s last night. I showed up at Antones at about 12:15 and Emmylou Harris still had about three songs to go in her set (not that I’m complaining). A 25 minute change over meant the band didn’t hit the stage until 1 a.m.
But when they did, they acted like kids who had been told by their parents they had to wait 30 extra minutes to see what Santa brought them. Rhett Miller was a pogo stick of energy, bouncing up and down to his own beat as the set was about to begin. And once the first note hit, it was pedal to the metal for the next hour as the band ripped through old favorites like “Niteclub” as well as selections from its newest album, The Grand Theatre, Volume 1, including “Champaign, Illinois.”
The show was the second of the day for the Old 97s, who played a private afternoon concert. But you wouldn’t have known it.
“Feel free to sing along on this one as my voice isn’t what it normally is,” Miller told the crowd before launching into “Rollerskate Skinny.” When he ended the song with a few of the most beautiful falsetto notes you’ve ever heard, you had to wonder if he was teasing us.
The real star of the show, however, was guitarist Ken Bethea. He spent most of the night patiently at stage right hammering out one furious guitar lick after another. But for the final few songs, it seemed as if he’d had enough of waiting in the wings as he stepped up to center stage and leaned into the crowd to show everyone just what he was capable of.
After a long day of working on this and other stuff, I had told myself I was going to try and head out by 1:30. But each time I turned toward the door, I felt myself being sucked back in by another rip-roaring tune that sounded like something that shouldn’t be missed. So I’ll blame Rhett and Co. for being a little tired this morning. But I can’t complain too loudly – as I’m writing this at 10 a.m., the band has already played KGSR’s live broadcast from the Four Seasons, after which Miller and Murray Hammond hoofed it over to the Hilton for a short KUT set.
Meanwhile, I’ve only just brushed my teeth.