When the Old 97’s came to town in October, the alt-country pioneers were celebrating the 15th anniversary of their album “Too Far to Care.” They returned Sunday night on a tour that marks another milestone: the band’s 20th year of existence.
That’s no small feat (even if frontman Rhett Miller mentioned it almost incidentally), especially considering that all four original members are still on board. You might not guess they’ve been at it for that long, though, judging by Miller’s appearance. He looked for all the world like a fresh-faced college kid — and, for the ladies at least, as dreamy as ever, judging by the undergarments that landed onstage, prompting Miller to thank the audience for supporting the band’s favorite charity, the Salvation Army.
Age may be creeping in elsewhere: Bassist Murry Hammond’s moptop is showing some gray, and Philip Peeples is starting to approximate a cross between Tom Bosley and Bun E. Carlos behind his kit. No matter; while on record their ingredients have always been jet-fueled twang and melodic pop, Sunday’s show was another testament to the fact that live, the Old 97’s rock, led by Ken Bethea's muscular, multifaceted guitar work and by Miller’s singing, wailing, and crooning, still for the most part about girls — what he wishes he could do with them, what he’s done to them, and what they’ve done to him.
During a set that sampled every one of their studio albums, the band’s trademark, seemingly endless variations on a shuffle beat assumed a breakneck form (“Won’t Be Home,” “Doreen”) went mid-tempo (“Victoria,” “Brown Haired Daughter”), and even got a bit Latin-tinged (“Dance With Me”). That was followed by an encore that went in a different direction, first with Miller playing solo acoustic, and then with the explosive start-and-stop dynamics of “Every Night Is Friday Night (Without You)” and the early Stones vibe of “The Easy Way.”
Local band Glenn Yoder & the Western States (Yoder works for Boston.com) opened with a brief but bracing set of their own alt-country tinged music.Stuart Munro can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.