Blake Mills is an interesting cat. He’s got a real laid back vibe, kind of a Laurel Canyon singer/songwriter-y thing. It lulls you into a false sense of calm, because out of nowhere he comes at you with these ferocious guitar riffs. He’s a bit hard to describe if you haven’t seen him live. He plays the songs that you know from the records, but they’re completely different-somehow more intimate and urgent, like he’s confiding something in you that’s eating him up inside.
This tour he’s currently doing is really cool. All small, seated venues that creates even more intimacy. Last night I caught him at Mayne Stage on the far north side of Chicago. First time at that concert space, and I was blown away by just how cozy it is. For a guy who toured with Fiona Apple on her last tour and played places that can hold thousands, this was a big change of pace. He seems to like it that way, though, as he remained seated all night as well.
The tickets say An Evening With Blake Mills, so the assumption that there would not be an opener was right on. Still, the concert started after a delay of about 20 minutes. Blake came out with his band and launched into a set that covered not just his new record Heigh Ho almost entirely, but also some Break Mirrors tracks and a couple covers.
One of the great things about Mills is his encyclopedic knowledge of all genres of music. The covers that he plays are great on their own, but the way takes the spirit of the original and adds his own spin is a thing of beauty. His version of the Joe Tex’s soul stunner “I’ll Never Do You Wrong” came just three songs into the set, and I honestly would’ve been happy with an all covers set after that.
After three more brilliant tracks (2 from Heigh Ho, 1 from Break Mirrors), Mills brought out his special guest, Fiona Apple. She’s been coming out at every show so far this tour, so it wasn’t a shocking surprise, but a welcome addition to the show. What WAS surprising is the fact that their first song together was a cover of Conway Twitty’s “It’s Only Make Believe” in which Apple completely blew the roof off the place. I’ve only seen her live one time, but I’ve never seen her sing like that. Joplin-like, honestly. I’ve always wanted her to do a more bluesy record, and based on this performance I’m hoping for that even more now.
They also performed “Don’t Tell Our Friends About Me” and “Seven,” which were both lovely. Apple left to great applause, and Mills and his band carried on without her for the rest of the show. As great as Apple’s appearance was, the fifteen minute jam that closed the main set stole the show in my mind. It started off as the Break Mirrors track “Women Know,” and quickly evolved into an epic virtuoso guitar performance that left many slack-jawed and shaking their heads in disbelief (maybe it was just me). You can click here for a quick little taste.
After receiving a standing ovation, the band came back out and did a great version of Lonnie Johnson’s tune “Tomorrow Night.” And that song ended one of the best shows I’ve seen in a while. If you’re in the northeast you have a few chances to catch him before this tour ends. He’s hitting Cambridge, Brooklyn, DC, Philly, and NYC over the next couple weeks. Find tickets here and go if you can!
- If I’m Unworthy
- Hey Lover
- I’ll Never Do You Wrong (Joe Tex cover)
- Cry to Laugh
- It’ll All Work Out
- Three Weeks In Havana
- Gold Coast Sinkin
- It’s Only Make Believe (Conway Twitty cover with Fiona Apple)
- Don’t Tell Our Friends About Me (Fiona Apple)
- Seven (Fiona Apple)
- Half Asleep
- Under the Underground
- Before It Fell
- Women Know
— Encore —
- Tomorrow Night
You can find more pictures from the show here.