by Kate Conner-Ruben
"We call this set of jigs 'The Jigs,' " quips Tyler Duncan of Millish, before launching into yet another cluster of impossibly rich and complex tunes. This blend of the matter-of-fact and the pyrotechnic delightfully informs an evening spent with this local band.
Millish has been playing for just two years, mining a vein of Irish music, melting it down, and adding cultures with the zeal of a slightly deranged chef somehow, in these musicians' capable hands, a classic Irish jig gets paired with the music of Scotland, Brittany, Bulgaria, and Spain, as well as jazz and good old American rock 'n' roll. Purists, please stay home with your record collections; cultural amalgamation is a hard job, but someone's got to do it.
I first saw the band the winter before last at Conor O'Neill's pub on Main Street. A recent ice storm kept percussionist Glenn Bering from attending, but the remaining three Duncan (on uilleann pipes, bodhran, and a variety of whistles), Saline-bred fiddle whiz Jeremy Kittel, and guitarist Jesse Mason whipped the corned-beef-and-cabbage-munching crowd to a Celtic frenzy.
I caught them again last December at the Ark. Kittel was off to college, ably replaced by fellow Salinian Brad Phillips, another
fiddle-prodigy type with a friendly smile and confident chops. They delivered a solid, fun-spirited, beautifully prepared set of tunes filled with unexpected twists and turns. As with most Irish bands, the music is often played in sets, with one tune weaving into the next except that with Millish there's little doubt as to where one tune ends and the next begins. The lovely "Dinner at the Duncans' " morphed into a spooky and nameless Bulgarian hymn ("We don't know the name of it because it was written in Bulgarian") filled with ghostly guitar effects. One tune even turns into Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven." At first it's a joke, but one that the band quickly takes very seriously, churning out
quite an impressive version, complete with Bering's inventive drum solo. What a pretty song.
Ghostly guitar effects? Drum solos? "Stairway to Heaven"? It does bear mentioning that except for Bering, long a fixture in Ann Arbor's music scene, Millish is indeed a youthful band. Mason's twenty-one; Duncan and Phillips are certifiable teenagers. But just when you start nodding indulgently, Millish one-two-punches you with Dave Brubeck's "Blue Rondo a la Turk," Celtic style.
My notes, scrawled in the dark and sometimes illegible, describe something Millish does as sounding like "a Lilliputian traffic jam." I can't quite remember what it was, but I think I'll be going back to find out.
Millish returns to the Ark on Saturday, September 20, to participate in the annual Al Purcell Irish Festival Concert.
[Originally published in September, 2003.]