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IT’S MILLER’S TIME

Rhett Miller/Riverside Garden Park, Red Bank, N.J./Aug. 4, 2006

When one thinks of summertime, the thoughts and imagery of vacations come to mind. In the rock music community, a vacation may encompass a musician leaving his or her usual backing band and forming a touring band to perform solo material.

But there are other times when an artist just has to bask in his or her own solitude. That was the case on this particular summer night for Rhett Miller as he continues his touring apart from

The Old 97’s and in support of his most recent solo effort, The Believer (Verve Forecast).

From the very start, Miller was his usual charming self. He mentioned on several occasions how beautiful the evening was and seemed to revel in the setting of the sun and the positioning of the moon during different parts of the night. It was hard to disagree with his assessment, given the intense heat that covered the Northeast in the days prior to the show and how those conditions could have dampered on the festivities.

The song selection also was a key factor in the mood of the show. Miller kicked off with an Old 97’s two-fer of “Melt Show” and “Designs on You.” He would go on to alternate between the Old 97’s catalogue and his solo efforts quite frequently, with a nice sprinkling of cover material thrown in for extra kick.

Of the tunes Miller covered, his version of Elvis Presley‘s “Can’t Help Falling in Love” was the strongest and best received by the audience. Miller’s lack of instrumentation stripped away the original’s pomp and drama, and in doing so he replaced it with a simplicity that shows off the song’s melody.

At times, it was obvious that Miller is used to playing with a full band because his stage motions never changed. This isn’t a bad thing because his passion for strumming and head-thrashing never changes as well, and it was crystal clear on “The New Kid,” from the last Old 97’s studio release, 2004’s Drag It Up. Miller banged out rhythm guitar parts and served notice to the crowd that despite the scenery, this was still a rock show.

But there was a time or two that another guitar player could have really saved a song. This was the case with “Rollerskate Skinny,” as the vital accompanying riff was missing and therefore derailed the pace of the song.

Miller’s ballads had the women in attendance both young and old swooning, most notably during “Question.” The song had the added treat of an extra verse that Miller sang in French.

With the set winding down, Miller turned up the rock-star gauge once more for “Murder (or a Heart Attack),” an Old 97’s song about a cat that escaped from his apartment a number of years back. This was a fitting tune to play given the amount of families in attendance, among them his wife and two children, who were in town for the show and then off for a family vacation.

— By Mike Madden