August 5, 2010
@ Justin Herman Plaza
Better than: Other forms of advertising for Texas.
Oh Rhett, oh Rhett, oh Rhett -- sweaty, suntanned, sloppy, probably sauced, and ever-so-fun even if this whole shilling-for-Texas-thing sounded off and seemed a bit awkward to us San Franciscans. Rhett Miller brought his Dallas alt-country-tear-in-beer-makers Old 97s
to Justin Herman Plaza for a free show on Thursday afternoon, part of the "Texas on Tour
" national advertising road trip, complete with big blue pickups, dudes in cowboy hats waving lassos, video screens blaring the state's numerous attractions ("it's like a whole other country," the signs reminded us) and y'know, music. Surprisingly the music was a major focus -- I sprinted out of the office, arriving at the plaza just before 5:30 to the echoes of "Lonely Holiday," and still saw more than an hour of the show -- 13 songs plus a three-song encore.
This isn't a city of people who to pass up a good time, so the suit-and-tie-clad worker bees of FiDi showed up yesterday ready to party -- cases of Corona, tall Tecates in brown paper bags -- making the free set feel like a surprisingly legit rock 'n' roll show. Near the fans were packs of DLSR-dangling tourists wandering around in awe (yes, this is how we do it when Texas comes to San Francisco), and bouncy little kiddies wondering just why the grin on post-work Daddy's face was so big. The Old 97's diehards were up in front of the several-hundred-strong crowd, taking video and mouthing every poorly-mixed word from Rhett.
Looking ridiculously suntanned for a foggy San Francisco afternoon, Miller's energy sorta jack-knifed with the janky sound of the temporary stage, with shaky song starts, a few missed finales, and the ugly whoops of feedback popping up. But the band's energy felt focused, despite the underlying feeling that something was amiss: after Miller introduced bassist Murry Hammond, saying "I'd say 'the great Murry Hammond', but I don't want to brag," Hammond immediately shot back with, "He's mad at me today, that's why he said that," and a nervous chuckle.
sources say the first third of the set, which I missed, consisted largely of songs about Texas, along with "Streets of Where I'm From." But ironically the highlight of the set was a string of three songs that Miller later explained were all about California: "The One" (about Highway 1), "Rollerskate Skinny ("that song's about a girl from Pomona") and "Indefinitely" -- "This song I wrote sitting on the curb at the Oakland Airport," Miller told the chipper crowd. Old 97's showed off two new songs from their forthcoming album, one of which contained the grin-inducing refrain, "Every night is Friday night without you," and the other of which is about being from Texas. (Take a guess at where he got inspiration for that
Cowboy swagger aside, Miller' showed off his capable vocal instrument, which glides up into the upper registers, even into a falsetto, and then belts out big shouts and burly growls without hesitation. The band's plaintive country ballads came out more like folk-rockers, and the folk-rockers felt more like punk-rockers, with Miller stepping away from the mic to head-bang on his acoustic during the loud parts. After a heated three-song encore, a pile of appreciate banter, and some shout-inducing songs, Miller raced off-stage, having made a better advertisement for Texas -- or at least the lonely sunrises and bleak bars his songs are about -- than any of the tourism board's videos could have.