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Monday, July 19, 2010

Old 97s w/ David Wax Museum @ The Pabst Theater

July 15, 2010

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For Dallas, Texas alt-country pioneers the Old 97s, timing is everything. With a name that conjures a strong sense of dependability and a timeless quality, the band has spent the past 17 years making alternative country music that has heart as well as muscle. While a band that lasts that long might ditch tradition for what's hip at the time, the Old 97s have stayed true to their roots with a fairly humble approach to their music.

As the Old 97s brought an hour and a half long set of their best known songs, several covers and a new song Thursday night, it was clear that the concert held extra meaning for the band. In between songs, the band's charismatic frontman Rhett Miller threw out nuggets about the previous times the band played Milwaukee. The band's first show in the city, a performance at the Rave way back in 1994, was more than a bit humbling. The attendance was sparse and the band ended up $30 out. Another time the band slept on the floor of a sausage factory.

Regardless of these experiences, the band kept at it and this time in Milwaukee, with considerably more in attendance, they showed how much they've perfected the art of taking sweaty, drink-along hard-edged alt-country songs, throwing the crowd in a near-drunken joyful hysteria.

With the furious energy of a charging bull, Miller and the rest of the band offered up a good helping of songs from their first album Hitchhike to Rhome (including “St. Ignatius” where Miller's lyric “I'm not a big star, but I've got a big car” has a bit of irony now) through their last two efforts, Blame it on Gravity and the EP Mimeograph. The band also offered a sneak peek into their upcoming double album tentatively titled The Grand Theatre with a song about Champaign, Ill. There were plenty of messy and greasy country songs to be danced to and tales from the dusty roads of Texas to Wisconsin.

Opener the David Wax Museum certainly also had an interesting stories to tell and offered a charming, intimate and compelling set of their Americana and folk songs, many radiating with the drenching heat of Mexico and driven by instruments such as fiddle and accordion. There's good reason for the Mexican feel, as David Wax spent months studying there and in the process added related and intriguing instruments to his band such as jarana and a donkey's jawbone. The band grew more energetic as their set went on with everyone joining in the celebratory, playful atmosphere.

Photo by CJ Foeckler

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