The nice guys of the Old 97’s have been pushed -- their buttons worn, the smiles fading from their eyes.
Screw you, they seem to say, wailing on guitars and into the mic, unapologetically fearless. Screw you, you’re going to dance, and you’re going to scream, because we’re going to make you rock. And it’s about damn time. The alt-country cowpunks become barroom heroes once again as they take back the stage at the Belly Up on Thursday.
The road to this week’s show has been a long one. The band -- composed of frontman Rhett Miller (vocals, rhythm guitar), co-founder Murry Hammond (bass), Ken Bethea (lead guitar) and Philip Peeples (drums) -- has been at this for more than 20 years now, and they never quite reached the level of mainstream success that would have made this whole traveling-musician thing a lot easier. Still, the Old 97’s troop on. At the end of April, the alt-country men released Most Messed Up, their 10th studio album, opening on the line, "We’ve been doing this longer than you’ve been alive."
That lyric sets the tone for the entire record, which reckons with that slow climb and the hyper-self-awareness that inevitably follows. In a word, it’s vulnerable -- but not weak, just honest. The Old 97’s have the same fight as always, but on this new album, that fight comes with a renewed sense of self and attitude. It’s a fight that rallies, a return to their earlier days. And whether you let them, they’ll command you in the ways of boozy barroom rock & roll at the Belly Up.
Hannah Lott-Schwartz, a San Diego native, recently moved back to the area after working the magazine-publishing scene in Boston. Now she’s straight trolling SD for all the music she missed while away. Want to help? Hit her up with just about anything at all over on Twitter, where -- though not always work-appropriate -- she means well.