Posts Tagged ‘Toadies

24
Jun
12

Rhett Miller: It Started With A Cup Of Coffee

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It all started out simply and without any expectations. I had been living in Dallas Texas for a few months. I didn’t have any friends and I had recently started work for Macy’s at the Galleria. The surge in people’s interest in  and wanting quality coffee had brought about a boutique coffee shop I found right outside of Macy’s door in the mall. I’m speculating on the resurgence of coffee as a hip cultural thing to do, but I know here in LA, it had started with the Onyx and then expanded with The Pik Me Up.  The fever for a cool place to sip coffee spread across the nation and Dallas was no exception. This was some seven years from that inception in Los Angeles and Dallas was picking up on what had been thrown down. Deep Ellum had exploded with counter-culture fervor providing a crazy scene to support the lifestyle. It was easy for me to blend in because I knew the dialog and the style. I, being an original instigator and provocateur in the movement saw nothing but opportunity on that street. I simply waited for the right moment to leak into that world. Jaime, the girl who served me my morning brew was a very good-looking woman. In the morning we’d have brief exchanges. This habit had continued for a month or two before a defining moment happened. One morning I was complaining about one thing or another when you might say she said the secret password that would set her apart from the run of the mill or the blind and obedient. A word emitted from her mouth that would forever change both directions of out lives. Her response was nothing of particular import till she said the “cathartic” word. Everything stopped right there in a strange suspension, as my mind raced, as if a vast Nietzsche-ist void had appeared for a moment to be deciphered. I said, “Excuse me, what did you just say?” She repeated the statement with the “Cathartic” word in it. From that moment on there was no more polite and light conversation to bide the time to scamper away with my morning coffee. I ask her for her phone number and she wasn’t shy about sharing it. I left that morning filled with hope for a better fortune for my life in Dallas. It wasn’t long that we were out at Trees, Orbit Room (an unofficial Emo’s) or Deep Ellum Bar, maximizing the local energy, while running commentary on that scene. I offered my perspective on what was more or less a rehash of what I’d already done in San Diego and Los Angeles. Revisiting my old ideas for a new group has never stopped me from fulling exploiting an opportunity when it was presented me. So I did it with fervor! She was pretty much my guide to the cool stuff that was going off locally. We became drinking buddies. She introduced me to lots of cool and happening folks that made my life fuller, fun and engaging. Along the way she brought me to a local Pub I can’t remember now on lower Greenville where a national phenomenon was emerging. I would later find out that both of her parents belonged to Mensa. She was a smart lassie! She loved my take on things so much she’d deciphered my expressions for my non-verbal conversation. She pointed out to me one time that she knew when it was going weird by the way I raised my eye right brow. Jaime was an amazing drinking buddy and friend. On one of our forays, I think it was on a Tuesday night, with many Tuesdays to follow, there was cheap beer and cider at this lower Greenville Pub where the Rancero Brothers were the entertainment; two-thirds of the Old 97′s. Of course, the Dallas scene had the built-in infamous The Rev. Horton Heat, The Toadies, REO Speadealer or  Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys. To answer all of your questions: yes, I’ve partied with Jim. Share a beverage or two with Mike and Dave of the Speedealer (REO Speedealer). Yes, I’ve flirted with Ursula, Jimbo’s ex-wife, but I tried not too, sort of…   It was hard not to flirt with Ursula with that hair and those amazing eyes and all those bad-ass tattoos. Never met the Toadies, but I did hang with Big Sandy at a festival and for me the crown of the Dallas experience was getting to see The Old 97′s and Rachero Brothers perform on a regular basis and getting to know Rhett and Murry.

The Old 97′s Dallas popularity was startlingly evident one night when we were at a new brew pub in town. Jaime, Phil and myself were there to celebrate the Wreck Your Life release. I’ve seen a few nutty things in my life, but nothing rivals this unique sighting. We were all standing there in the parking lots after the Old 97′s played to a crowd of hundreds. The biggest showing with the largest crowd I’d ever seen them play at the time. Rhett and crew went out for a meet and greet. Soon each member was sectioned off to chatting camp of their own. Rhett was taking to one or two young ladies when the phenomenon erupted. It was a massive female vortex surrounding him. At the core were was Rhett and girls, surrounded by more women who moved in closer to be further encircled by a churning body of women who were moving in a counter-clockwise manner around them like a hurricane or a whirlpool. It was in awesome and madness of that moment was jaw dropping. We all commented on it. Nothing sense or before has matched that moment in my musical experience when it comes to personality cult of sorts. Rhett was completely obvious to the raging pheromone storm twisting about him. His inert and oblivious lack of interest while focusing on those 2 girls didn’t quell the other women’s fervor, but rather antagonized it intensifying their desires to move in. It was insane with women looking for opportunity to squeeze in, perhaps, maybe for only a brief moment to be bathed in Rhett’s gaze and to be acknowledged. We were flummoxed. It was completely stunning!

From what I remember of the time Exene was a major supporter of the Old 97′s. I couldn’t tell you how she was involved but her name came up a number of times. As time passed, the Old 97′s were on the edge of being signed to a major. They faced a choice between either Mercury or Elektra. We, Rhett, Murry and I, were on the patio of this bar when the topic turned to their signing. I was a big fan of WEA. Steve Tip was reping first IRS records. He then moved to Warner Bros. where he had become a VP of Alternative music. Steve had worked at KCR an edgy college station at SDSU I had connections to. So I had my loyalties. I believed at the time WEA had better distribution. I was pretty lit by the time this conversation opened and maybe the boys were too. I couldn’t tell because I had my beer goggles on. I was a fan and I felt it was my duty to offer them the best advice I knew of based on my experience. I have no idea how persuasive I was but The Old 97′s eventually signed with Elektra.

Time passed and I left Dallas for greener pastors, or so I hoped, back in Los Angeles. Jaime had acquired a boyfriend that wasn’t fond of me. We still communicated for a year or so after I left. My relationship with Julie soured and she disappear into Mexico, while my interest in Monique brought me back to La La Land. The 2 years I spent in Dallas were defining and life changing. I had a marvelous circle of friends and a store of fantastic stories to tell. Somewhere in 99 a brand new and shiny Old 97′s would debuted their new Elektra album Fight Songs at the Troubadour. There was no chance of me missing it! To rekindle an old relationship and see a band that had made Dallas a more exciting place to live in. The terms that were bandied about at the time to describe the Old 97′s, were Country Punk and Alternative Country. The kind of music the Old 97′s played sprung from the well-spring of song writing of old Country hero’s like Jimmie Rogers or Hank Williams Sr. Tuneful crafted songs, brilliant harmonies, story telling, brandished with compelling intimate confessionals and the immediacy of Punk Rock. The night of the Old 97′s performance at the Troubadour was loaded with anticipation for everyone involved. The crowd was dense and on tippy toes, in other words, sold out and riveted!  The Old 97′s played the standards like Doreen, Victoria and Ray Charles.  We all sang along. Every song was greeted with massive applause and cheers. It was like a Texas home-coming in Los Angeles. I was already familiar with Lonely Holiday because it had been played back in the Dallas bar days. It was quite a celebration. After the closing of the set myself and a host of others, including some new acquaintances I had met during the show. That’s how tight the sense of community was with Old 97′s fans were with one another and the band.

We headed up to the upper level over the bar at the Troubadour where everybody in the band eventually joined in. There was general merriment and gabbing. I said hi to Murry and found time to set down and chat with Rhett. Besides his talent, I found another attribute of his I loved. The guy has a great sense of humor. We were talking and he stopped in mid sentence and ask me to look over to my left side. Of course I did! Upon gazing, i saw man who was seriously drunk. There was a couple in the sofa below him watching as the man dipped towards the girl. The man was passing out standing up above the couple. His head bobbing rhymicly, going lower and lower with every dip, into the lady’s scoop neck blouse. This went on for a minute or so when I turned back to Rhett. Rhett looked right at me with a half-smile and said one of the memorable statements of my life, “That’s my boss”. We would peer back to see what was to come of this. Eventually, he passed out on the woman, boyfriend watching, in slow motion debauchery. The man ending up, head first, slumped into her breast for a moment, while finally settling into her crouch. We both laughed. As with all good thing the party ended with great hopes and the anticipation of a band poised on the stardom or so we thought.

I would run into Miriam in 1999 at the 3 of Clubs, while I was having drinks with my friends Greg and Chris near midnight on a Sunday. She had just left her job at MTV 2 and was returning to Dallas. She had told me The Deep Ellum scene had died and was merely a shadow of its former glory. I credited its end to Texas copulating, coupling and child rearing combined with the emergence of Boy Bands and the rise Hip Hop. Miriam was part of a gaggle of gals I was occasionally associated with in Dallas. She was within the circle of the Old 97′s. I guess Miriam had more brains and drive than the others. I believe that she returned to Dallas because things were changing to a point that there was a disconnect at MTV 2 and her own personal sensibilities. Seeing her that night, for the most part, ended any communication with anyone I knew in Texas, as they all disappeared. All going their separate ways. My life became more anchored with my older Los Angeles friendships and blossoming new relationships. Occasionally, I’d see an ad for the Old 97′s and would want to go. But my social life was extremely busy and my attention was nearly always diverted to other activities. I still missed the old 97′s. I missed my Dallas hangs and pals too.

My social/business calendar started including SXSW. That infusion of new social currency from Austin’s SXSW social/musical powerhouse opened the doors to reconnect to my Texas past. As I recounted a number of times in my coverage of 2012′s SXSW, I shared my love and interest in Rhett Miller and the Old 97′s on every occasion I messed one of Rhett’s performances during the festival. With that being said, I emotionally and financially obligated myself to his June show at the Troubadour. While exhaustion always accommodates my wardrobe jobs and I’m busy working now. That exhaustion tried to rally against the greater goal of seeing Rhett. I was able to make it to his Monday night performance at the Troubadour. On Monday I parked my car across the street from the Troubadour. Then after securing my photo pass at the Troubadour I parked myself at Dan Tana’s for a couple prep beers. That tied up an hour. I then headed over tot the Troubadour for the opening act Spring Standards. The band was fronted by a lovely red-headed girl named Heather Robb. Spring Standards sound was a mix of Pop and Country with a lot of focus on harmonies. They presented a compelling set where members of the band would switch out instruments. Heather was spritely in nature with voluminous hair shaking and energetic jumping around. They were a good warm up band for Rhett. I took the lazy man’s way out and settled behind the bar facing the stage to made quick friends of the bar tender who was pleasant and attentive. Rhett and crew entered the stage from my left and with a big joyful introduction slammed into the set. He and the band lit into it up with Lost Without You off his 5th solo and new CD, The Dreamer . Rhett must have gone to Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Shake it all over” school. I remember he moved around on stage but this was different. He was like Elvis on steroids as his energized fans were with him all the way. Soon he was intruding the song Murder (or a Heart Attack) that effortlessly flowed into another of his new songs, Long Long Long, that stumbled into Firefly, then to fall into Lonely Holiday. Heather Robb came in for three of the songs with supporting harmonies and equal energy. For the most part I was up and down throughout most of the set. By the time Lonely Holiday came about I was setting there soaking up the songs. It’s been some 13 years or so from the last live performance I had seen. I was totally engaged with every move and every note. I had no idea that this was coming, while listening to Lonely Holiday, I started getting misty eyed and sentimental. I’m generally not easily moved. But I guess all my sence memories came flooding back of the women in my life coupled with the years of Texas frolicking. This all mixed with the power of the lyrics ringing so true about the overly mellow dramatic elements and the dynamics of intimate relationships. Rhett had so smartly penned the song that it gotten under my skin with overwhelming and marvelous effect. The guy has amazing talent and his songs ring so true with immediate impact. I was slain right there at the bar with puffy watery eyes trying to put on a brave face. From there he played the more uplifting and naive 19. He closed the set with Four Leaf Clover. Of course, the crowd was howling for more and everyone held their place waiting for the encore. Not a single soul was disappointed when Rhett and the Serial Lady Killers positioned themselves on the stage once more. I was glad to get one last dose of fine songwriting form exemplary tune smithing. For me, the surprise of the encore was a Country/Electric Folk reinterpretation of Jimi Hendrix’s Manic Depression kept all eyes and ears focused on the stage. The generous encore was finished with Our Love. That properly finishing the night off with great music and entertainment. There wasn’t a moment that Rhett wasn’t totally on his game and equally drenched perspiration soaking through his cloths. James Brown has some competition! It proves to me after all these years Rhett hasn’t relented in the quality of his shows. The standard remains high and powered by a maturity and focus in his performance unmatched by his early days. Here’s an artist that grown to fill some big musical shoes and we’ve all benefited by that intensity and devotion. Here’s to many more years of amazing performances!

For those who missed Rhett Miller’s performance it appears that the Old 97′s just announced that they’re going to do two shows in L.A. in honor of the 15th anniversary of Too Far to Care. Aug 31st and Sept. 1st at the El Rey. The Darlins will be opening for them. I have to thank Kim for the tidy tidbit of news to kick off the fall season.




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