Time & Location
Jan 26, 2024, 7:00 PM – 10:30 PM
Memphis, 3210 Old Hernando Rd, Memphis, TN 38116, USA
About the event
Friday January 26th, 2023 7PM DOORS / 8PM SHOW $27 ADV / $30 DOS Parker Millsap
The fifth album fromOklahoma-bred singer/songwriter Parker Millsap, Be Here Instead emergedfrom a wild alchemy of instinct, ingenuity, and joyfully determinedrule-breaking. In a departure from the guitar-and-notebook-based approach tosongwriting that shaped his earlier work, the Nashville-based artist followedhis curiosity to countless other modes of expression, experimenting witheverything from piano to effects pedals to old-school drum machines (afascination partly inspired by the early-’70s innovations of Sly Stone and J.J.Cale). As those explorations deepened and broadened his musical vision, Millsapsoon arrived at a body of work touched with both unbridled imagination andlucid insight into the search for presence in a chaotic world.
Produced by JohnAgnello (Kurt Vile, Sonic Youth, Waxahatchee) and mainly recorded live with Millsap’sfull band, Be Here Instead marks a stylistic shift from the gritty andhigh-energy folk of his previous output, including 2018’s acclaimed OtherArrangements and 2016’s The Very Last Day (an Americana MusicAssociation Awards nominee for Album of the Year). With its adventurous yetimmaculately detailed sonic palette, the album warps genres to glorious effect,at one point offering up what Millsap aptly refers to as a “disco-Americanashowtune.” In another creative breakthrough, Be Here Instead forgoes thecharacter-driven storytelling of his past in favor of a more introspective andendlessly revelatory form of lyricism, an element he traces back to the charmednature of his songwriting process. “Because the lyrics were appearing seeminglyout of nowhere and with no prior intent, some of them started to feel liketransmissions from my subconscious, rather than the preconceived linear storiesor waking thoughts of my earlier songs,” says Millsap. “They feel like words Ineeded to hear from myself, and not just things I wanted to say to someoneelse.”
On “The Real Thing”—theluminous lead single to Be Here Instead—Millsap presents a brilliantintroduction to the album’s kaleidoscopic sound, merging the song’s cascadingguitar lines and potent grooves with a tender statement of devotion (e.g., “Ibeen through your roses, honey/I don’t mind the thorns”). Sparked from anexperiment in open tuning and featuring guest vocals from Erin Rae, the trackgracefully transforms a moment of private longing into a bit of prescientcommentary. “I wrote ‘The Real Thing’ when I was touring and missing my wife,and hating how being on FaceTime doesn’t feel anything like being in the sameroom,” says Millsap. “But then as 2020 happened, the lyrics grew new teeth—nowit’s much more of a reflection of how hard it is to experience any spontaneousinteraction when everything happens on livestreams and Zoom.”
In its candidmeditation on the intricacies of connection, Be Here Instead alsodelivers standouts like “Vulnerable,”a lushly textured piece of psychedelic soul threaded with elegantly simplewisdom. “I wrote that one when I was newly married,” says Millsap. “Somethingabout standing in front of a room of people and saying ‘This is the one’ gaveeverything an extra weight, and made me think about how I’m still learning toopenly communicate what I’m feeling. Because if you hold back instead of justbeing honest, eventually it’s going to come out in some other way. So the bestpractice is just to be vulnerable—it’s never really worth it to try to betough.”
Another trackdemonstrating the sheer power of Millsap’s artistic impulse, “Dammit” began asa complex and slow-paced ballad, then evolved into a kinetic two-chord anthem(thanks in part to a failed attempt at creating a U2-like number, as perAgnello’s suggestion). One of the album’s most majestic moments, “Dammit” unfoldsas an unlikely epic that perfectly captures the nuances of existentialfrustration (“It’s hard to be a dancer, baby, when you’re living in your head”)while working up a furious momentum that’s nothing less than exhilarating.
Although Be HereInstead often finds Millsap wandering into new terrain, the album remainsfirmly grounded in the sophisticated musicianship he began honing as a kidgrowing up in the small town of Purcell. Raised on Texas singer/songwriterslike Townes Van Zandt, he started writing songs on acoustic guitar in his earlyteens, then made his debut at the age of 19 with the 2012 album Palisade. With his self-titled sophomore effortarriving in 2014, Millsap released both The Very Last Day and OtherArrangements to widespread praise, with famed rock critic Ann Powers dubbinghim a “star in the making” and Rolling Stone stating that the latter album “mingle[s]the sacred and profane to rollicking effect.” Through the years, he’s also madehis name as a captivating live act, opening for the likes of Jason Isbell,Patty Griffin, and Lucinda Williams and taking the stage at major festivalslike Bonnaroo, Austin City Limits, and Newport Folk Fest. And in a particularlymemorable turn of events, Millsap joined singer/songwriter Sarah Jarosz for a2016 show in Atlanta and drew raves from none other than Sir Elton John, whohailed the performance as “one of the best concerts I have ever seen” and notedthat the night “restored my faith in music.”
In looking back on themaking of Be Here Instead, Millsap points out that his recently discoveredlove of painting also informed the free-flowing creativity he brought to thealbum. “My wife’s grandfather was an artist who did watercolor paintings, and afew years ago I decided I wanted to try it,” he says. “I very quickly found outthat watercolors are really hard to work with: you have to embrace yourmistakes, and then let them guide you along. It’s made me think about how whenyou mess up, you’re basically revealing your humanity, which is what music’sall about. When I listen to records, I love when Ray Charles’s voice cracks, orwhen you hear the squeaking of the kick-drum pedal on a Led Zeppelin song.Anything that shows the living, breathing quality of the whole thing—that’salways wonderful. That’s what we’re here for. So don’t be afraid to let ithappen.”
Robert Ellis Recorded live to tape in just two days, Robert Ellis’s exquisite new album, Yesterday’s News, is as stripped-down as it gets, with the celebrated songwriter and producer’s delicate, reedy tenor accompanied only by nylon string guitar, upright bass, and the occasional piece of handheld percussion. The arrangements are harmonically sophisticated here, drawing on the open tunings and intricate fingerpicking of English songwriters like Nick Drake or Richard Thompson, and Ellis’s performances are similarly subtle and nuanced, tapping into the bittersweet longing of Chet Baker and the playful poignancy of Bill Evans and Jim Hall. While that might seem surprising coming off 2019’s raucous Texas Piano Man, subverting expectations is nothing new for Ellis. Born and raised outside Houston, he gained early acclaim for his piercing introspection and absorbing narratives, but over the course of five solo albums, he flirted with everything from Paul Simon and John Prine to Elton John and Joni Mitchell in a series of sonic and visual transformations that ran the gamut from Redneck Steely Dan to Lone Star Liberace. NPR hailed his “musical daring and impeccable songcraft,” while Rolling Stone praised his “sharp eye for storytelling,” and the New York Times lauded his writing as an emotional “gut punch.” Yesterday’s News marks Ellis’s debut LP for Niles City Records, an outgrowth of the famed Niles City Sound studio he and longtime collaborator Josh Block run in Fort Worth, TX.