October 18th, 2010
Loopster Live: The Old 97’s at Cactus Music
If I learn nothing else from this Loop Scoop gig, at least I will know how easy it is to crash events. “I’m with the Loop Scoop?” in a timid, sing-song tone has yet to yield anything but welcoming gestures, braceletted wrists, or black-exed hands. Either the power of the press extends even into the blogosphere, or this confirms my developing theory that Texans are actually friendlier than East Coast southerners. However, that theory is yet to be tested outside the loop.
Within the city’s highway halo, this afternoon’s assignment presents a much anticipated, long overdue chance to play music groupie. Cactus Records is hosting one of my all-time favorite bands, the Old 97’s, for a record release, pre-concert party. Though the Continental Club sold out before I scored a ticket (yet another thwarted attempt to experience the famous venue…) Cactus afforded me the opportunity to see this long time favorite in a more intimate, though less acoustically rich setting.
As I enter the shop band members Murry Hammond and Ken Bethea walk out. I half recognize Murry by his spectacles, but I’ve never seen the Old 97’s live before, and admittedly I haven’t spent a lot of time studying the inside of their album covers recently. After fact-checking, I spend a few moments regretting the missed opportunity to squawk “You have been my favorite band for YEARS!”. The rest of the release party results in similar failed attempts for major groupie moments.
Never shy around a keg, I beeline for the table of freshly poured Saint Arnold’s where I proudly brandish a newly minted Texas ID. With icy beverage in hand I browse the shop’s music selection and keep a look out for the Loop Scoop’s fearless photographer. Frankly I’m thankful that I am no longer trusted to take my own photos. If I don’t forget about them altogether, the results greatly lack aesthetic appeal.
By the time Rhett Miller begins to wail, “Every night is Friday night without you.” I’ve found the fearless photographer. Luckily we’re positioned somewhere I’m not tempted to buy anything—in the J section between “Jack Johnson” and “Jonas Brothers”. We are also roughly the greatest possible distance from the stage, and I miss a second opportunity to go groupie wild by clamoring my way to the front. During a break mid-set Rhett asks the crowd to request old songs. This is the perfect chance to showcase my extensive knowledge of the Old 97’s back catalogue and hear one of my all time favorites… if only I could bring myself to call out in a loud voice. Missed go-go groupie opportunity no. 3—check.
I tell myself it’s okay; I have the ultimate groupie move waiting literally in my back pocket: The band’s pop-star front man, Rhett—he gets this designation for sporting Justin Bieber hair) – did two solo projects (The Instigator and a self-titled album). For years I was stumped by his lyric “I read it in DeLillo like he’d written it to me,” off Instigator, until my uneducated ass went to College and discovered the wonders of postmodernism and Don DeLillo. As it happens I have two DeLillo novels on me and can get Rhett to sign one after the show.
After performing an obligatory rendition of their most popular tune, “Question”, the band returns to new material with “Livin’ in the State of Texas” a dischordant ode to their home state. I savor the tribute to my adoptive home and know the tune will be filed in my music collection as a lifelong souvenir from my stint in Houston.
Sadly, things wrap up sooner than I want them to (the guys have another show to play tonight after all), so I fumble to finish my beer and locate a copy of the new album. Meanwhile a huge line forms to meet the band, and I choose food with the alliterative f’s over a 30-minute wait. Failed groupie attempt no. 4.
My struggle is that groupies are not subtle, and they are not shy. They are shameless enthusiasts. And while they often get a bad wrap for desperation, emulation, and fixation, they deserve some credit. I may be too proud to “ooh” and “ahh”, but I am just as enchanted by bands whose ideas and sounds color my world. Did I really need to leave Cactus with a signed copy of DeLillo’s novel? No. Would it have made me a more interesting person? Certainly not. But would hearing “King of All the World” live have been significantly cooler than just buying the new album on my way out? Definitely.