Note: This post went up last week but was apparently eaten by the Blogger outage. Let's try this again.
First off, thanks to Julie for the extra ticket, even if it came about due to her lack of oversight. I appreciate the night out and the opportunity to check out a marathon performance by the eternally charming Rhett Miller at the Swedish American Hall.
Rhett Miller, Swedish Music Hall, May 7, 2011: Here's a scene that plays out at every concert you'll ever attend: You're waiting around -- maybe for doors to open, maybe for the bouncer to check IDs, or maybe for a beer -- and you overhear a fellow gig-goer bragging about how many shows they've seen by certain bands or musicians. Invariably, that massive number adds up to, say, three or four different appearances by the artist in question. I'm not typically impressed by the tally.
Granted, I'm the last person who should pass judgement on another person's concert choices. I admit it -- while I was queuing up, sweating over on-sale dates, plotting itineraries, and basically killing myself in anticipation of a 90-minute set by musicians I've probably seen a million times before, other people were probably leading full, multidimensional lives. Also, considering the current state of the music industry, repeat customers are highly desirable, so anyone who comes back more than once is worth pursuing.
Anyway, I'm going to be that guy -- er, gal. According to my records, this is the third time I've seen Rhett in concert, though that number seems awfully skimpy and doesn't include any Old 97s gatherings; I must've hit those gigs before I started this blog. In the case of Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, I was present for their set, but it didn't warrant a whole entry.
However, I can claim an out-of-town date and even a rare configuration, neither of which should be held up as any sort of achievement. Rhett and the Old 97s have an ardent and long-standing fan base; in fact, I count a few of the faithful among my good friends. They can rattle off stats and song titles much more readily than I can. Despite this deficit, I have to say that this may be the best gig I've seen from Rhett yet.
Many factors led to this proclamation, but I have to start with the sheer number of songs Rhett pulled off. I didn't keep a setlist, and I can't tell you how long the gig ran, though I'd place it in the neighborhood of two hours. In a rock show, two hours is nothing to sneeze at, but in the solo setting, when Rhett is banging out the tunes at a scorching pace, the titles pile up.
Rhett may or may not have brought along a setlist, but he seemed to veer from it several times to follow lines of memory or to expand on themes. One of the motifs he came back to was a fixation on disasters; for example, "Just Like California" led to "Buick City Complex." In at least one instance, an audience request appeared to inspire an instant song selection ("Terrible Vision"), and Rhett credited Twitter with another choice for the night ("Meteor Shower"), though he needed a lyric sheet to carry off the latter. For the life of me, I can't remember what moved him to go with "Making Love to You," but I recall he provided a charming intro.
Speaking of charm, Rhett was in full Storytellers mode; maybe this isn't so surprising to Rhett's regulars, but I can't say I've seen such a display from him before. Between the barrage of songs, he managed to work in tales of the Sharon Osbourne talk show, his dating life with UCSC Banana Slugs, and his debt to Steve Miller. He also oohed and aahed over the vintage-looking room, gushing over the gorgeous wood detail and dark varnish -- then broke into "Nightclub" and distanced himself from any notions of burning down the room.
I've heard from at least one person displeased with Rhett's solo career, especially the debut album. I happen to love that record for obvious reasons, but after tonight's performance, I finally understood what could've inspired those complaints. I'm a pop girl at heart, so the bountiful harmonies and catchy arrangements on The Instigator are completely up my alley. However, after hearing the rawer elements of Rhett's songwriting, I admit the shift would be off-putting if I'd previously been listening to the Old 97s' patented ruckus. It's a good thing we don't have to choose these days, as both Rhett and the Old 97s are actively touring and recording. With any luck, I'll yet make it to that fifth gig!
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