This is what he does: Rhett Miller, Johnny Brenda’s, February 28, 2007 Friday, March 2, 2007Posted by Clare in Clare, live music, music, objectivity is overrated.
- The only reason I took Rhett Miller’s solo debut “The Instigator” out of the library was because of the cover.
- I drove from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh and back one night to go to a Rhett Miller concert.
- I made my roommate Virginia come with me to see Rhett Miller, even though she’d never heard to any of his music.
Objectivity and the royal “we” go out the window after the jump.
Let me start by saying that yes, I am easily distracted by pretty things and yes, I might have picked up “The Instigator” based on the photo on the cover. But when I actually listened to the album, I discovered what a fantastic songwriter Rhett Miller is, to say nothing of his band the Old 97’s. Honestly, I had no idea. How can you blame me? I listen mostly to dance-punk.
Located in the Fishtown neighborhood of Philadelphia, Johnny Brenda’s is an intimate velvet-lined jewel box of a club: A 15-foot high
navy green drape wraps around two sides of the stage, and concertgoers fill the lower level so tightly they sit their empty beer cups on the edge of the stage. Upstairs, people jostle for spots along the balcony railing that overlooks the stage.
Virginia and I thought about taking a spot upstairs, but we decided it was more important to be up close and personal. VERY up close and personal. (See what I said about being objective?) The new Arcade Fire record was playing on the PA, we had Sly Fox Stouts in hand, we were psyched.
Introduced by Rhett, singer-songwriter Billy Harvey, his guitar and his effects pedals opened the show. He had a Tom Petty-with-a-sampler sound. I felt for the guy; He seemed unprepared for the vehemence with which Philadelphia concertgoers can react to you (we’re assholes, it’s true). If you open with an Elliott Smith-y sounding song, you better bring it, son. Rhett must like these acoustic-with-effects dudes, because the guy who opened for him in November had the same schtick. For the record, I liked Billy Harvey better.
We really did enjoy Billy’s set–he did a great number where he got the crowd to shout the chorus back to him, and I yanked one of his posters off the wall to add to my collection in my office–but I’m chagrined to admit that Rhett watched most of his set from the side of the stage and, well, we found that very distracting.
When we saw Rhett last November, Virginia will tell you I spent the first three songs of his set with my mouth hanging open, a stupid, blissed-out look on my face.
Well, we did the same thing Wednesday night.
Rhett played for close to 90 minutes with a slightly boozy energy and enthusiasm (he told a story about doing vocal warmups with whiskey instead of, y’know, singing). The set came mostly from his two solo albums, but I think he’ll never be able to play a show without doing “Question” or “Murder or a Heart Attack” for the rest of his career. For me, the highlight was hearing him do “Question” en Français. Le sigh.
Both times I’ve seen Rhett, he’s grown looser and more raucous as his set goes on. His performance of “Wish The Worst” was remarkably vicious, surprising from someone who seems so warm and genial. By the time he closed Wednesday’s set with “Designs On You” and “Timebomb,” he stretched his voice to its limit and he seemed almost to attack the chords on his guitar.
At left: Michaela Majoun, host of The WXPN Morning Show, rocks out, drinks local.
He came back out for an encore of “Terrible Vision,” “Murder or a Heart Attack,” and “Our Love” (cutely written on his set list as “Our [heart].” No wonder girls just love him.) Our new friends, pictured below, tried to grab Rhett’s set list, but came away with a different souvenir:
Between their cup and my bottle of water I snatched from the stage, we’ve got plenty of material to start our own Rhett Miller cloning business.
Rhett Miller at Johnny Brenda’s, February 28, 2007 [Clare's Flickr]
Number 2 is the lie. There was a lightning storm in Pittsburgh and the show was canceled while I was in the car on the way to Pittsburgh. Also, I drove back the next morning.