it's been a hard clay's night

01 November 2012

All My Loving

There's so much raw power in this album, you could probably light a room while it plays.
-Too Far To Care - The 15th Anniversary Tour - 
Madison & Chicago 
October 2012

     Once upon a time, in 1997, perfectly enough, a band from Dallas released their third album. An album on a 'REAL' label. An orange & blue album with cowboys & cacti on the cover. An album beloved by people from every corner of this fine country. An album that made an impact in the newly coined 'alternative country' genre or 'alt. country'. This is the album that most people refer to when speaking of their love for Old 97's. And love, I mean, deep down to their bones. It is the quintessential encapsulation of all that they were at that time. Fresh, young, pulsing with energy & fervor, plaintive lyrics & howling vocals, twangy gee-tars & crunchy amps, thumpity drumming & bumpity bass. This year is the 15th anniversary of the album, and it is being played in its entirety on a whirlwind, 2 week tour of the midwest and east coast. Exciting!

     My initial exposure to the Old 97's was through a live show in early 1999. At the time, their most current album was on the verge of coming out and Too Far To Care was all I could get my hands on without going special-order for the previous two. At this particular time in my life: I was almost 25, single-yet still disentangling from a long-term-live-in boyfriend, now living with a good friend in a cute rental house and my beloved car got me safely to and from work at the trendy salon/spa where I was a fabulous receptionist. I was reconnecting with my art and spent the summer painting with this album jangling its way into my heart and psyche as it played virtually nonstop (switched out only for Fight Songs, when that was released!). These boys were truly my own; there was no pre-existing emotion to tie this album to anything but my wonder at how much I could love something so twangy and well...country. But in a Johnny Cash kind of way, or as I've been known to say, "If the Beatles continued on a Carl Perkins path, following rockabilly ala 'What Goes On' or 'Act Naturally', rather than the experimental, psychedelic path, also with some punk influence." Or as Ken Bethea himself has distilled it down to, 'Cash, Clash, Bowie, Beatles'. It's really just true & pure form of rock, with regional seasoning, that's all. I was taken hostage by this album and Stockholm syndrome was in full effect. I was truly in love with my captors.

Just me, circa the late 1990s, wondering how could I love this powerhouse twangpunk rock so much? Who AM I?!

     After a few years of going to quite a few shows totally ALONE, I happened upon someone who would become my greatest companion for the rock n' roll adventures, Karin aka K. This would be in 2002. Through that fateful meeting and the subsequent Rhett Miller show, we would become virtually inseparable for future, innumerable Rhett solo shows and full band gigs. Then we started making all these cool friends that were as wild about the guys as we were. Some were local, most were scattered across the country. Quite a few have ventured to Chicago to experience the show here. Many I've never had the pleasure of knowing in person, only virtually through the forums and eventually through social networking. They are my friends nonetheless. I continue to meet the finest of folks at shows, as well as the ol' regulars, because it's always nice to see a familiar face when one is truly enjoying oneself. We can band together for space at the front and maintain the boundaries when we lose someone to the bathroom or the bar. Backup is key. Standard Operating Procedure in full effect. We know the drill. Sometimes these shows are the only time I might see a certain person, because maybe you can never get it together and hang out like proper friends, but you KNOW they are coming to the SHOW. Happy reunions ensue complete with a bitchin' soundtrack!

     Once again, the boys descended upon our towns and the reason for living returned to the forefront of our minds. Another great adventure & mini-road trip. K and I got to the Capitol Theatre in Madison in time to miss Rhett's opening set  :(  but still able to get prime area at the front, Murryside. The Travoltas were playing. I took no pictures of them at this show, because I was absolutely mesmerized. I'd longed to see Salim Nourallah in action, he has produced a number (3?) of the last Old 97's albums, along with a Rhett Miller solo album. He has also released many awesome albums of his own and with his brother, Faris. I already knew I liked him. The Travoltas were all clad in these 1970's formal suits of tan with brown piping. They looked to be enjoying their time onstage. Each of them pretty much in love with whatever instrument they were playing, and Salim crooning to the crowd, mic in hand, enticing us to clap along. The songs were generously dipped in retro-flavorings, but done very well as they were kitsch-tastic! I was enamored. I am enamored, hahaha.

     Then our boys came out, and began the album, first song 'Timebomb'. It's a hell of way to start a show. (For the uninitiated, this is ALWAYS the closing song. It packs an extremely satisfying punch as a closing number.) As the opener, it sets a fierce tone. It was interesting to hear it live, song for song in order. They didn't really mess with perfection, and just plowed through it with minimal chit-chat. The usuals all made their appearance. The Rhett microphone suck & blow, the windmilling and hair flailing, Murry taking aim with his mighty bass. Ken exploring both sides of the stage, barely able to make it to our side due to the length of the guitar cord available to him. Philip crashing and bashing. Beautiful to my ear-holes. The remainder of the setlist was equally powerful, though I have no paper to prove it. You'll just have to trust me. I did however, receive a setlist after the show from someone on stage. Though at a closer look, it seemed to be a duplicate from the show the previous night. Ah well.
When the entire show was over, we went looking for the Travoltas. There they all were, working their own merch table, meeting & greeting us all. I asked them to huddle up and Salim was like, 'come on and get in here!'  Well, say no more! So K and I posed with them and then we were inquiring about the album and other things for sale. I hadn't realized there was a kickstarter campaign at the time. I was lost in the euphoric haze that usually accompanies the aftermath. I'm all but worthless for a good 20 minutes, but I'm usually OK by the time the we get shooed out of the venue. I tried to not be too starstruck as I told Salim how much I enjoyed their set and that I really appreciated his work as producer for the 97's. He really gets how they should sound. I told him that I considered him their George Martin, even maybe a smidge Geoff Emerick. I hope he took it to heart, I meant every word. The boy plainly loves his Beatles!  There was a greeting and high-fiving with Jeff, the 97's traveling merch-meister. He's great and we've known him since the Drag It Up tour.  We caught up for a minute with Murry and Ken for hugs and thanks, little more. It's enough. These boys are cool, humble and best of all, REAL. No bullshit. And then we were off, making the trek back to Karin's. It would take me an hour after we got back to settle down enough to be able to sleep. Good stuff.

Meet the Travoltas!

Sometimes the tilt is the only way to fit all 4 in frame.

     I listened to the newly acquired Travoltas album no less than 4 times, as that is approximately how long a drive home from Wisconsin is. The album is exactly 30 minutes long. Short but sweet. I learned enough of it to be able to fully enjoy their Chicago show. Once I got to the show anyways. It took about as long to get to the Vic as the drive to Wisconsin takes!! Friday traffic in the city is no joke. And I was fully aware of this. But I was hindered at every turn. Thankfully, upon arriving and finding ridiculously close and cheap parking, my friends awaiting inside had secured front row status. (Thanks JJ and SK!) I had finally arrived with time to spare. Rhett did take the stage earlier than expected. He whet the appetite nicely for the Travoltas. I was giddy with anticipation. Yay, more Travoltas! They were equally as entertaining as at the Madison show. I was able to snap a few blurry shots of them in action. The only Problematico  in the show was a moment where Salim's acoustic guitar was not coming through the amp, but he took it in stride and just played air guitar with his actual guitar. The show must go on! Nice. They all looked like they were having a blast, and it translated very well to the crowd. I like to think that they WOWed Chicago.
The illustrious Salim Nourallah playing a guitar with no sound.

     The crowd started closing in on us right before the Travoltas left the stage. When those Old 97's bounded across the stage and picked up their instruments, there was a resounding intake of collective breaths before the squawking, hooting and hollering started. Ken's amp had ghoulish purple lights strung about it and some kind of creepy skeleton character slapped in the center. They just powerhoused right into things and ate up every bit of adulation we could throw at them. It was plain that they were enjoying themselves almost as much as we were. That's a wonderful thing to witness. The whole audience was singing along, it was terribly cool. The show went off without a hitch, no broken strings or straps, no amp or pedal problems. No tumbling or tripping or knocking the mic stands over. It was a flawless event.

Ken brings the gun show centerstage

Murry & Ken having a laugh

The stage was seemingly less wide than the one in Madison, so Ken had plenty of cord to to wander freely and show off for us. AHEM

Just a little whiplash, no big deal...
Chicago has a pure golden love for them, and people from elsewhere that have seen them here, have commented that 'there's nothing like a Chicago show'. It is known. You can even see here as the heavens shone down upon them. Glorious.

     And here's Rhett getting ready to jump!

     So the setlist was torn in two as it was removed from its place on the stage. Ken hands me a piece and the other to some stranger. She let me photograph it wholly before she took off in glee. In all honesty, I have a fair amount of setlists and probably should have given her the matching piece. But I'm just a sentimentalist. Maybe Ken thought we would catfight over it. In fact, I'm fairly sure that was the hope. Hahahaha


Another show, another night well spent surrounded by friends and fans. I had a fabulous time, we reunited with familiar souls scattered throughout the venue. I got to schmooze with the Travoltas again afterwards. I told them, I tried to sing along when I could because I tried to power learn the album. Nick said 'You knew lyrics?" and then proclaimed me their first fan and tried to give me a free poster. I couldn't let him do it. I paid for that poster along with some of Salim's other albums. I have tried putting the word out about their Kickstarter without being completely obnoxious about it. Especially now, because there are others in the world in relatively dire need of donated a$$istance. But they are grand entertainers and fully deserve the cushioning, so if you could help, please watch their video and pitch in. They have under 4 days left and are less than 10% away from achieving their goal!! It won't take much more to bring them to this success.


Then we were dispersed to the outside to wait for a chance to chat. Sure enough, after letting the gigglies get their turn for pics and signed vinyl, Ken ambled over to catch up. He asked if we noticed his Halloween lights and decor (of course we did!) and says that he might go back to the Walgreens and buy more. We get him for a good 20 minutes which usually includes regular life chat, video game or book recommendations, the odd dirty joke/anecdote from the road. Just regular stuff.  He's a good dude. I enjoy our banter. Murry, Rhett and the ever elusive Philip made brief appearances for hellos, hugs and thank yous before being loaded up and whisked away quickly like a dream that dissolves upon awakening.

And now we wait for next time. Because even after all these years, it's still pretty much the greatest thing EVER.