Live: Mills-McCoin’s Rock and Roll Circus
THE ORANGE SHOW — 4/12/12: I’ve been seeing John Mills-McCoin around at Houston shows for years now. I finally introduced myself to him at Mark C. Austin‘s Houston Invasion shindig at SXSW; anyone he meets is an instant friend. There are a handful of Houstonians that I see more than anyone else at shows I attend: Mark Austin, Levi Johnson, Jay Dryden, Paul David Smolen, Jim Bricker, and Mills-McCoin. These are guys with major passion for Houston indie-rock music. There should be a wing in the as-yet nonexistent Houston Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for these people. And Mills-McCoin should go in on the first ballot.
Leading up to Saturday, I had no real expectations or knowledge of what was going to happen. I knew some bands would be playing at The Orange Show, an art museum of sorts that I’d always wanted to see. I knew that the original Rolling Stones Rock & Roll Circus was legendary and I already had the DVD to prove it. I knew that Mills-McCoin was the type of person who should be supported, and I knew I owed my wife a nice night out on the town. So we bought pre-sale tickets, had a great pre-show meal at Canopy Restaurant on Montrose, and then headed over to see the spectacle.
There was a light rain travelling through the area, despite the assurances I had gotten from “justweather.com” that there was a zero percent chance of rain. Luckily there was an umbrella in the trunk. We arrived right on time, as McCoin introduced Craig Hlavaty (day job: Houston’s most interesting Rock Writer for the Houston Press) as “the Strong Man.” It looked like Craig had taken preparation for his job seriously, because he really looked buffed for the occasion…
The show started with “Eddie Sussex” (aka Tyagaraja) and the zebra-striped, toga-clad band, The Handshake, covering “Rock and Roll” by Led Zeppelin. This is when I knew for sure that Mills-McCoin and his crew were going to present an extremely entertaining evening. Short, energetic sets with fun musical surprises like this one would prove to be the glue that held the evening together.
After “Sussex” spent himself and fell to the floor in a rock and Texas-shaped tequila bottle-fueled exhaustion, The Handshake continued with several songs of their own Strokes-like, romping rock. Their drummer handles most of the vocal work, so that always deserves extra credit. Also, during The Handshake’s set, we were entertained with two talented fire-twirling acts. I’m pretty afraid of fire, but I could definitely appreciate — from afar — that these people were good at what they do!
Following The Handshake, McCoin came into the center ring to introduce the clowns. Craig Hlvaty man-handled one of the clowns, which was funny and enjoyable entertainment for the audience while the next band got ready.
Up next was Blackie Dammett. With that name they are going to be confused with B L A C K I E, a Houston rapper who is quite different than the Cream-/Hendrix-inspired blues band that rocked the upper deck stage at The Orange Show. Blackie Dammett are part of the same collective of bands that include The Literary Greats, Don’t Poke the Bear, Finnegan, and Sara Van Buskirk. Seems like there are about 12 people total in the eight bands in that amazing collective.
At the end of their set, another musical surprise came in the form of Mills-McCoin himself singing The Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter,” with Kam Franklin ably handling the female vocals on the song. Moments like this made me wonder why Mills-McCoin isn’t fronting his own band.
Next up came the clowns doing a picket line-style protest of the Houston Noise Ordinance. I admit to having some mixed feelings about noise ordinances, as I live in a noisy area, but I definitely agree that Houston needs clear-cut guidelines for the police to be able to give a ticket. They should not be able to give out tickets without some kind of decibel reading. And $1000 is too high a fine to ask people to pay. That said, I am the first in line to tell the police to crack down on the hideous sound of boom-boom cars in my neighborhood!
Poor Pilate was up next on the side stage. I don’t know how long this band has been around, but they seem to be playing at a lot of shows that I go to. Their piano-driven, forest-y rock leans toward the sounds of Blitzen Trapper and Dr. Dog. I always enjoy photographing this band, but I’m afraid their songs haven’t driven themselves into my head enough to make me put the camera down and rock out. I guess next time I see them, I need to do that.
More silliness came up on the main stage next, with a fortune-teller while the band got ready to play. The next band was a Houston supergroup, nicknamed The Dirty Mac and Cheese. Fans of the original Rock & Roll Circus (like me) must have got a kick out of that name. Mills-McCoin took the effort to reenact the original Rolling Stones Rock & Roll Circus here, as it was one of those legendary happenings in rock when John Lennon, Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, and Mitch Mitchell (of the Jimi Hendrix Experience) got together to play “Yr Blues” under the name The Dirty Mac, in 1968.
Tonight it was Lucas Gorham of Grandfather Child, Laura and Mark Lee of Khruangbin, and John Adams, drummer of Fatal Flying Guilloteens and currently working on a new project called Hamamatsu Tom. This was indeed the highlight of the evening thus far — “Yr Blues” is one of my favorite songs. But they didn’t stop there; they also played “For the Benefit of Mr. Kite.” My wife adroitly leaned over to me and said, “I bet this song doesn’t get played live very often!”
A short intermission gave me a minute to get some (more) margaritas, visit with other show-goers, and then return to my seat for the main event, Roky Moon & BOLT. As most people know by now, RM&B have decided to call it a day. Thankfully, they are playing out their last bookings of five shows (now four). Knowing they are going away made me soak in every note, as the light rain returned to soak into their amps. I believe they were called upon by Mills-McCoin for three encores, and on this night, just like the Stones themselves, Mills-McCoin and the rest of us were able to get what we wanted. END
(Photos [l to r from top left]: Craig “The Strongman” Hlavaty & Lucas Gorham; Roky Moon; Aaron Echegaray; Jeoaf Johnson; Jeoaf Johnson & Cassie Hargrove; Roky Moon & BOLT!; John Mills-McCoin; Tyagaraja/”Eddie Sussex”; Tyagaraja; The Handshake; fire-twirler; rebellious clowns & Mills-McCoin; Laura Lee; Mills-McCoin. All photos by Jason Smith.)