I could write endlessly about what happened to me tonight, y’all.
And what happened to me tonight was Old 97’s at Cat’s Cradle. I might never return to the way I was yesterday. Seismic shift. Realignment of expectations. Sheer gratitude.
The Old 97’s have been around for 20 years now, since frontman Rhett Miller was 16. I only found them 6 months ago, when fellow-music-lover-Michael loaned me all his CDs. Know how music somehow appears in your life just when you need it? The Old 97’s were like that, last summer. They showed up for me right as I was getting really interested in the craft of songwriting, and what makes a great live show great, and honky tonk, and what honky tonk would sound like if it dated rock and roll, but then broke up with it and kept its favorite t-shirt, and is still secretly carrying a torch for pop music, but knows it will never really act on it.
Old 97’s have been my singing-in-the-shower music, my pick-songs-out-on-the-guitar music, my what-songs-I-would-cover-if-I-were-a-musician music, and my hey-you-have-got-to-listen-to-this music. I put them on my Life List. I bought tickets within ten seconds of hearing the news that they were coming to Cat’s Cradle. I worked myself up into a state of giddiness, and also a fair amount of anxiety that 2012 would peak on January 27, because what could top seeing the Old 97’s live?
The show was everything I wanted it to be, but better. The first opener was The O’s; those two are a powerhouse that sounded like about eight guys on stage, with a driving kickdrum beat and a slide guitar, among other things. The second opener? Rhett Miller. Solo. I entirely lost whatever dignity I ever had when he took the stage. My favorite part of his set was Niteclub, which I have been shouting in my car all week as loudly as I can sing while staying in my lane. (I recommend it after a rough day at work.) He said at one point, “Just so y’all know, when I do that song, there’s a whole band playing in my head. Actually, that happens all day long.” What a great way to live.
When the whole band came out, the crowd could not be contained. The joy was all over the place, and it got all over everyone. They’d take it up, then back down a tad, then take it a little higher, and higher, and higher. You know how it goes, when there’s live music. But this is live music that’s so passionate, so raucous, so intense that it actually shakes you inside. Parts of me were shaken by the music that were long overdue to be shaken by somebody, somewhere, and not just because I was standing next to the speaker. Every song was great, because of the maniacal energy they give it, but the standards brought the house down. They tore the roof off with “Barrier Reef,” and eased back with “Salome,” then blew it out again with “Doreen.” Michael and I looked at each other, fingers crossed, and said please please please please please. Four Leaf Clover. Nobody is leaving without hearing Four Leaf Clover. And then they plunged right into that snake-charmer voodoo beat, and all bets were off. I hope nobody has any footage of me dancing to that. It verged on primal.
They came back for an encore, and I said to my crowd, “What on earth is left? How could they top that?” And they tore off like a runaway train into “Won’t Be Home.” As in, “I was born on the – BACK SEAT of a – MUS TANG on a – COLD NIGHT in a – HARD RAIN,” and I had altogether forgotten how much I needed to hear that song, and that it’s kind of my favorite, but I was distracted by all my other favorites, and so I broke all the rules and shouted every word of that one. Just belted it, because damn, I love a song about a car. Thunder Road? Magic Carpet Ride? Yes please. Take me away. Take me away now, handsome.
And then they closed with “Time Bomb.” Hell yes.
I just did a quick count. Since I started this blog ten months ago, I have seen approximately 138 bands. I have enjoyed most of them, and really liked a lot of them, and loved a select few; this particular show, however, has Raised The Bar.
Oddly, despite the fact that the show was even better than I expected, I know my lingering worry that things would all be downhill from here this year were misplaced. That seismic shift I mentioned earlier? May be a game-changer. Not the peak of 2012 at all, but a kickoff to things that live up to expectations, and things that exceed them. Things that surprise you. I feel so moved by the music, tonight, that I am back to mulling over that “unwrap your guarded heart” resolution. I am feeling all kinds of open. Good things await. It feels like surprises are possible. Big ones.
Bring it, 2012.