Recap: Old 97’s w/s/g John Hollier at Empire Underground – 9/30/23 By: Ed Conway
Written by Staff on October 7, 2023
How to finish off September? How about a show in downtown Albany at the Empire Live? When we arrived at the show, we were told it was in the downstairs venue aka Empire Underground. Having never been there before, a quick set of directions and we were on our way. As the evening progressed toward show time, the intimate venue began filling until it was pretty close to capacity, even before the warm up act, John Hollier (pronounced in the Louisiana style as Ho Yay) took the stage. It was wonderful to see such an enthusiastic crowd for an opener as frequently, they play to a near empty house. The audience was rewarded by a lively, hard driving and tight 5 piece band, including some wailing sax as they bounced around the stage for their last night on the tour.
After that rousing start, it was clear it would be a fantastic night. A busy change over later, guitar tech, Jason Garner was motioned over to the side of the stage to “shield” bassist Murray Hammond and lead guitarist Ken Bethea as they snuck across the stage to the green room to a round of applause (I guess it didn’t work). A few minutes later the Old 97’s took the stage, for the final night of their 30th Anniversary tour. The shoulder-to-shoulder crowd erupted as the band broke into “Niteclub.” Lead singer and rhythm guitarist, Rhett Miller, was in fine voice throughout the night as he ran through the band’s catalog, stopping here and there to tell a little bit about some of the songs, such as “Champaign, Illinois,” a song with words written by Miller, but based on the melody of Bob Dylan’s “Desolation Row.” It wasn’t recorded until the band got Dylan’s permission, by the way. While Miller did the heavy lifting on vocals, a couple of tunes featured Hammond stepping up to the mic, including “W. Tx. Teardrops” and “Can’t Get A Line.” Throughout the night, drummer Philip Peebles quietly kept up a solid driving beat, but had his moment in the spotlight as “Four Leaf Clover” began with a drum solo. Most of the show featured Old 97’s standards with a spot on version of REM’s “Driver 8,” with Garner stepping out from his busy night of guitar duties to add harmonies on this rare cover.
From the very first song by Hollier through the last song of Old 97’s encore (“Timebomb”) the audience was a constant mass of dancing. Since labeling music isn’t always doing justice to the type of music played, as bands fluidly move from genre to genre, I’ll just describe the entire night by what the 97’s call it, “Loud Folk.” It was our first time seeing both bands live, and hopefully, it won’t be the last time they pull through Albany, NY.