By Leslie Witt

The Old 97’s roared into Lincoln Hall with a blast of Texas heat on an already steamy Chicago evening to kick off a two-night stand. They rocked and romped their way through a high-energy set that celebrated their Texas country punk roots, their tight Chicago connections and their latest album, The Grand Theater Volume Two.

Right off the bat, bass player Murry Hammond incited the crowd to warrant a city noise violation. The 97’s were off and running like a herd of horses with rough and tumble songs like “A State of Texas” and crowd-pleasers like “Champaign, Illinois.” The 97’s hit their stride with “I’m a Trainwreck,” from the new album, fueled by Ken Bethea’s driving, streamlined lead guitar work.

Frontman Rhett Miller mentioned recording “right here in Lincoln Park,” referring to the band’s work with Chicago’s Bloodshot Records label. From the Wreck Your Life era, the set included songs like “Victoria,” “Big Brown Eyes” and “Doreen.”

Miller brought it all back home again in a solo, acoustic encore with his song “The El.” Love found and lost, Chicago-style. It was like a mini-concert within the concert hearing the songwriter alone on stage, heart on his sleeve.

His other choice was a cover the Pixie’s “Wave of Mutilation,” which he called the greatest ever written.

The band ended the night just the way it started, in high gear and high volume, with “Timebomb.” Concertgoers were fortunate to experience such intensity within the cool, comfortable surroundings of Lincoln Hall.


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