Old 97's

Alive & Wired

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In his liner notes to this album, Old 97's guitarist Ken Bethea writes, "When I think of the Old 97's, the thing that makes me the most proud is that we've always been a smoking live band." Anyone who has had the pleasure of seeing the Old 97's on-stage knows that Bethea isn't just blowing his own horn when he says that, and this double-disc set offers the hard evidence to back him up. Recorded during a pair of hot and sweaty 2005 shows in the band's home state of Texas, Alive & Wired captures the raw and nervy intensity and the passionate fusion of Friday Night joy and heartbroken regret that have always marked the band's best work, and features 30 of the band's best tunes over the course of 112 rollicking minutes. The set list makes for a pretty good "Old 97's Greatest Hits" package (with some splendid rarities thrown in, most notably the superb early single "Crying Drunk"), and the straightforward, well-detailed recording and mix allows some of the tunes that suffered from the flawed production of Too Far to Care and Fight Songs to get the fair hearing they've long deserved. The Old 97's sound a wee bit loose on this set, but the band is never less than enthusiastic, with Ken Bethea's guitar barking proudly, Rhett Miller and Murray Hammond in fine voice, and Hammond and Philip Peeples holding down the backbeat with uncluttered grace. Quite simply, Alive & Wired captures a great band on a great night, and with the band seemingly in a transitional state (as Rhett Miller focuses more time on his solo career and Bethea, Hammond, and Peeples have begun performing as the West Texas Teardrops), it's a good thing that this set documents them in their pure state while that's still possible. Crack open a cold drink and turn it up -- it's the next best thing to being there.

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