Rhett Miller’s ‘Live at Largo’ bittersweet, inconsequential

Robert Starr

The Largo on Fairfax Avenue in Los Angeles was a magical place — a small hole in the wall with terrible food, no comfortable seats and filthy restrooms that somehow managed to attract impressive talent in both music and comedy. For a minimal cover charge, patrons could see performances by the likes of Elliott Smith, Andrew Bird, Nickel Creek, Zach Galifianakis or Tenacious D, among others, in an intimate 100-person theater.

But, alas, nothing lasts forever and the club recently relocated to a slightly larger venue. However, before the move, Largo regular Rhett Miller gave a few shows as a sort of farewell. Performances from these shows have been edited together into his latest release, The Interpreter: Live at Largo, in which the Old 97’s lead singer plays covers of some of his favorite songs.

Cover albums and live albums often have a feeling of laziness associated with them, as if the performer didn’t feel like writing any new material, but still wants to release a new record. Additionally, they don’t offer a whole lot for those who weren’t already fans of the artist and The Interpreter doesn’t do much to rise above the typical. Still, Miller is a heartfelt singer and these are all songs that mean something to him.

Rhett Miller offers his distinct alt-country sound to such classics as Elvis Costello’s “Brilliant Mistake,” Tom Petty’s “American Girl” and The Kinks’ “Waterloo Sunset,” which Miller describes as “only the best song ever written by a human being.” The album also features two David Bowie songs, a Bob Dylan tune and a moving performance of Elliott Smith’s “Happiness,” which is the highlight of the album.

Miller performs solo on most of the tracks, but is joined by Largo regular Jon Brion on several of them and Joey Santiago of The Pixies on a couple others and, though it lacks the exciting production of Miller’s album, The Instigator, he sounds just as good stripped down as he does with a more elaborate sonic design.

The album is bittersweet and perhaps may resonate more with those familiar with Largo than those who are just simply fans of Miller’s music. Still, it’s a minor release, though one that’s not without its charms.