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Review: Old 97’s at Strauss Square

Posted 1:36pm on Sunday, Apr. 20, 2014

More than most Old 97’s performances in North Texas, Saturday’s showcase in the heart of downtown Dallas truly felt like a homecoming.

Such a cozy affair was the confluence of several fortuitous factors, not least of which was the ideal match of band and venue (with an assist from some gorgeous spring weather).

Seeing the Old 97’s in the intimate environs of Annette Strauss Square, adjacent to the Winspear Opera House and with much of Dallas laid out in front of them, it was, apart from maybe watching the band rip it up at Lee Harvey’s, as close to an idealized 97’s show as a fan could want.

(And the 97’s weren’t oblivious to the vibe: “I think we’re going to make this an annual thing every year called the ‘All the Way’ festival,” Rhett Miller said from the stage, three songs in, allowing that the band would curate the event. More on that as it develops.)

The band, as loose-limbed and rowdy as always, was on hand to celebrate the impending release of its latest record, Most Messed Up.

The set list was a nice mix of fan favorites (opener Barrier Reef; Salome; W. TX Teardrops; Crash on the Barrelhead) and fresh cuts from Most Messed Up ( Wasted; the profanity-laced Nashville). Through it all, the near-capacity crowd danced and sang along, pulling beers from coolers and reveling in the music being made by Miller, Ken Bethea, Murry Hammond and Philip Peeples.

Hip-shaking and risk-taking — gleefully flinging F-bombs at Dallas’ neon-laced skyscrapers is a new look for the 97’s, but one they wear well — the Old 97’s delivered a satisfying set Saturday, marking 20 years of life as a band, and starting down the road on the next 20.

The opening acts were an ideal mix of the gritty and the sensitive, with stand-out sets from Austin’s Black Joe Lewis, whose greasy, rowdy rock, amped up by an ace horn section, proved irresistible, as well as local heroes Slobberbone (the violent guitar attacks, coupled with frontman Brent Best’s sharply etched lyrics, were mesmerizing) and rising star Madison King, ably rendering tunes from her just-released sophomore effort, Onward and Upward.

Preston Jones, 817-390-7713 Twitter: @prestonjones

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