Ha Ha Tonka/Chris Mills/The Grandtours; August 12, 2010; Sunset Tavern, Seattle
Ha Ha Tonka and Chris Mills on the same bill? It seemed too unbelievable and certainly too good to be true. In fact I was pretty sure I was being lured into some kind of trap, though I’m not sure exactly what kind. After all, one certainly didn’t know that I loved the other. And even though I’d seen HHT ten times already this year, I couldn’t miss them on the same bill as my favorite singer/songwriter.
Just a little over two weeks ago when I showed up in Minneapolis for their last show with Langhorne Slim, HHT’s lead singer Brian Roberts told me that I couldn’t surprise them. It didn’t take long for him to have to take that back. We weren’t more than two feet in the door when bassist Luke Long and drummer Lennon Bone rushed up demanding to know what we were doing there. I responded to that inquiry the same way every time I was asked, “Isn’t that obvious?” Mills was equally surprised. I saw him turn to Gerald as soon as he saw me and asked if he knew about this. He just grinned. He’d been sworn to secrecy after I asked him if he would be playing with children’s musician Justin Roberts who was also in the area this weekend. With Roberts and bassist Liam Davis in the audience, as well as Chris’s wife and our new friends Scott and Molly, we knew so many people it certainly didn’t feel like we were thousands of miles from home.
So was it worth it? Of course. I’d grown so accustomed to seeing HHT do opening sets that I’d forgotten what they can do with a headlining spot. “Close Every Valve to Your Bleeding Heart,” easily the best song on the record and obviously my favorite, had been dropped from recent sets (despite my very vocal protest I might add). Tonight though it was back in, and dedicated to us for traveling from so far away. I’d given Brian a list of songs they could drop from the set to make room for “Close Every Valve” on a nightly basis, but I had to take that back tonight. They can’t drop any of them, I love all those songs. They just need to play longer every time, so there. There were two more brand new songs in addition to Brett’s new one in the set tonight, and the new album looks to be shaping up quite promisingly. Whereas Novel Sounds was a slow grower, but totally worth the effort mind you, their third release should be more immediate. This was their first time headlining in Seattle and apparently the word had gotten out, there were close to a hundred people in the cozy Sunset Tavern.
The Chris and Gerald show may be one of the only band configurations that happened more than once that I haven’t seen. I’m not on his mailing list, but the e-mail he sent mentioned another musician, so it wasn’t until I got there that I found out it would just be the two of them. Gerald seemed less excited by the prospect, he hadn’t played with Chris in many months and there was at least one song he’d never heard before. That made two of us. “When We Were Young” is at least the third new song I’ve heard since the release of Living in the Aftermath, and indicates that although he doesn’t tour like he used to, at least he is still writing. The truth is, I barely see Chris at all any more. The last time had been way back in November at the Hideout for a Sally Timms birthday command performance, and before that, a June show at Schubas. Twice a year is not enough, and almost demands extreme measures like these even without the added bonus of HHT.
So I’ll admit that I was the tiniest bit disappointed with the set list. Before the show I’d asked for “Dry Eye” from The Silver Line (one of only two perfect records, Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks since you asked), but he said he couldn’t play that one. Disappointing, but I was sure he would at least play the title track, one of the top ten songs ever written, ever. Alas, I believe tonight marked the first time I didn’t see it played. Sure, that does mean I have probably seen it close to one hundred times, but refer back to earlier statement. In fact, other than set closer “Signal to Noise” from Kiss It Goodbye there was nothing older than the last two records. I love those records, the heartbreaking “In the Time of Cholera,” the smart metaphor “You Are My Favorite Song,” and the fast talking, name-dropping “Calling All Comrades,” but I really need to hear the songs that first made me fall in love with his music.
Of course it was still a great set. Gerald was flawless, or at least flawless to my ear, and Chris’s ridiculously high energy level makes him one of the most entertaining live musicians I know. Next time I guess I’ll just have to let him know I am coming.
Guess we'll have to wait till later for our second trip up
At Pike place Market
The Space Needle from the harbor
The view from the Space Needle
Ha Ha Tonka