The Mekons/Chris Mills; October 6, 2011; Iota, Arlington VA
When I told Chris Mills after the show that his set had been a-maz-ing, he told me he’d “been working on his singing.” Maybe it was because I hadn’t seen him in awhile, but he may be right, I honestly don’t think I’ve ever heard him sound better. The next night he was opening for the Mekons back in Brooklyn, and he thought I should be there for the full band show, but I can’t imagine it could be better than this one. He’s just released a career retrospective called Heavy Years that he promoted with a tour earlier this year, his first real tour in years. He jokes that it’s a reference to his weight, but the title track is one of two terrific new songs on the compilation that make it worth owning even for, especially for, completists like me. During the tour and tonight, he used that CD as a set list. It makes for a good overview of his last four records, but it also misses some of what I consider to be the high points.
I’m not the only one. Someone up front asked for “The Silver Line,” he agreed to play it, but confessed that he might screw it up. He did, but it still sounded great. After all, it’s hard to ruin one of the ten greatest songs ever written. No lie, someday I will make that list. Earlier in the night I had played him the ring tone I made for my iPhone- that song’s breathtaking opening. Having “The Silver Line” play every time I get a call was reason enough for a new phone. On the mornings when I use it as my alarm I’m happy all day. There were other great songs in the set, the heartbreakingly hopeful “In the Time of Cholera,” based on the Gabriel Garcia Marques novel, and lighthearted extended metaphor “You Are My Favorite Song.” Apparently the latter traced one of its lines, “were you born on a barroom napkin,” back to the Mekons somehow. The set ended with “Signal to Noise,” a dark horse from Kiss It Goodbye, and his perennial favorite closer.
With all my (strictly amateur) experience, I had volunteered to do merch for the Mekons that night. I figured I’d sell a few CDs, watch the show and then sell a few more. That was not the case; I was nearly constantly busy from the moment Sally Timms set me up behind the table till the last patron left the bar. I sold piles of CDs and all their signed posters and had a really great time; unfortunately I didn’t get to see much of the show. I could still hear it, and the light-hearted banter that zinged between the band’s eight members may have been the highlight. Oh, whoops, no, the highlight was the return of Langford’s shiny suit that he had worn at the block party. “Wow,” a girl next to my gasped as he walked by, “I am so glad I got to see that.”