Keeping true to my obsession with semi-obscure Canadian independent music, last week I was lucky enough to find myself on the guest list for one of my favorite alt-country/folk artists, Amy Millan, when she was in town at the Pike Room, a swanky dive upstairs from Pontiac’s Crofoot Ballroom.
Now, it should be said that playing in the Ballroom downstairs that night was this angry-guy band that sounds like every angry-guy band — extremely loud, obnoxious, and with a cool sounding name like Five Finger Death Punch, which was was so loud that we could both feel and hear it over our nice, intimate, folky show of about 60 attendees. Oddly enough, in my Harley Davidson jacket I could have easily slipped into the other show and not looked out of place, but any band whose name sounds more like a concoction prepared by a goth mom at a Halloween party and whose album is entitled “War is the Answer” can safely be assumed to be the very antithesis of the very Canadian, very folky music that I love and came to see.
Opening the show was an interesting fellow named Afie Jurvanen, who also goes by artist/band name Bahamas, for what reason I have no idea except to perhaps convey sheer irony in being a Finnish guy from Canada. I was pleasantly surprised, however, as he opened with a beautiful ballad called “Hockey Teeth” and instantly won me over. His drummer was missing, but his goofy demeanor and commanding stage presence made him make going solo look easy. His vocals are reminiscent of Jack Johnson but he can play a mean Stratocaster. Always one to support the opening act, I bought his CD, Pink Strat (affiliate link), and encourage you to check him out and support him, too. He’s really, really good.
The bastard child of musical Williamses
Now, onto Amy Millan. The best way for me to describe her sound is the bastard child of musical Williamses – Dar Williams, Lucinda Williams, Victoria Williams, and Hank Williams – somewhat folky, somewhat breathy, somewhat twangy, somewhat depressing, but everything she plays sounds instantly classic. She opened with a strong “Losin’ You,” the lead song off her first solo record, Honey from the Tombs (affiliate link), followed by a steel guitar-infused cover of Death Cab for Cutie’s “I Will Follow You Into the Dark.” From there she played a mix of songs old and new, this tour to promote her latest album, Masters of the Burial (affiliate link), which has a slightly sad tone but is nonetheless beautiful.
Any band who can play live with a steel guitar, an upright bass, a mandolin, a ukulele, and a trombone and make it sound AWESOME earns MAD RESPECT in my book. (The only thing that could have made it better would have been a successful accordion accompaniment, but they can’t all be like Cowboy Junkies.)
Highlights of the show had to have been a spunky version of her Rolling Stone acclaimed hit “Skinny Boy,” and a bluesey, almost-jazzy “Bruised Ghosts,” which is her first single off the new album. For her encore, she played my request of the song that made me first fall in love with her music years ago, a very country-esque “He Brings Out the Whiskey in Me,” that rings like a classic country song a lá Hank Williams or Loretta Lynn.
Having been disappointed with my new iPod Nano video’s lack of ability to record well in loud, dark spaces, I decided to try shooting some video with my BlackBerry instead, and surprisingly, the quality wasn’t too bad, save for my obviously-shaky hand. Below is my shaky capture of “Bruised Ghosts” from Amy Millan at the Pike Room, October 15: