Last night I had the pleasure of seeing Miles Nielsen for the third time in as many years. The first time I heard his music was a show at Double Door headlined by Ike Reilly. Miles was playing with his rock and roll band and every song was a pleasant surprise. The second time I saw him was an all acoustic set at Uncommon Ground, and this time the songs took on a whole new feeling. Instead of feeling the groove and letting the words wash over me, I was able to focus on every line coming out of his mouth.
The City Winery set was also all acoustic, but the evening had more of a VH1 Storyteller’s vibe. In between every song Miles would chat a bit with the audience about his songwriting, and I was blown away by how similar it felt to one of Jeff Tweedy’s solo shows. The two have a common self-deprecating sense of humor and they can both quickly articulate their thoughts as opposed to some who tend to ramble on with stories that go nowhere.
He played a couple new songs that he has written for the upcoming record, and they were both really solid. “Honeybee” in particular is one to watch for in the coming months. It was the stronger of the two, and also made me think about his songwriting in a different way. I’d never noticed what a great ear he has for pop music, even though what he plays is closer to country/folk.
I’d liken him to Doug Hopkins, the guy who wrote all the great Gin Blossoms songs before they kicked him out of the band. Something about the flow of the words Nielsen sings makes me think of Hopkins. It’s probably crazy, but that’s how the brain works sometimes.
Miles did play my two favorite songs from his catalogue during the set. He was joined by violinist Kristina Priceman for both. You may know her from Mike Mangione & The Union or her guest work with The Future Laureates or anyone else around the Chicago/Milwaukee area in need of a string player. No one at City Winery had their phone out to record the song and put it on Youtube, so here’s a clip of “Tokyo” from a month ago featuring the full Rusted Hearts crew (the introduction of the song is pretty close to the one we got).
My favorite bit of banter was when he described the writing process for “Dear Kentucky (You’re Killing Me).” It’s about bourbon and cigarettes and how quickly we can fall victim to our vices, but the funny part was the original lyrical content having to do with his allergy to cats. You’ll have to go see him live to get the whole story, but it is hilarious.
I’ve long enjoyed the Rockford, IL native’s work and last night just cemented his spot on my list of great local talent. After hearing the little bit of new material he played I can’t wait to hear the new record he’s working on right now. Until then, you can enjoy his readily available material which you can find on Miles Nielsen’s website.