Friday, April 25, 2008

Chris Mills & the New Miserable Bastards/Anders Parker; April 25, 2008; Kiki’s House of Righteous Music

If the Classic Tawnies are Madison’s most cancelled band, then I am definitely the most cancelled promoter. A week before the Chris Mills/Anders Parker show that I had set up at the Regent Street Retreat management there decided that show couldn’t happen. The reasons were fuzzy at best, but at least I had a back-up location. I immediately moved it to the house where most people thought it should have been all along. It was a tough night to be putting on a show- I was up against two Kids in the Hall reunion shows at the Barrymore and sentimental favorites Splitlip Rayfield at the High Noon. Even so, a fairly decent crowd showed up to see two of the best songwriters I know.

It had been nearly three years since Chris Mills released “The Wall to Wall Sessions,” a record recorded in three marathon sessions over a snowy weekend at Chicago’s Wall to Wall studios, and I was starting to wonder if a new record was ever coming out. “Living in the Aftermath” with its vibrant comic book art was released the Tuesday before the show, but I was lucky enough to get a copy well in advance. Old favorites like “Atom Smashers” and “Calling All Comrades” were included as well as terrific new songs like the deceptively simple sounding “Such a Beautiful Thing” and the hopeful title song. Recorded under only slightly more leisurely conditions, the record still includes the strings and horns of its predecessor while rocking a little harder.

After playing in excess of a hundred shows promoting the last record Chris decided to only do minimal touring for the new record which boiled down to five shows in the UK, Raleigh, NYC, Chicago, and this show. Yeah, I felt pretty special. Adding to that feeling was the fact that David Nagler came from New York with Chris to play this pair of shows in the Midwest. Nagler is the genius behind all the string and horn arrangements on this record and the last, and I had seen him play keyboards with Chris at two shows in New York. Filling out the band was Jason Toth (from the Zincs) on drums and, of course, Ryan Hembrey on bass. They’d probably only had one rehearsal, but you never would have guessed. As opposed to his last basement show, a more subdued sit-down unplugged show, this one was all about the rock consistently energetic and engaging. Sure, there was a twinge of disappointment that Gerald wasn’t there, but Jason played his part well. Even Anders was impressed, the next morning he told Jason that he had a “sort of a Levon Helm thing going on.” His smile couldn’t have been bigger.

With a crowd possibly three times the size of the night before and every one of them paying rapt attention, Anders expanded his too-short set from the night before. He also had more to say, much of it about his drive from Iowa City to Madison. Whereas we had just headed straight back, getting back before noon, he took a more leisurely approach. That almost backfired on him. The weather which had been dark and stormy for our trip turned weird later that day, and he talked about racing a tornado along the highway (though that might have been a tall tale). The last time he had been in town he told Michelle that she had to e-mail him her requests so that he could play them the next time. Of course she was too chicken to do so and he forgot to ask the night before, so he spent the time leading up to the show in the bedroom relearning “Fast and True,” a song he said he never felt sounded right without a band. Like everything in his set, it was absolutely lovely, a perfect beginning to a great night.

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