Wildly energetic Old 97’s front man Rhett Miller recently stormed into Annapolis for a career spanning 26-song set to a nearly packed Rams Head on Stage.
Armed with gorgeous Gibson acoustic guitar, Miller is touring in support of his latest solo effort The Traveler. The Dallas native is no fool though, while he played a handful of songs from the tremendous new album, most of the night Miller treated the amped up crowd to a veritable Old 97s greatest hits concert.
Miller kicked off the fiery performance with two Old 97’s songs, “Won’t Be Home” and an epic version of “Barrier Reef” (there’s just something about the way the artist and crowd shouts “what’s so great about the Barrier Reef”…it truly has to be experienced). After one of his solo songs, “The El,” Miller dove into the old road warrior vet song “Longer Than You’ve Been Alive” off the last Old 97’s album.
While a raucous full band Old 97’s set makes for a rowdy night, the solo show has a similar energy as Miller has the stage to himself to thrash about, dance and show off with his trademark version of the windmill strum.
After playing a new solo song “Fair Enough” Miller was back to Olds business with “The Disconnect,” a song he said that his “band mates were too ornery to play…Yeah, I’m talking about Ken” which garnered laughs, the wonderful “Buick City Complex” and “Nineteen” a song Miller dedicated to David Letterman (the band played it in 1999 on The Late Show).
Miller went back to his new album for “Kiss Me on the Fire Escape,” before launching into the bouncy “Every Night is Friday Night (Without You),” “Wanderlust” and “Four Leaf Clover” (which had the crowd hooting). This all led into Miller’s most “famous” song, the always endearing “Question.”
An older solo song, “Out of Love,” then led nicely into “Champaign, Illinois.” Taking his first fan request, Miller gladly played “Trainwreck,” but first gleefully admitted that this version of the song was how it was intended to be played. The anti-ballad, drinkin’ song, “This is the Ballad” and a song Miller calls the “Ray of light” on the end of his latest album — “Reasons to Live” followed.
Closing out the set with a mix of solo and Olds new and old classics, Miller dazzled with “Big Brown Eyes,” “Dance With Me,” “Most in the Summertime,” “Let’s Get Drunk and Get It On,” “Our Love” (one of my personal favorites), and the timeless “Doreen.”
In one of the more humorous moments (and there were plenty), Miller playfully exited the stage by going behind the curtain which is more of a backdrop for the back wall (instead of heading down the walkway to the side of the stage to the backstage room). The joke continued as you could see the curtain moving up and down as he took swigs of water. Miller then “returned” to the stage to play two more fantastic fan favorites (to be honest they all are) “Victoria” and “Timebomb.”
While many of the characters in Miller’s songs aren’t good guys, he certainly is one of the best and friendliest. He’s also insanely charismatic on stage which makes his already scorching songs that much more combustible. Miller puts everything on the line and it shows after he wipes his hair from his eyes after every song, humbly revealing a smile that says both, “I can’t believe I got through one,” and “thank you, so much for getting me to where I am today.”