It had been a long and overworked week where time was always fleeting. Never had enough time in the numerous days prior to get everything wrapped up in time before retiring for the evening. The 9pm start time had me dragging a bit after a grueling week but the live music reprieve that awaited was enough to rally me back up and out the door.
Driving down 94 the setting sun had a faint orange glow as it drifted towards the horizon. The wildfires in the north still left a haze in the skies over the Twin Cities but sans the charred wood aroma. To me, driving westward from Saint Paul into the setting sun felt apropos for a night of music that conjures up images of cowboy hats and boot stomping rhythms with a side of twang. The posh vibe of Icehouse in Minneapolis was not where one would normally expect to be headed for this sort of evening. At first glance, the dichotomy is apparent. Alas, knowing that Icehouse is a wonderful spot for live music and frequently hosts a wide array of music meant that did not deter in the end. Besides, that whole vibe shifted and the tone was quickly set as I walked in with a Sturgil Simpson’s cover of Nirvana’s “In Bloom” filling the room.
The stage at Icehouse was packed full of instruments which had me thrilled to catch John R. Miller with a full band. My first indulgence with his music came as the live music world began to reawaken after the stages were left bare and silent in darkened rooms due to the pandemic. As he opened for Sierra Ferrell back in November of 2021 I was instantly drawn to his songwriting and guitar work that had me eagerly waiting to catch his return.
Before Miller and company performed, Todd Day Wait treated us to a number of cleverly crafted songs. The Missourian waded through the narrow path between all the gear and took center stage. The crowd in attendance was respectfully quiet at first and a bit too quiet at that. Wait reminded everyone this is a bar after all.
Wait stood solo adorned with a worn and well loved Gibson acoustic guitar. The guitar’s soundboard was dented with pick marks, some dug deep into the wood grain while some spots wore those grooves smooth again. Those in attendance increasingly began to share their adoration and approval as Wait continued on with his opening set. All throughout his performance the repetitive clickity clack of his boot tapping on the floor guided his pace as he played out each song. In those down moments in between songs he reached down to snag a cup of tea off his small vintage amp to have a sip before sharing remarks on the songs he was presenting.
As the crowd grew into the set that Wait had curated, the cheers and appreciation grew as well. Couples began to dance together and shouts of approval grew more frequent and louder. Reaching one of the peaks during a cover song which had a couple brief yodeling sections.
Wait is a wonderful storyteller whether that be through his lyrics or in between songs. He has a new album coming out so be on the lookout for that release in the future.pre-order which will be released on October 6th which his second release with Rounder Records. It didn’t take long for him to unveil the new material. With his second song of the evening I was reveling in the epic instrumentation of it. “Insomnia Blues” completely blew me away and left me awestruck and longing for a repeat hearing. These moments were akin to how I felt the first time I heard him play “Faustina” but this was on a grander scale since there was a full band fleshing out the soundscape. As I quickly drifted off to the music my gaze fell upon the Faustina artwork that covered the kick drum. A fond recollection from a memory during the last time I saw him. This brought on a great sense of anticipation for the new album as I’m eager to add this song to a list of favorites first discovered through a live rendition.
The textures that drummer John Clay added while keeping the beat was superb. The dynamics he played with by keeping the percussion tones low and subtle to driving thuds really adds a wider array of qualities to the rhythm section. That is something I greatly appreciate and always admire when watching drummers perform live and then recollect back on when enjoying the recordings. William Matheny was right there with Clay in lockstep filling out the low end tones. Long time collaborator, Chloe Edmonstone, not only adds depth with vocal harmonies but also has a timbre that compliments Miller’s voice. Edmonstone doesn’t stop there as she really knows how to make a fiddle sing. Multi-instrumentalist, Tom Hnatow brings so much to these songs when performed on stage like the shimmering sounds while donning a mandolin to the rich soundscapes and impressive leads he created with the electric guitar was astounding. Those slow warm swells and smooth glissando from the pedal steel guitar will get me every time and is great to feature in these live sets. The amalgamation of all these amazing musicians bringing out the best in their gear makes for a lush environment for Miller’s songs to shine.
Overall Miller presented five new songs which drives the yearning to hear them again as well as the rest of them as a cohesive album. Another one that stood out was “Conspiracies, Cults & UFOs” which had a fast and anxious pace with an ominous monotone vocal delivery hovering above it. October can’t come soon enough so get out and catch these live before the album comes out. Should those cards be not in your favor you can revel in the lead single, Nobody Has To Know Your Mind.
The crowd was not yet sated and collectively pleaded for one more song. Miller obliged and they all returned for one last song. With that they played Red Eyes to close out the evening. The final passage in that song struck a chord with me and was a perfect way to end the show. Miller sang out “I’m drinking motor oil and cursing at the setting sun. Hoping I find better soil before my day of work is done”. While lately I’ve been frustrated with the days closing out before I was able to be through with them but the place I arrived at in south Minneapolis was indeed a better place to close out the week.