Chris Mills/Jon Langford & Skull Orchard/Adam Fitz; December 3, 2010; The Hideout, Chicago
The last time I saw Chris Mills I was surprised how few of his older songs were in the set. Exactly one. And it wasn’t even the exquisite “Silver Line” or my personal favorite “Dry Eye.” Still, I was happy just to be seeing him for the first time in 2010, especially since it was on a bill with Ha Ha Tonka, and in Seattle, which still seems too perfect to believe. Without a new record, tour dates have been sporadic at best, but it seems you can rely on there being at least one show a year in Chicago, which he called home for many years. Unlike Seattle, this time he knew I was coming and promised to play my favorite song. Not only did he play it, but it was the only dedication of the night. Aw, so sweet. It wasn’t even the oldest song in the set. The propulsive fan favorite “All You Ever Do” from Kiss It Goodbye also made the cut. It had been a long time since I’d heard the dark “Diamond” live, and that was certainly a highlight. See, it only takes a couple of the old songs to make me happy, and enjoy the newer classics like “You Are My Favorite Song” and brand new “When We Were Young” even more. If he seemed a little less physical than usual I attribute it to being out of practice.
The other highlight was the band. I’ve seen Mills play with just about every configuration imaginable, having finally checked off the Chris and Gerald show in August, but this may be my favorite line-up. The key of course is the remarkable rhythm section. I’ve seen other drummers play with Chris, but to me they are all “Not Gerald.” Gerald Dowd is simply the best drummer I know. I’ve seen him play with everything from jazz to old time country to children’s music, and he can do it all. Being Robbie Fulks’ drummer means he often has to do it all in one set. Bass player Ryan Hembrey has likely played more shows with Chris than anyone else, and he specializes in being quietly awesome. The last time I saw the always exciting cellist extraordinaire Fred Lonberg-Holm he had a close cropped hair, so I barely recognized the mop-topped mod sitting in his spot. Apparently he used to have an impressive beard too. After seeing him earlier this year Chris decided to grow a beard for tonight’s show so that they would be an all-beard band. However Fred showed up tonight clean-shaven, much to Chris’s chagrin. Dave-Max Crawford didn’t disappoint with his trumpet and keyboard work, not to mention his Colonel Sanders facial hair. Oh well, four out of five ain’t bad.
Chris opened a string of dates for Jon Langford on the East coast during which Langford volunteered to play a short set tonight, to “make it more special.” Retelling the tale tonight, he insisted that when he asked Chris how many songs to play he told him not to play any. He did play just a short set, only a handful of songs most accompanied by only by handsome guitarist Jim Elkington and vocalist Tawny Newsome, who provides some of Old Devils best backing vocals, though Hembrey did join him for part of the set. Chris met opener Adam Fitz when they played the World’s Largest Block Party together this summer. I had to miss the event, which was more disappointing when I thought it was called the World’s Largest CLOCK party (Chris’s typos are always entertaining), so not only did I miss Fitz, but also headliners Spoon. Fitz had an energy which could only be described as Joe Cocker-ish, the music and the voice instantly recalled the British singer. It took a little bit to get used to, but I’ve no doubt if I saw him again I would like it more. After all, they can’t all be love at first listen like it was with Mills.
Jon Langford & Skull Orchard