If memory serves, I'd been to a “charmless corporate 'arts center'” just weeks before this, for a Richard Thompson show, and I was still cranky about it.
In a world where the mediocre and unsubtle often fill stadiums and charmless corporate "arts centers," it's a joy to see a musician fairly busting out of his venue.
"Don't be afraid! Come closer!" urged Chris Mills at the tiny Black Cat Backstage on Wednesday to the couple dozen people scattered through the room. Then he and his band, the New Miserable Bastards, rattled the listeners' limbs into dancing -- not merely with deafening power chords but also with enthralling power-pop.
The ax-wielding Mills, drummer Jay Dodds and bassist Steve Poulton could have time-traveled from the era of Stiff Records. "Escape From New York" bopped along like some lost collaboration between Elvis Costello and the Ramones. Between the brash strums and drum rolls were lyrics with meaning. Often it was hard to distinguish more than references to drunkenness and violence -- echoed in the occasional diminished chord or tattoo on a snare -- but the arrogantly titled "Chris Mills Is Living the Dream" revealed itself as a meditation on fame: After dreaming about being "Richard Pryor running on fire down the Sunset Strip," he questioned what it was like "to be burned by something you love so much."
After a new song with the mesmerizing lines "Tell my eyes I will miss them/Tell my hands I forgive them. . . . My heart is coming with me," Mills called out, "Can everyone hear?" Oh, yes indeed, and they might well have heard -- and enjoyed -- out on 14th Street as well.
-- Pamela Murray Winters
Washington Post, Friday, December 2, 2005; Page C08