The Old 97’s And The New Bohemians Teamed Up For A Powerhouse All-Dallas Bill At The Bomb Factory On Saturday Night, Then Kept The Party Going After.
Overlapping generations of Dallas music fans filled Deep Ellum’s The Bomb Factory on Saturday night as two iconic Dallas bands — the legendary New Bohemians and evergreen alt-country favorites the Old 97’s — joined up to share a bill together for the first time in… well, at least a decade or two.
But this show was interesting beyond the fact that it took two of Dallas music’s biggest draws of the last three decades and put them on the same stage. It was interesting, too, because of the minor differences between the bands and their constituencies, which may only be separated by an average of 5 to 10 years in age, but often felt worlds apart on this night.
In other words, it was a pairing that felt better on paper than in reality. Throughout the night, New Bohemians fans could be overheard asking about which Old 97’s songs they might be have heard before, as Old 97’s fans did their best to keep their selfie-infused greetings to a dull roar as the New Bohemians played their compact, relaxed set and quick encore.
The 97’s for their part, seem stoked about sharing this bill with the New Bohemians, none more so than frontman Rhett Miller, who recounted during his band’s set having shared a stage residency with the New Bohemians as a young high school performer in the ’80s. Earlier in the night, the 97’s and their large entourage of friends and family were right up by the stage, watching Edie Brickell and the boys perform the songs that helped put Deep Ellum on the map in the late ’80s. And the New Bohemians, to their credit, seemed as giddily grateful as the ’97’s were to have them there.
Still, for all the appeal of a throwback pairing such as this one, this Bomb Factory show ultimately belonged to the 97’s, who predictably owned the room as soon as they stepped out on stage. Between Miller’s resting-blue-steel-face good looks, bassist Murry Hammond’s irresistible folksiness, lead guitarist Ken Bethea’s drop-tuned peripateticism and drummer Philip Peeples’ outright cheeriness, alt-country music fans are fairly powerless against the charms of their tunes, which sound somehow like a worn denim jacket that looks to most of the world like it belongs to Robert Earl Keen but has a silk lining made of Robyn Hitchcock, stitching made of Bowie and hands full of old Billy Bragg and Buzzcocks candy lingering in the pockets. Even the younger audience members dragged out by their cool uncles and aunts to this show seemed pleased by the 97’s performance, surely thinking to themselves that these guys were pretty cool for old dudes.
As for The New Bohemians, well, that band had already high-tailed it out of the venue and over to Oak Cliff’s Kessler Theater by the time the 97’s were just a few songs into their performance, setting things up for a late-night after-party to take place there that would be set in their more current iteration as the improvisational jam band Heavy Makeup. And while many of the oldsters in the audience made their way home from Deep Ellum after the show initial show, grateful that the thing was over at a half-way respectable hour and that they wouldn’t have to worry about sending the babysitter home at 2 a.m., plenty of them also made their way over to the Kessler for that offering from Heavy Makeup, which is comprised variously of the New Bohemians as well as guests like Kenny Withrow’s prodigal young guitar protege Hunter Hendrickson, and the legendary Bubba Hernandez of Brave Combo.
Like any improvisational show, it’s hard to maintain a consistent energy between songs and over the course of a whole set, but as Heavy Makeup, these folks were clearly doing what they wanted to be doing, and enjoying it even more than they did their Bomb Factory set. Their raw talent and relaxed confidence made up for any brief lulls, and it felt like a rare treasure to hear Edie’s stream-of-consciousness happening between songs as well as during them.
After some of Brickell’s observations broke the Kessler’s listening room out into good-natured giggles, Withrow couldn’t hold his tongue.
“Now you know what rehearsals are like,” he said.
I’m pretty sure now we know a bit more about how their beautiful and nearly nonsensical 1988 hit “What I Am” was crafted, too.