With the Strokes, Hives, Vines, White Stripes and Interpol gaining fans with their reworking of late ’70s/early ’80s punk rock styles, the time seems ripe for someone to excavate the effervescent power pop of that era. At the Troubadour Tuesday night, Rhett Miller took up that gauntlet. The erstwhile leader of the alt-country band Old 97s (the band is officially “on hiatus”) celebrated the release of his solo debut “The Instigator” (Elektra) with a meteoric thrill ride of a show.
The album, smartly produced by Jon Brion, streamlines Miller’s scruffy songwriting, but live, the music recalled the urgent, bouncy jangle of vintage Elvis Costello, the Smithereens and the Del-Lords. Mixing most of the new album with a handful of Old 97s tunes, Miller performed his hourlong set at a breakneck pace. His lanky, puppyish exuberance was a perfect match for the romantic rush that energizes tunes such as “Point Shirley,” “Four-Eyed Girl” and “The El.”
A short acoustic interlude that included the Old 97s’ “Question,” gave everyone a breather, but Miller, who had a shy grin on his face the entire evening, really didn’t need the rest, as he brought the band back for an unplanned second encore. The only thing that stopped him, Miller joked, was that the band had run out of rehearsed material.
While there’s barely a dime’s worth of difference between his old and current bands (the Old 97s were moving in a poppier direction on “Satellite Rides”), Miller is obviously having a grand old time on his own. With good timing, his tousled good looks and breezy charm, Miller just may gain the success critics have predicted for him.