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Old 97's hits its stride and stays there


© St. Petersburg Times, published July 2, 2001

Rhett Miller may sing that he's "sick to death of love," but you'd never know it from the tales he tells in Old 97's songs.

Rhett Miller may sing that he's "sick to death of love," but you'd never know it from the tales he tells in Old 97's songs.

Miller, singer/guitarist for the Dallas quartet, heroes of the alt-country genre and critical darlings, sang of love's many splendors and heartbreaks Saturday to a crowd of more than 400 at the State Theater in St. Petersburg.

Miller and his cohorts followed a lively opening set by the Josh Joplin Group from Atlanta by bounding onstage in their indie-rock best T-shirt and jeans. This is a no-nonsense band, known for jangly tunes filled with lyrical smartness and catchy hooks that are growing more pop than Podunk.

Rollerskate Skinny, from the band's recent critically acclaimed Satellite Rides, found Old 97's immediately hitting its stride and staying there for more than an hour. Miller slashed at his electric guitar as his shaggy hair fell over his eyes -- understand, he's something of an indie-rock pin-up as Saturday's throngs of college-age female fans could attest -- and sang of all the girls he's pined for, wooed, lost, written poetry to and wanted to marry. But Miller is hardly a player. No, he's an old-fashioned romantic, coming across as a small-town innocent on songs such as Buick City Complex, which has him asking, "Do you wanna be my girl?" Miller also sings of walking girls home after dates, "making time," writing long-distance letters and other charmingly normal things.

Bassist Murry Hammond's large round glasses may give him a Harry Potter appeal, but it's his bouncy, economical bass lines and fresh backing harmonies that resonate. Hammond took over the singing for Crash On The Barrelhead and Up The Devil's Pay.

The band performed several songs from last year's brilliant Fight Songs, including Indefinitely, the world weary Jagged and its polar opposite, the bright Oppenheimer. The latter had Miller strumming acoustic and singing about falling in love under a quarter moon and vowing, "I'm never gonna fall for anyone but her."

Alas, that was last year. The new album has demonstrated that Miller is as fickle and reckless as ever. And, good news for Old 97's fans: although Miller claims he's sick to death of love, love, evidently, isn't through yet with him.

- To contact Gina Vivinetto, e-mail gina@sptimes.com.

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