Formed in Dallas in 1993, the alt-country act Old 97s combines the heart-tugging wordplay of Townes van Zandt with the attack of The Clash. After a couple of indie releases in the mid-90s, the group were the beneficiaries of a bidding war, signing with Elektra Records. Their major-label debut, 1997′s Too Far to Care, remains their best and best-loved album. Despite retaining a substantial following — their show at the 9:30 Club tonight is sold out — the group never reached the level of stardom their big label demanded. Since 2004, they’ve been recording for the New West label.
Their current tour supports a 15th anniversary reissue of Too Far to Care, which they’re playing in its entirety in sequence, along with a selection of other songs. I spoke with singer-songwriter Rhett Miller (whose career as a solo artist runs parallel to that of his band) by phone about the quest for perfect setlist, the excesses of major label recording contracts and the perils of singing songs you wrote at 25 when you’re 42.