Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Matt Oliver, Mastering by Sam Patlove
Couldn't tell you how many bottles of cheap, red wine I've killed in the courtyard in front of Big Orange studio, down there in one of our great country's great cities of Austin, Texas. It's as if the atmosphere begs for it. It's as if not doing that would be a sad middle finger to letting the good times roll. Even more to this end, right across the street and off to the west about 50 feet is one, if not THE oldest known bar in the city and, while the Scoot Inn (formerly Red's Scoot Inn) has built a rather nice outdoor stage and fancied up the grounds a bit over the last five years, walk through the doors and into the barroom and you'll be whisked away to a drinking parlor for the ages. There's a floor that might as well be one made out of dirt, a small stage in the corner and a tiny bar from which to accept your poisons over. Sure, there are skee-ball machines in the other corner, but they aren't all that damaging to this vision. What we're trying to say is that where this Old 97's session was taped is conducive to small fires and shooting the shit around them. It's inviting to any and all of those who would like to get piss drunk and have themselves a forgettable night. And this session, by a group that cut its teeth in this very city, feels as if it couldn't have been cut anywhere else, for you've heard the Old 97's and Rhett Miller sound polished and cool. You've heard them sound pristine and we encouraged them to untuck their shirts, throw some boots on, muss up their hair and bust out some songs from their newest album - "The Grand Theatre, Vol. 1" - in saloon-style. It's as if they were thrown into a barn - or a bar with a dirt floor and few comforts of the bars all us wieners get spoiled with these days, and asked to show us what they've got. Here, as they are, the band is tremendous and it sounds young and scrappy, giving these new songs of varying degrees of road weariness and silvery, slippery spontaneous combustion, all of the punch and dirtiness that seems as if it were originally written into the scenes.
A song like "Champaign, Illinois," one that does not paint such a flattering picture of the population of one of our fine college towns here in the Land of Lincoln, is a great demonstration of Miller writing people as a novelist would, taking us into their living rooms, rummaging their liquor cabinets, their books and photo albums before sitting down for an all night bull session at the kitchen table, or the Midwestern boardroom. He sings of these people, with what could be taken as disdain or as frankness as it seems to heed affirmation from both sides of the coin as he appears to know these people very well and if he knows them like he does, they could very well be close to him. He sings, "Oh, then if you die fearin' God/And painfully employed/No, you will not go to heaven/You'll go to Champaign, Illinois/Up north in Chicago/Where booze makes no one blush/Memories come back to you in a double Bourbon rush/Memories that aren't all bad/And neither, my friend, are you/There is an argument there must be some heaven meant/For hearts that are half true/If you spend your whole life rolling horses into Troy/No, you will not go to heaven/You'll go to Champaign, Illinois." While he damns the thought of an eternity living in Champaign, it could just be the damning of any life that doesn't keep moving, that just remains in one place, for these songs play like those of a rambling heart and soul, coming from those who find that time's best when it's rolling and better when it's blurry.
Old 97's Official Site