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Brave Combo and the Old 97s, Mansfield, Texas, Saturday, October 19th, 2013, Reviewed

Rhett Miller lacks variation




























The city of Mansfield, Texas booked two highly respected North Texas based bands for their annual festival week. And the price of admission was perfect during these cash strapped times – nothing.

Nuclear polka band Brave Combo is based in Denton, Texas, which also gave the world the pseudo-amusing pseudo-punk band Bowling for Soup. rock nyc favorite Don Henley went to college at Denton’s University of North Texas and we’ve all enjoyed singing the Mountain Goats’ “The Best Ever Death Metal in Denton.” (Hail Satan). In any event, Brave Combo was formed in 1979, have won two Grammys in the Best Polka Album category, and even little known singer songwriter Bob Dylan copped their arrangement of “Must Be Santa” for his Jewish Xmas album.

It’s easy to take a world-class band for granted when they are constantly playing in your backyard, but Brave Combo’s musicianship is extraordinary. They are comparable to Los Lobos in their mastery of a broad range of musical styles. In a Brave Combo set, you’ll hear polkas and waltzes and twists and sambas. It’s a musical kaleidoscope with elements of garage rock, jazz, be-bop, Latin rhythms, and funk. They are the only band on the planet that would transition for “Wooly Bully” to an extended, galvanizing jam based on a traditional German song about men preparing for war. There are kitschy elements to a live Brave Combo performance (“It’s time for the Chicken Dance”), but if they don’t make your body move, call the coroner.

Alternative country, jangle rock band the Old 97’s have two decades under their belt now and made some commercial inroads at the turn of the century with their Fight Songs and Satellite Rides albums. A good song band, not a great one, they’ve been riding on reputation for the past several years. Rhett Miller is an interesting live presence – he sashays around the stage, tosses his David Cassidy hair, and regularly does arm twirls gyrations on his guitar. He’s quite smitten with himself. Drummer Philip Peeples, who makes Bun E. Carlos look like the ultimate rock hipster, sharply drives the band, who often perform with a cowpunk rock edge.

The problem with and Old 97’s show is that so many songs are at the same tempo and while the band doesn’t do anything wrong in a performance, you’ll hear no memorable vocals or solos. Bassist Murry Hammond, who isn’t a strong enough singer to get four lead turns, did a fine job with their power pop meets British Invasion “Can’t Get A Line” and “A State of Texas” packed an undeniable wallop. It’s almost perverse that they included a trite version of “Mama Tried” in their set and didn’t play “Jagged” or the brilliant “Oppenheimer.” There simply isn’t enough musical variety in their live performance; it’s like hearing variations of two or three different songs twenty times. The Old 97’s are a band that kills you with competence.


Brave Combo – A –

Old 97’s – B

Old 97’s Setlist:

Barrier Reef

Won’t Be Home



W. Tx Teardrops

Lonely Holiday

Champaign, Illinois


Can’t Get A Line

A State of Texas

Four Leaf Clover


Let the Whiskey Take the Reins

Mama Tried

The Other Shoe

Designs on You

St. Ignatius

Every Night is Friday Night (Without You)


Brown Haired Daughter

Dance With Me



Rollerskate Skinny

Time Bomb


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