Chris Mills Review – Backstage Room at the Black Cat, 11/30/05

Live Review >>

Chris Mills photo
Chris Mills

Chris Mills is really psyched to see you. A lot of musicians might proclaim this when onstage (���Thank you Cleveland! Goodnight!���), but Mills seems like he really means it, as though he hand-wrote and mailed invitations to everyone standing in the Backstage room at the Black Cat. He comes across like the perfect host, smiling as if it���s his birthday but you���re the one who���s about to get the present: a powerful, deeply personal performance laced with sounds of folk, classic rock, even a hint of big band ��� all wrapped up with a big, alt-country/pop bow.

A longtime fav among the Chicago indie rock scene, Mills (who now calls Brookyln home) has been wrapping up a stateside tour in support of his October 2005 release, Wall to Wall Sessions (Powerless Pop). One of his last 2005 appearances included a recent stop in D.C., with Mills providing the first act for an evening that also included the performance of locally based Justin Jones (an extremely talented musician in his own right also deserving of much wider recognition).

A little background about Wall to Wall Sessions: the recording involved the backing of a 17-piece ���indie rock orchestra��� including Dave Max Crawford (The Sea and Cake), Wilco cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm, Susan Voelz (Giant Sand, Poi Dog Pondering), as well as guest vocalist Nora O���Connor (who has also performed with The New Pornographers and Andrew Bird). The grand approach to this collection is supported by a sound that is both staggering yet surprisingly intimate. This could likely be the result of a more organic recording processing, including very minimal rehearsal time with all of the songs recorded in five takes or less over a two-and-a-half day period ��� sans overdubs, including the vocal tracks.

In person, the songs from Wall to Wall Sessions (along with selections from previous CDs) were accompanied only by a drummer and guitarist, resulting in even more of a ���Chris Mills Unplugged��� experience. Make no mistake, though ��� Mills never unplugs from the alt-country/rock energy in songs like ���Escape from New York,��� or the raw emotion delivered by his voice during ���In the Time of Cholera.��� Mills��� sound might draw comparisons to the Whiskeytown-era of Ryan Adams, fellow Midwest native Sufjan Stevens, or even a touch of Paul Westerberg. But his polished lyrics ��� at times as humorous as they are heartbreaking ��� coupled with his talent for seamlessly weaving one song into the next makes him a front-runner for pole position among the indie rock race.

Though the 2005 tour has wrapped, dates for 2006 are in the works. When he makes his next pass through town, run ��� do not walk ��� toward any opportunity to see Mills up close and personal while you still have the chance.