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Old 97's And Lydia Loveless At Webster Hall, Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014, Reviewed

Old 97's shake their money makers

Old 97’s shake their money makers

Some  simple mathematics: doors 7, first act 8, everybody out of the pool before 11, doors 8, first act 9, and I miss the last hour of Old 97’s on a weekday. And that’s exactly what happened Tuesday night. That’s the bad news, now here is the good news: Lydia Loveless was having a ciggy outside the venue when I left at 11 and I got to speak to her for five minutes.

Lydia Loveless Shakes Her Head

Lydia Loveless Shakes Her Head

It is always dodgy approaching a rock star, it is doubly dodgy when you approach them to inquire as to what went wrong with their set, which was, after a little small talk, what I asked Lydia. If ever a singer seemed ready to conquer the world in one night, that singer was Lydia Loveless; with a masterpiece, Something Else, already topping half term report cards all over the rock critic firmament and a sort of coming of age big time vibe  here she comes now opening slot with open for a renaissance themselves Old 97’s, and a truly cracker all string four piece behind her, including a killer slide guitarist who can double on electric guitar and an awesome lead guitarist to her side, husband Ben Lamb on bass (not stand up bass unfortunately)  this was Lydia’s night to blow if she so chose. And so she blew it. And so did the hour of Old 97’s I caught, but I’ll get back to them later.

Lydia is easy to misconstrue, she started as an alt country spitfire with a fresh mouth from Columbus, Ohio -not New York but not Montgomery, Alabama,  she was raised tipping cows on her parents farm and slowly merged with a taste for Hank Williams III until she discovered III’s Grandpa. At fourteen she was covering Williams  Senior, and finally mixed em both together.

At Webster Hall  Tuesday night Loveless looked like half the girls I dated in 1978, New York, as opposed to London, punk, all miniskirt and leather jacket, her hair dank with a longish fringe that covered her face whenever she shook her head and quite often when she didn’t shake her head and  pin buttons she made herself of her husband Ben and her stuffed animal charmingly named “Baby Mamo”. Three albums and a terrific new song “Mile High” which winds around like classic rock meets skinny tie with great lines like “my finger smells like pussy and Lucky Strikes” and she is ready to teach us all a thing or two about rock or something like it. But Lydia wasn’t clicking on stage at Webster Hall. When I spoke to her she mentioned that she’d just played the night before and wanted to freshen up her set, mentioned the difficulty in being any kind of opening band.  “I’m back on July 11th, you should see me then… no wait, that is opening as well”. Not so much making excuses, indeed, I have no reason to assume she agreed with my assessment. Still from stage she wonders if it is Friday The 13th, she’d smashed her foot earlier in the day and smashed her guitar mid-set. It was a frustrating set that resolutely refused to catch fire, the momentum kept getting stymied as Lydia stopped the proceedings to re tune her guitar. “I use lots of capos and different keys” she explained later, in which case she should have brought along a tech guy.

Despite her tough guy sexual predator persona, Lydia is a sweet and charming stage presence -it is like she has this moon face so endearing it is like when your kid sister talks dirty. Plus, the talk dirty stuff is a bit of a dead end. The line here, the one that resonates and which she doesn’t sing on Tuesday night, is “I knew that I was crazy alone; now I’m just crazy for you.” So, yeah a crazy ex-girlfriend but only up to a certain place and then other influences kick in. I am reminded more of bad asses like Chrissie Hynde and the late great Chrissy Amphlett, a new wave modern all guitar rock chick. Can you hear a piano? I sure can’t. Lydia uses the slide guitar for shading and when she doesn’t, on the show stopping “Head” with the slide guitar gone, the guitars attack and stab and there is a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy to the sound: it has the bigness she hadn’t managed to pull off all night long; Lydia didn’t get you there. It was a weird set, it was like when you’re really drunk and you keep on fucking but you can’t come.

Me? I think Lydia is better than Miranda (that’s a big time compliment), certainly better than Carrie (that isn’t), she runs circles round her other country contemporaries, miles in advance of even pseudo-bros like Eric Church (indeed, in the current wave of country stars only Jamey Johnson is in her league). But either she is not great on stage or she was having a real Friday The Thirteenth day. Lydia is opening for Cracker (yeah, I know, I think she does as well) on July 11th. If a manager can manage it  they should add a show at Mercury Lounge so we can really see her.

Let’s say Lydia is 23 and having a bad night, what’s Rhett Miller’s excuse? With debatably the best album of the year, Most Messed Up,  at the top of Steve Crawford’s charts, Old 97’s might have been excused for being pissed at the less than sold out Webster Hall, but maybe we haven’t forgiven them for “Manhattan (I’m Done)” which I’m pretty sure they didn’t play Tuesday. Yes, I left early, but cmon, I’d been up since 5am, I’d blown off both Pharrell Williams at the Apollo and Earth, Wind And Fire’s Beatles tribute at Summerstage for this Old 97’s by the numbers set. And, whatever they might be as a unit, on stage, even with bassist Murry Hammond taking the lead here and there, this is Miller’s band.

In the past twenty odd years I’ve seen Old 97’s  many many times, but in 2001, Rhett was 29 and didn’t have a bad album to his name and in 2014, he  has had a complete decade of wilderness albums from Drag It Up to the Waylon Jennings EP.  You try putting on a great show behind the Grand Theater two volume set. But Tuesday night he had a masterpiece to play, he looked incredible, last time I saw Old 97’s, maybe 2012,he looked like shit, but man I’d fuck him now, he sang his heart out, but shit, at 43 years old stop wiggling your fucking ass and calm the fuck down and play the motherfucking songs. Old 97’s keep descending to shtick. Oh, plus, and again I left early so I can’t swear to it, but why so quiet guy?

Did the set have its moments? Oh absolutely, and if it had been the weekend I’d have stayed to the end. Any night you get to hear “Bird In A Cage” isn’t gonna be a wash out, plus both “Longer Than You’ve Been Alive” and “Wasted” were superb renditions. Rhett holds in his breath and holds a note and holds a note than takes a quick breath and speaks the next line. It is a great way to push your face in the lyric. And sure “Niteclub” was great, but when isn’t it great?

In maybe 2008 I saw Rhett perform solo at the tiny Hiro Ballroom, 400 SRO tops, and  while I was in the second row Tuesday, I was in the very front at Hiro’s. Rhett’s wife brought him drinks, and he was relaxed and sharp, a career spanning masterclass on rock dynamics. So if he can do that, why does he do this? Rhett is 43 years old, he isn’t a popstar any more, he is a professional rocker, stop moving like a stripper on a pole. Oh, and does nobody know how to put together a setlist any more? You’ve got a two hour set, do three sure shots at a time. Plus you wanna go to Blame It On Gravity pull out “No Baby I” or “She Loves The Sunset” or both, not the lousy “Dance With Me”… Whatever, man, they’ve been doing it longer than you’ve been alive, right?

Finally, Elliott Smith’s death is dodgier than fuck, just because we’re paranoid doesn’t mean  William Todd Schultz isn’t a liar who distorted interviews to put across a point of view.

Grade: B



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