Last Night: The Old 97's at House of Blues
Too Far to Care is an album about growing up the hard way but having a lot of fun while you do it. It was made by a band who thought the world was about to be at their feet, that they were about to break through to the big time. Showbiz!
That isn't quite what happened. The Old 97's never became true rock stars, maybe, but instead grew into something even more important in this age of downsizing and diminishing returns: Tradesmen.
Released in 1997, about five years before tumbleweeds started blowing through mom-and-pop music stores and something called "file-sharing" was suddenly all the rage, Too Far has aged in subtle ways. Today it's almost shocking how often singer Rhett Miller mentions the telephone.
Not smartphone, telephone. "If that phone don't ring one more time, I'm gonna lose what's left of my mind," he sings on "Big Brown Eyes." Didn't they have voicemail back then? Or how about, in the same song, "I'm calling time and temperature just for some company." Say what?
That's at 713-630-0222 in Houston, although I had to Google it to make sure it still exists.
But most of Too Far's ideas never get old. The album is littered with lines where the singer, most often Rhett Miller, is hoping he can cash the checks his mouth is writing. In the song of the same name, a key line on the album is "the streets of where I'm from are paved with hearts instead of gold" - part brag, part lament. A band that could write lyrics like that is obviously onto something.
Another is "what's so great about the Barrier Reef?" in, well, "Barrier Reef." It's just the kind of line some guy in his early twenties, cocky but secretly a little insecure, might try out on a girl he just met after the show.
But you can feel Miller growing up as the record plays on, when he sings "I'm tired of making friends, I'm tired of making time" in the dejected "Salome." The only thing around to soothe him are bassist Murry Hammond's ooh-ooh-ooh backing vocals... and they work.
Too Far closes with "Four Leaf Clover," where drummer Phillip Peeples nicks the jungle rhythm of the Reverend Horton Heat's "The Devil's Chasing Me" and Miller acknowledges it's probably time to move on. And that's exactly what they did.