I admit it was hard not to feel like an outsider as I took my seat atop a barstool inside the French Broad Brewery: As pre-show banter between the audience and band would indicate, I had arrived as 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 provided the audience with a plate of comfort food. Simply-strummed chords were no match for Palmer’s well-projected singing voice wowed 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 noticed. 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 aural 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 by dampening the higher pitches and imposing a warmer tone. The band was almost engineered for this type of setting: the blues-rock bridge on “Revived” must have been written on the very stage they performed on, because it sounded perfect. Bassist Will Beasley nailed the bass groove as each verse teased the audience while they waited for the instrumental.
Armed with a humble 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 amongst the myriad, but Beasley’s bass playing is good enough to define them. There were no flamboyant bass solos Thursday night, but instead 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 here. (Photo by Joseph Chapman.)