The Old 97’s: Bell House 13 July 2011

by Carene Lydia Lopez on July 14, 2011

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Another night with The Old 97’s and this time we stood right at the stage. The Bell House’s stage isn’t high – it comes up to my hips – so we had a great view of the boys and got to see (and experience) some fun interaction with the band.

sweet pea is in town and joined rtb, violaleeblue, and me. She was so excited after the show that she was thinking of joining us for the second night.

Opening act Robert Ellis completely charmed me with his long hair, cowboy shirt, and boots. The bass player Geoffrey Muller and pedal guitarist Will Van Horn were also wearing cowboy shirts. Van Horn had on blue suede shoes. Electric guitarist Kelly Doyle and drummer Ryan Chavez looked more indie but nowadays the indie look can look country. Ellis played acoustic and electric guitar and the set started off very country and then moved into “Pride” that sounded like samba with a country twang. They also rocked out – all the musicians are excellent but since I was standing right in front of him (and don’t know why I didn’t take any photos) I have to say that Van Horn just killed me with his playing. Ellis finished with his version of George Jones’ “The Race is On” that I would put up against any country star and then some punk bluegrass. By the end I was totally in love.

Before the show I saw someone bring a bottle of Jamesons and several glasses backstage. Yay! The boys would be good and liquored up for the show. I was standing behind guitarist’s Ken Bethea’s monitor – I knew he liked to stand at the lip of the stage and I wanted make sure I wasn’t in his way. One of us had her purse and book sitting on the stage. Ken carefully avoided stepping on both several times and then finally shoved both aside with his foot. During a quiet moment he looked at the four of us and asked, “Who brought the book?” I’m still laughing. Ken keeps throwing his guitar picks into the crowd and up close you can see he does it with tremendous ferocity. I kept thinking he was going to take someone’s eye out. He did hit one woman in the forehead and the look on her face was priceless. Standing there I got the best view of his playing. I knew he was fast but to actually watch his fingers pick and strum at speeds not possible by mortals is a beautiful thing. And I got to see the cherry red Gretsch up close.

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This was also an opportunity to see drummer Philip Peeples up close. Usually my view of him is blocked by the other guys. He’s such an incredible drummer – fast, in the pocket, and driving each of the songs. I was not, however, thrilled with his new mustache and beard.

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Bassist/singer Murry Hammond was on the other side of the stage so I couldn’t get quite as good a look at him but there was one very funny moment when Murry turned to singer/guitarist Rhett Miller and mouthed, “I love you.” Rhett seemed stunned for a second and then the two riffed on that for a while. After the set, Rhett came out first to do a couple of songs (including “Erica the Beautiful” for his wife) and then Murry came out and did “Valentine” with Rhett. After Murry finished, Rhett got behind him and pushed his knee into Murry’s so that Murry leg gave out. It’s such a pleasure to watch a band where the members enjoy, love, and respect each other and have so much fun playing together even after 20 years.

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It was hard to get a decent photo of Rhett because he moves around too much and the light was in the way. But I did get some Rhett butt.

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Being so close was also nerve racking. Each time Ken or Rhett leaped you saw them come down and sometimes almost lose their balance. Once Ken jumped up behind Rhett and Rhett was moving back and I was sure there was going to be a collision. Somehow it didn’t happen. Ken knocked over his mic stand and then his guitar cable got tangled up in it. The roadie almost hit me in the head with the mic trying to fix it. Ken moves all around the stage – Rhett was in front of us a couple of times and bathed us in his sweat – and his cables would tangle with the others and I was imaging instruments coming down all over the place. I don’t think my heart could take being that close for too many of their shows – for many reasons. But, man, did I love it.

And because I was so close – here’s the set list (I forgot what the other Rhett solo acoustic was – neither song is named):

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