It was hard not to feel like an outsider as I took my seat atop a barstool at the French Broad Brewery. As the pre-show banter between the audience and band indicated, I was a stranger amongst friends. Family members dominated the makeup of the dozen attending and I felt a bit out of place, too serious – an SLR amongst point-and-shoots. Any nervous feelings proved to be short-lived when Millie Palmer's expressive croon lit up the humble P.A. system and the Sirs took their cues.
It was a home-cooked indie rock feast. Familiar textures and a dash of soul made this stranger feel right at home. Ballads on love, fear and religion all carried a sense of nostalgia thanks to Palmer’s gorgeous borderline-Southern voice. When Palmer did a Neil Young cover solo, it was comfort food. Simply-strummed chords matched for Palmer’s well-projected singing voice, as it wrung out on “Four Dead in Ohio.”
A fearless sense of the casual seems to envelop Millie and the Sirs. The show had its share of rough spots, but each misstep was met with such confidence that no one seemed to notice. Missed notes were met with a laugh and tuning problems with shrugs. The lack of pressure to perform made for a relaxed evening
The din of a brewery paired with a single loudspeaker isn’t typically the ideal setting for a show but, for Millie and the Sirs, it worked to their advantage. The venue favored the piezoelectric pickups installed on Palmer’s Guild F48, which dampened the higher pitches and imposed a warmer tone. The band was almost engineered for this type of setting: the blues-rock bridge on “Revived” sounded perfect. Bassist Will Beasley nailed the bass groove as each verse teased the audience until the instrumental.
Armed with a Squire jazz bass and a Behringer amp, the biggest surprise of Millie and the Sirs is Beasley. It’s easy to overlook the group as just another bar-rock trio among the myriad, but Beasley’s bass playing is good enough to distinguish them. There were no flamboyant bass solos Thursday night, just subtle hints that Beasley knows how to interface with a songwriter like Palmer. His tasteful two-finger picking style provided the foundation that Palmer’s chords needed while still adding flare to the low end.
The slight intimidation I felt as an outsider had long since subsided by the time Palmer’s father introduced himself to me. Millie and the Sirs are refreshing with their sense of welcome, and by the end of the show, I felt like I was part of the family.
Millie and the Sirs perform Thursday, July 29 at Westville Pub. Find more show dates at myspace.com/millie.