Live Review: Rhett Miller at Mercy Lounge

If anyone deserves an award for juggling two careers, it’s Rhett Miller.

When he’s not busy touring with his alt-country outfit Old 97’s, Rhett Miller spends his downtime promoting and recording for his solo act. In the gaps where many would normally stop for a breath, Miller is out playing shows all over the States. Last night, he made his way to Nashville and performed at Mercy Lounge, an upstairs bar/venue nestled in the southern section of downtown.

Although normally backed either by Old 97’s or his solo band, The Serial Lady Killers, we got to see Miller in a completely vulnerable state: alone on stage equipped with nothing more than an acoustic guitar. As part of a small strand of dates prior to rejoining his Lady Killers, Miller has taken to the road all by his lonesome, fueled by the support of fans and his apparent passion for performing.

Prior to the show, I would have told you exactly what I was expecting: a toned-down alt-country crooner belting out a handful of hits and calling it a night. I was quickly surprised, however, when Miller took to the stage with heavy-hitting and blisteringly fast guitar work, punching out the hard-edged lyrics of Old 97’s’ “504.” From that point on, my predictions for the night were shattered, leaving me to watch a high-spirited artist without any preconceived disposition.

His energy was infectious, even pulling stereotypical rockstar moves that shouldn’t have worked, but they totally did. Whether he was headbanging to the slowest of slow jams or paying homage to Pete Townshend’s windmill method of picking, Miller was able to secure the audience’s attention regardless of what he was doing. During “Like Love,” in an effort to clear the stage-turned-dance-floor, he even punted a guitar stand, but quickly apologized for the violent action. His personality filled the open room, and his musicianship did an equally good job of blanketing the fact that there was no one else on stage helping him.

During the songs we were greeted by a tour de force; the in-betweens felt like conversation with an old friend. The only difference between Miller and your friends, however, is that your buddies don’t have stories about hanging with legends such as Waylon Jennings and Pixies’ Frank Black. Regardless, his personable nature and concern for everyone having a good time (the second half of the set was all audience requests) created a newfound intimacy in the already cozy venue.

The setlist ranged from Old 97’s hits to new tracks off The Dreamer, which comes out June 5th. Over the 90-minute set, the audience went from somberly sitting in chairs to wildly dancing and singing along to hits such as “Fireflies” and “Come Around.” Miller didn’t lose the crowd’s attention for a second, which was made obvious by the building roar of applause with each passing song.

Whether he’s playing with a full band or alone, Rhett Miller is a poster child for artists who give their all every night. From charismatic monologues to makeshift dance moves, the show was energetic, intimate and, most importantly, entertaining.

Champagne, Illinois
The El
Like Love
Barrier Reef
Lost Without You
Singular Girl
Four-Eyed Girl
Over the Cliff
World Inside the World
Designs on You
The Other Shoe
Come Around
Out of Love
Four Leaf Clover
Our Love

Big Brown Eyes
Time Bomb

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