The Band: Rhett Miller and the Serial Lady Killers. Miller has a handful of solo albums to his credit, but is best known as the lead singer of the Old 97’s, a rocking alt-country band from Texas that never quite garnered the mainstream success is deserved despite being featured in all kinds of movie and television soundtracks in the early aughties. I’d never much thought about the Old 97’s, what with them coming to the fore during my diapering and applesauce years, but I read this piece by Miller in the Atlantic Monthly last September about his experience being in NYC on 9/11 and found it incredibly moving. So it was based on his chops as an essayist rather than a songwriter that I wanted to see Miller perform.
The Venue: The Independent, San Francisco, June 19 2012. In Germany the bars and pubs have a concept called Stammtisch, which loosely translates to “regular table.” It’s the table where you and your buddies meet up, same time same place, every week for a beer and a chat; for friends that have been meeting for decades, it’s not unusual for them to have a special sign on the table to warn others away from that spot on, say, Sundays at 8 pm.
I think I have found my Stammsitz (regular seat) at the Independent – the benches on the far wall which put you about 10 feet from the stage, are near the restrooms, and have great sound. It’s exactly where I sat for Of Monsters and Men. I’m going to start needlepointing myself a plaque right after I finish this review.
The Company: My hardworking friend Kerryn who has had quite a stressful spring and needed a good night out on the town. Our families are symbiotic – her younger children need babysitters and my eldest daughter needs babysitting gigs, so anytime Kerryn and I can get a night out we have a perfect closed ecosystem.
The Crowd: If I invite you to a concert, I always pay for the tickets. But in return I ask for one thing: observations. How would you characterize the crowd? The opening act? The venue? I need your laundry list of free association adjectives, please, plus one beer.
Here’s how long it’s been since Kerryn’s seen a show: she thought the observation that “everyone is wearing plaid shirts, beards, and geek glasses” was newsworthy. I had to explain that that is now the default outfit of people under 35 and that we had to dig deeper. This is what we came up with: a wide age range extending all the way from dewy youth into the upper reaches of grandparenthood, but more than that, tall white dudes with their short white girlfriends.
The Opening Act: When I saw “The Wallflowers” on the marquee I thought surely it was advertising another night’s show. I continued to think that, as NYC-based folk rock band The Spring Standards took the stage and played a really fine set, blending vocal harmonies and an ever-changing roster of instruments.
And then who ambled onstage but Jakob Dylan and his band, to play a mix of old hits and new songs for a full hour. “We have a gig tomorrow night and needed a warm-up show,” Dylan announced, “so Rhett said we could play here.” You know, no big deal. That’s what rock stars do for each other. Because they’re givers.
Age Humiliation Factor: WhatEVER.
Yes, Kerryn is eight years younger than me. But did the bouncer have to ask her for ID, then look at me and say, “You’re over 21, aren’t you love?”
No he diin’t.
Cool Factor: High.
Anytime you pay to see two bands and get to see three, and the surprise band is a double Grammy award winner for best rock performance, you have to feel pretty good that you were in the right place at the right time. Sure beats staying home and watching Dance Moms.
Worth Hiring the Sitter? Yes, but make sure she’s allowed to work late.
As soon as Miller and the hard-rocking Serial Lady Killers hit the stage, Miller grabbed the mic and said, “We have a shit ton of music to play so we’re just gonna get started!” They proceeded to launch into one high energy, infectious alt-country-rock song after the next, all of which begged you to shake your hair to the music. Aside from the people in the first few rows, the tall dudes and their lady friends were surprisingly resistant to the beat: Kerryn’s final adjective of the night for the crowd was “stiff.”
Still, the songwriting was impeccable. So many eye-popping, memorable lyrics to ponder on the drive home.
And it must be said: Miller has the best haircut in rock, perfectly coiffed for maximum head shakage. I wanted to run out of the venue and around the corner to my hairdresser Dana’s house, so she could come check it out. I’ve seen her go into the rapture when the right person has the right haircut, and this definitely qualified.
What with the two opening bands, Miller and his crew were still going strong when we reluctantly crept out the side door at 11:30 pm. But Kerryn and I had a shit ton to do the next day and needed to get home to our respective kids. I’m consoling myself for the abbreviated concert by buying Miller’s newest album today, plus taking a deep dive in the Old 97’s archives. Then I’m going to ask Dana if she can give me a modified Rhett Miller haircut before I see my next head-shaking concert.