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Rhett Miller and The Serial Lady Killers at Webster Hall September 19th, 2009: Good band, shame about the set list

My third Rhett Miller concert in less than two years is my first disappointment. Miller, the lead singer of alt-country band Old 97’s, has released three solo albums over the year,
where he can work out the intricate tick tock of his power-pop. Some of the songs are great, some less so, and none really lend themselves to rock band setting he gives them with his backing band the Serial Killers.

It is a strange set, the audience like it don’t love it because there is too much from the newbie Rhett Miller and exceedingly few crowd pleasers. Miller looks out of shape, his boying good lucks seem corrupted by time for the first time ever: Miller is getting a gut and a double chin!!! It takes a goofd half hour for the Serial Killers to get their groove on though once they do they are real good especially the lead guitarist who plays sinewy but self-contained guitar licks that do everything possible to accentuate Miller’s melodic but not quite there songs. The band itself is taunt and tight, a sorta alt Ramones speeding through a healthy twenty something setlist, in tune with the charming Miller man, and as tight and professional as you could hope for.

But the set list is average. “No One Says I Love You” is inroduced as “a sad song but loud,” “Singular Girl” a pleasant enough solo oldie but so what? and maybe it’s me but I didn’t recognize a pretty good song “Going Down The Mountain”. I had seen Miller play a devastatingly brilliant solo set at Hiro Ballroom a year or so ago and alone he put this set to shame. Tonight it is nice to hear old 97’s “Lonely Holiday” (I’ve thought of suicide so many times part of me already dead”) but a revved up take on “Barrier Reef” ruins the song and “Roller Skate Skinny” only comes into its own with the coda “I believe in love but it don’t believe in me”. Again, the band is all restraint and muscle, the longest jam is 90 seconds, Miller is in great voice and he is a charming, smart front man just a little off his game. It’s like going to see jeter play for the Yanks and he goes 1 – 3 with a walk. Not terrible, but not great either.

The truth is: since 01’s Satellite Rides Rhett has written maybe two albums worth of grade A, top of the line material and little of it is on Rhett Miller and some of it was on show but Miller is a pro by now so he shouldn’t need me to tell him that when you have a dog on your hands pull out the back catalogue.

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