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The Old 97's are "very very good"

The Sinclair, Cambridge, Mass., June 2, 2014

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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The Old 97's have plied their alt.-country sounds for more than two decades now, but they not exactly growing old in the tooth either, even if good looking lead singer Rhett Miller sings "Rock and roll has been very very good to me" in the lead-off song, "Longer Than You've Been Alive," of their new disc "Most Messed Up."

The 97's aren't really a rock band as they still veer decidedly towards a country sound. In that way, they're not all that different than they have ever been.

Miller took most of the lead vocals, and he's solid, often mixed high. But he ceded the stage as well to bassist Murry Hammond, who knew how to put down lead as well ("Can't Get a Line").

Guitarist Ken Bethea provided a bunch of twangy and/or steely licks throughout the 105-minute show, while drummer Phillip Peeples set down a very steady beat.

Good thing because there was a lot going on from song to song. Tempos and instrumentation changed. Sometimes Miller's acoustic guitar would lead the proceedings. Other times Bethea took charge. The sum result was that there were no dull moments.

Miller brought the show a most local flavor when he told the crowd that he wrote the song "Let's Get Drunk & Get It On" (okay, that does sound like more of a rock theme) backstage at the very same club when the band did a two-night stint. The song lived up to its message, but at least you get the sense that The Old 97's have a sense of humor about them.

They also went back in time three decades to cover The Clash's "Career Opportunities" in the three-song encore. Good choice because The Old 97's knew their way around the tune.

Fortunately, The Old 97's follow the line in that opening song: "the road's the only place I want to be." They sure acted like this was exactly where they wanted to be on this evening.

Columbus, Ohio singer Lydia Loveless opened with a good set of rock music. While considered part of the alt.-country crowd (she does record for Bloodshot, after all), that seemed to be in very scant evidence on this evening. Yes, she employs a pedal steel guitar often in the mix, but there was nothing particularly country about Loveless and her crew, who rocked. Unlike The Old 97's, Loveless' songs tended to occupy a very narrow musical space.

Loveless is a good singer, but she didn't project enough personality, often hiding behind her short hair covering her face. She augmented the headliners with a good effort during the closing song of their set "Four Leaf Clover."