BY TIM HINELY
While I love the Old 97’s and have seen them many a time over the years I have not been able to connect with leader Rhett Miller’s solo records nearly as much. I had always passed on seeing him live when he has been solo and I think that might have been a mistake. On this cool December evening (Dec. 13, at Denver’s Soiled Dove) Miller pulled out all the stops and proved to be the consummate showman. Even more impressive when you consider one story he told of being in Seattle a few nights prior and a doctor telling him he has tonsillitis (“So if my voice cracks don’t laugh too much” and also, to the doctor “Hey doc, will I be able to sing tonight to which the doctor replied, “I don’t know, could you sing before?”).
Armed with only an acoustic guitar he started off with “Lost Without You” and then ripped right into “Won’t Be Home” (off of 2004’s Drag It Up) and then into “Champaign, Illinois” (Miller told the story about, since the song is a rewrite of Bob Dylan’s “Desolation Row”, asking Dylan’s manager if he could record the song, he sent it over, the manager replied that, “Yeah, Bob likes it and said you can keep half the publishing!”).
Before kicking into another song, “The Other Show”, the one the Old 97’s did with Waylon Jennings, he told a great story of Waylon trying to say the lyrics (that Rhett had written) elixir but Waylon kept saying excelsior. Finally Miller told Waylon to say it as “Annie licks her” to which Waylon heartily approved (Waylon to Rhett: “You’re sick boy, I like you”).
Miller didn’t stop there, he pulled more out of his seemingly endless bag of tricks. He kicked into “Singular Girl,” “Barrier Reef,”” “Four Leaf Clover,” “19,” “”Nightclub”, “Big Brown Eyes,” “Rollerskate Skinny, “Doreen” and plenty more.
He didn’t disappoint with the cover songs either tearing out Wilco & Billy Bragg’s “California Stars” and the Magnetic Field’s “Born on a Train.” For an encore he did “Holly Jolly Christmas” (after a rant about lame Christmas music being carted out this time of year) and ended it with a “Jagged” (off of 1999’s Fight Songs) which was a request from my friend Sarah. Wow, what a night. To me a set like this further solidifies Rhett Miller being a national treasure. Rhett rules (side note: Miller promised another Old 97’s record and tour in the spring)!