“There was a time in the early days of the 97’s when we very seriously considered moving to Austin,” Old 97’s singer Rhett Miller recalled in an interview last year, and it was easy to see why from the crowd that packed into 3Ten Tuesday for the first of two nights by the Dallas-based quartet. Singing along to all the old favorites and happy to hear a few new ones, the band’s Austin fans love the sweet spot between twang-country and indie-rock that the Old 97’s have always hit right in the bullseye.
They still have ties here too. One of the most charming points of Tuesday’s show was when they gave a shout-out to Noah Polk, co-founder of the popular local pizza joint East Side Pies, who guitarist Ken Bethea said was at the band’s first show ever in Dallas before going on to work and tour with them for 10 years. When he left to pursue another dream, “to be fair, we didn’t think it was going to work out,” Bethea joked, clearly happy that the band was proven wrong.
They dedicated “Barrier Reef” from 1997’s “Too Far to Care” to Polk, and also dug back to that early breakthrough album for such standbys as “Salome,” “Big Brown Eyes” and the show-closing “Timebomb.” The 21-song set covered a lot of ground from the band’s 22 years of making records: They opened with “504” from their 1994 debut “Hitchhike to Rhome” and eventually touched on most of their dozen-odd albums. Drummer Philip Peeples kept the beat steady and strong from start to finish, while bassist Murry Hammond got a few turns as lead vocalist, most endearingly on the bittersweet love song “Valentine.”
A nice surprise was the inclusion two songs from a new album that Miller said is already finished but won’t be out for a few months. “Bad Luck Charm” chugged right along in classic 97’s style, but the winner from the fresh stuff was “Jesus Loves You,” with a chorus that belies the religiosity of its title: “Jesus loves you more than I do/ Just because he doesn’t know you.”
In the encore, the 97’s tipped their that to one of their heroes with a stellar version of R.E.M.’s “Driver 8.” Perhaps they were aware that today marks five years since the pioneering Georgia band officially called it quits on Sept. 21, 2011, or perhaps it was just coincidence. Whatever the case, it might or might not be in the set list again on Wednesday. Asking if anyone would be back for night two, he got a fair number of responses, and offered this sneak preview: “I already made the set list; it’s all different.”
Dawn & Hawkes, a local outfit led by husband-wife Miranda Dawn and Chris Hawkes with drummer Clint Simmons and upright bassist Zeke Benenate, played a 45-minute opening set of mostly breezy folk-rock originals plus choice covers from the songbooks of Lennon/McCartney (“I’ve Just Seen a Face”) and Springsteen (“I’m on Fire”). If their music was less twangy and rockin’ than the 97’s, the couple professed a genuine fondness for the headliners, revealing that one of their first dates was an Old 97’s show in Austin.
2. Rollerskate Skinny
3. Give It Time
5. Lonely Holiday
6. Crash on the Barrelhead
7. Bad Luck Charm
8. Big Brown Eyes
9. Longer Than You’ve Been Alive
10. Old Familiar Steam
12. Dance With Me
13. Jesus Loves You
14. Barrier Reef
15. Can’t Get a Line
16. Let’s Get Drunk and Get It On
17. Book of Poems
20. Driver 8 (R.E.M. cover)