Among the most reliable and, for whatever reason, relatively unheralded acts in alt-country for well over a decade, Old 97’s have finally given in to pressure from their fans to release a live album. While their studio albums positioned the band as a less obtuse, more jagged version of Wilco—complete with a foray into power-pop on 2001’s exceptional Satellite Rides—their live reputation has always maintained that Old 97’s are a frenetic, sweaty bar-rock outfit. What Alive & Wired does best is reconcile the considerable charms of the band’s studio output with the immediacy of their live shows’ energy, and the Old 97’s captured on this essential double-album is a band that lands at the midpoint between Wilco’s high-minded songcraft and the ball-busting rock swagger of Drive-By Truckers. Recorded over two nights in June 2005 at Texas’s legendary Greune Hall, the 30 performances on Alive & Wired chronicle each phase of the band’s career (except for frontman Rhett Miller’s phenomenal, unjustly slept-on 2002 pop album, The Instigator), incorporating straight-ahead rock numbers like “Wish The Worst” and “If My Heart Was A Car,” more adventurous country-infused songs like “Won’t Be Home,” and power-pop anthem “King Of All The World” into a unified rock sound that demands loud volume. The album’s lone drawback is a lack of new material—only “Iron Road” isn’t found on an earlier release—but with such killer material in the vault, it’s hard to fault Old 97’s for simply looking back on the kind of career most bands in rock, country, and pop can scarcely imagine. That Alive & Wired would serve as an ideal point-of-entry for the unconverted is just a bonus.
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