Texas-based alternative country-rockers Old 97’s boldly lived up to their ample reputation as live performers in a stimulating, pop-grounded concert at the House of Blues on Thursday and proved that they’re blessed with far too many skills to be casually lumped into any one genre.
The energetic music known as “alt-country” is supposedly too honky-tonk for rockers and (heaven forbid) too rocking for country fans, but the quartet happily bridged those two not-so-distant musical worlds with a rare grasp of what makes both styles tick.
“It takes a worried man … to sing a worried song,” sang frontman Rhett Miller during the shuffling “Big Brown Eyes,” and to hear his rich, empathetic vocals (most of the songs were taken from the band’s four albums, in particular their two recent Elektra titles) was to know that this guy has done plenty of worrying.
Opening the 105-minute program with the ribald boogie stomp “Barrier Reef,” tale of one more drunken romantic affair, the Old 97’s sashayed through a pleasing program reflecting the band members’ myriad influences.
From a cover of Bill Monroe’s bluegrass gem “My Sweet Blue-Eyed Darling” to eclectic songs from their just-released album “Fight Songs” — like the punked-up rocker “Oppenheimer,” the heartbreaking but beautiful, traditional country ballad “Lonely Holiday,” and “What We Talk About,” with its pleasing harmony vocals — the 97’s passionately crafted passionately a show for all contemporary music lovers.
Exene Cervenka of X reprised her biting vocal role on the regular set-closing “Four Leaf Clover” (which she originally performed on 1997’s “Too Far to Care” album), and the show closed with a five-song encore capped triumphantly with what’s fast becoming the band’s signature live song, the propulsive “Time Bomb.”