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Blake Mills @ World Cafe Live.

October 15, 2014

BlakeMills01Text and images by Kevin Brosky.

Blake Mills could aptly be called a musician’s musician.

“I assume most of you are musicians, or else why would you be here?” Mills ventured between songs, midway through his hypnotic set last week at World Café Live.

The 28-year-old guitar prodigy might never reach the mainstream mass appeal so many musicians crave, but instead, he’s certainly got the right people on his side. Eric Clapton, for one, recently name-dropped him in a Rolling Stone article, calling Mills “the last guitarist I heard that I thought was phenomenal.”

Last month, Mills released Heigh Ho, his long-awaited follow up to 2010’s Break Mirrors, a meticulous effort which, especially after last night’s performance, feels well worth the wait.

Mills and his backing band took the stage, the guitarist seated in front of a giant board of effects pedals and launching into a dazzling slide guitar solo that bled into the new record’s opener “If I’m Unworthy,” instantly showcasing his versatile, hybrid guitar techniques.

From there, it was a quickened rendition of Break Mirrors standout “Hey Lover.” A delicate arrangement of “Three Nights in Havana” included members of orchestral opening band yMusic, whose cast of string, woodwind and brass players rotated on and off stage throughout the evening. Rob Moose, the violinist who accompanied the new album in the studio was a prominent presence on several songs.

Mills’ guitar playing ranged from blaring soloing to the most fragile of picking, often challenging the seated audience to listen more closely.

A short time later, Mills invited Fiona Apple to the stage, for whom he has served as a touring guitarist and opening act for the majority of the last two years. Apple’s vibrant vocals and glowing persona added a new spark to performance on a cover of Conway Twitty’s “It’s Only Make Believe.” “Don’t Tell Our Friends About Me” and the bluesy “Seven” followed, two Heigh Ho cuts to which she lends backing vocals.

After an intimate “It’ll All Work Out,” Mills surprised the crowd yet again, bringing Jackson Browne onstage for a gorgeous version of Browne’s classic “These Days,” met with thunderous applause.

The jarring assault of “Under the Underground” saw the band churning out the loudest music of the night, before the set closer “Women Know,” which evolved into an avant-garde, instrumental jam, had Mills at one point playing a completely unamplified slide guitar solo directly into a lowered microphone as the audience marveled in perfect silence.

A standing ovation brought Mills and his band back for an encore cover of Elvis Presley ballad “Tomorrow Night.”

It was an extremely calculated performance, yet it overflowed with spontaneity and life, and Blake Mills looked right at home.

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