Rhett Miller doesn't look like a guy you'd go to for relationship advice. His lanky, gee-whiz aura exudes innocence of those matters. But when he started singing and talking at Largo on Saturday, it was clear he has a good deal of experience.
Still, Miller--taking a break from fronting alt-country band Old 97s for a solo acoustic gig--didn't seem like a great candidate to provide counsel and comfort. Love, to him, is something fated to turn sour, if it even gets started in the first place. It was a bit disconcerting--Jack Armstrong channeling Elvis Costello, or a Gen-X Loudon Wainwright III.
If you'd walked in during his seasonal side trip to "Holly Jolly Christmas," you could easily have taken it for unfettered good cheer. But when he followed it with his own "Lonely Holiday," his Noel spirit was as spiked as high-octane eggnog.
He has the goods to make this work, though. He's a gifted phrase-turner and image-conjurer and a disarmingly chatty host, qualities that came to the fore in this setting, stripped of the electric roots-rock of his band. And the casual format was perfect for introducing new songs, with melancholy "Goodbye From a Nervous Guy" and "Bird in a Cage" standing out.
If he got long-winded in an extended encore of cover tunes (the Kinks' "Animal Farm," Costello's "Beyond Belief") with Largo fixture Jon Brion guesting on keyboards, well, he's just a boyish man too needy to let his fans go home.