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This is what he does: Rhett Miller, Johnny Brenda’s, February 28, 2007 Friday, March 2, 2007

Posted by Clare in Clare, live music, music, objectivity is overrated.

Hi, I'm ridiculously good lookingLet’s play Two Truths and a Lie:

  1. The only reason I took Rhett Miller’s solo debut “The Instigator” out of the library was because of the cover.
  2. I drove from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh and back one night to go to a Rhett Miller concert.
  3. 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.

Billy HarveyThis photo brought to you by the Cobrasnake.

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.

this is what he does
Looks good even when he’s blurry.

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.

Action shot!
Observe the enthusiastic hair.

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.

Michaela rocks out

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:

Clone High, Clone Hiiiiiiigh

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.



1. Shan - Friday, March 2, 2007

This is why I rely on you to tell me what to listen to so often.

Also, thank you for identifying Michaela. Now I have a face to picture while I’m running around getting ready in the morning (read: ironing).

2. rabies - Friday, March 2, 2007

Please, with all due respect, please don’t turn the singer of my favorite band into a girlie heart throb.

3. Clare - Friday, March 2, 2007

rabies, TOO LATE! Besides, he’s married with two little kids, AND he dated Winona Ryder back in the day. Two dealbreakers right there.

4. Josh - Friday, March 2, 2007

Try out some of the early Old 97’s stuff, esp. Hitchhike to Rhome. Most of his early songwriting was lovesick bitterness. I like his solo albums for the catchy pop, but it’s definitely different. I guess your songwriting perspective changes when you marry a model.

5. rabies - Friday, March 2, 2007

I can never decide if I like “Wreck Your Life” or “Too Far To Care” more. (That’s not meant to slight anyother 97’s album)

6. Texas Gal - Friday, March 2, 2007

So, in honor of Texas Independence Day, I feel like I must post and say…. YEEHAW, Rhett! Way to represent! I must confess I’m more partial to the Old 97’s stuff over his solo work, though.

7. Yostal - Friday, March 2, 2007


I just wanted to give you props for the Rhett Miller love. Amazing stuff.

8. Savvy1007 - Tuesday, April 3, 2007

I am a rather new fan of Rhett Miller and saw him with Billy Harvey recently (and will see the Old ’97s when they play NYC later this year)!!! I am a big fan of Billy’s music as well!!!

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