Chop Suey, 206-324-8000, $10 adv.
9 p.m. Mon., Dec. 9
AS FRONTMAN OF Dallas-based alt-country outfit the Old 97's, Rhett Miller once sang a song called "King of All the World." Chances are he wasn't fortune-telling then, but these days it sort of looks that way: Monday night he rolls into town in support of The Instigator, his sparkling solo debut—the one filled with clever little love songs that pull heartstrings in all the right ways, the one produced by L.A. studio hotshot Jon Brion, the one that features Miller's terrific haircut on its sleeve. The one that could've included the kind of song every girlfriend hopes to have written about her.
"Not long after I met Erica, who's now my wife, I wrote a song for her which was a rewrite of 'America the Beautiful' called 'Erica the Beautiful,'" Miller says. "Jon and I had done a few sessions together where we would go in and record one song in one day, just kind of for fun. So he called and said he had a free day, and we went in and cut that song, and I burned a CD and FedExed it to Erica, and she got it the next morning."
Miller, it seems, is just that kind of guy. The Instigator, like the couple 97's records leading up to it, tightens up the slack-jawed roots-rock Miller and the band made for Chicago cowpunk indie Bloodshot in the mid-'90s till it crackles like a West Coast Elvis Costello, a manly Aimee Mann, or an aw-shucks Matthew Sweet. His songwriting balances nervous-heart anxiety with dispassionate analysis ("World Inside the World" namechecks Don DeLillo), and Brion, whom Miller met while making the 97's' 1999 effort Fight Songs, gives his tunes the sonic detailing many in the new school of male singer/songwriters overlook. It's one of those records that set a modest goal—setting a life to music, or a year in a life—and achieves it precisely. For Miller, that's plenty.
"I went and did Carson Daly's show," he explains, "and when he was introducing me before the deal, hearing him say 'Rhett Miller' after all those years of being a member of a team, it was very weird. But I'm very excited, and I'm very proud of the record—I was in the studio for every second of the recording of this album, and it's something that I've been working toward my whole life." He laughs a little kingly laugh. "And I get to bring Erica with me on tour."