Rhett Miller (lead vocals, swinging hips around a strangled acoustic guitar), Murray Hammond (spectacles and long arms loving a long-necked bass in McCartney position, an occasional croon), Ken Bethea (guitars that sound like an American marriage of The Clash with the Mekons), and Philip Peeples (drums fortressed behind a glass partition so no one would be hurt) are the legendary Old 97s, and even in a swanky room like the KEXP Music Lounge it felt like alcohol was spilling everywhere and a fight was about to break out near the lip of the stage.
There is a reason this band is a legend: Imagine a Tom Petty-style Dylan kid fronting The Replacements out of rehab and practiced up real good just sputtering and shattering through songs titled the spy-celestial sounding "Dance With Me" and the perfervid "Outside," or hitting a hillbilly-narcotic bliss with "Color Of A Lonely Heart." Every track sounds like a song on a compilation, which this band has been around long enough to earn a five star Rhino treatment. They began in 1993, but they have the energy level of the next teenage Ramones.
Through a pile of great new songs like "The One" ("This is about robbing a bank and driving slow up a coastal highway" still-so-young-looking leader Miller introduced it) the Old 97s stopped for one or two slow burners but mainly made everyone probably wish we could have danced. If you only know this band by their excellent songs, do everything you can to catch them live. It was absolutely arresting and exhausting in all the best possible ways watching them rock the KEXP Music Lounge. I have no idea what sort of riot the listeners to the station must have been envisioning going on, but it was all in the music and love from the audience.