Chris Mills - Fred's Six Feet Under - St. Louis, MO - 12/04/2010 [Live Review]
Although there was no doorman and I did not have to provide a password to gain entry, Fred Friction's Six Feet Under is part speakeasy and part hanging out with your friends in an old basement with no authority figures to ruin your fun. Shortly after my arrival and pleasantries exchanged with Chris Mills and old friends, Mr. Friction became taskmaster and forced Mills to start his show for our host (complete with beer bottle cap necklace) was due at Off Broadway for the Uncle Tupelo tribute show happening the same evening.
With no new release since Living In The Aftermath (Ernest Jenning Record Co., 2008), the Brooklyn based Mills stuck to a rough outline of a set list while taking requests and heckles from the audience - mostly via our host Friction himself. Demonstrating his self-deprecating humor, Mills strummed and joked his way through a 90 minute, nineteen song set. Wielding only a Guild acoustic guitar, capo, strong voice and a Pabst Blue Ribbon for good measure, the set included his variety of witty, upbeat Pop/Rock songs and achingly beautiful ballads full of pain, melancholy and sorrow.
Playing his first St. Louis date in four years in front of a roaring television simulated fireplace, Mills seemed relaxed, comfortable and in good spirits while stripping his songs bare with just his voice and acoustic guitar. With only his voice, he improvised subtle nuances by adding horn parts and melodies that richly enhanced his last two records. Lacking the sheer power of the full band, Mills voice bore much of the responsibility for conveying the melody, vibe, and laid bare feelings that many of his songs possess. For his effort, the audience - mostly full of childhood friends, parents and friends - thanked Mills for his work with strong applause and appreciation.
The solo performance, however, enhanced subtleties of the artist that are often lost in the setting of a full band performance. Between songs he told stories of his day job instructing children in music education and taking trips to Europe to teach Norwegian children about American protest music. In the future if Norway goes to war with Sweden or Finland we'll know who to blame. Next, Mills told the story of time he was back in the area working at St. Louis based Imo's Pizza and folding pizza boxes when a co-worker asked him what he was up to and Mills recounted how he was back living with his parents and working this job contemplating his next move. The co-worker replied, "You must be living the dream" and the basis of a new song was born as he launched into "Chris Mills Is Living The Dream." From there Mills jumped back in time nearly a decade and a half to tell the story of his now younger 22-year-old self writing the song "Fresh Young Mouth" after his attraction to a much older bartender went unrequited. Later, he received big laughs recounting the tale of receiving word last year from a television writer only days before air that his song, "Such A Beautiful Thing", was featured in an episode of the CBS drama Criminal Minds titled "Cradle To The Grave." Mills excitement ended shortly after asking his wife to spread the word to family and friends only to find out that the episode dealt with a crazed maniac who kidnapped women and forcing them to have sex and children with him killing all in the end. Finally, during the middle of "You Are My Favorite Song", he treated the crowd to a short tale of how one of Mills' successful songwriting friends had advised that the tempo change to a waltz in the middle of the song matching the lyric did not work. Mills reply was that he was leaving the song as written because he felt, "his audience was smart enough to catch the reference."
While the majority of his performance highlighted material from the last two albums, the set list featured songs from each of his full length albums and even included a few new songs. The choice of songs represented his career well, and seemed àpropos, when near the end Mills told the gathering he will be touring to promote a ten-year retrospective next year and plans a St. Louis date. Here's hoping that the budget will allow for a full band tear-the-roof-off performance and some more new material to showcase along some old favorites.
A Farewell To Arms
In The Time Of Cholera
The Silver Line
Chris Mills Is Living The Dream
Escape from New York
Fresh Young Mouth
Brand New Day
- When We Were Young
- Try Not To Die
- Last Days
Such A Beautiful Thing
You Are My Favorite Song
Calling All Comrades
Included below are a few performances to give you an idea of his music and the night. Enjoy!
Check out My Space to listen to songs from Living In The Aftermath