By Joseph Golfen
Better than: No music on Mill Avenue.
If Mill Ave. Inc, a new documentary by local film maker Nicholas “Nico” Holthaus centers around the idea that the iconic street to ASU just isn’t as cool as it use to be, tell that to the bands that performed prior to the film’s debut screening at Harkin’s Valley Art Theater on Wednesday.
Standing in front of the movie screen, plugged into a rudimentary system of amps and electronics, these Tempe veterans proved that the city may be running out of music venues, but it’s not running out of talent.
Mill Ave. regulars Walt Richardson and Hannes Kvaran took the stage first, jamming to a soulful tune about the very street that was on everyone’s mind. With a soaring chorus based around “I’m surviving changes on Mill Avenue,” Richardson and Kvaran filled Valley Theater with their blistering guitar work while the audience smiled on.
Introduced as “Jimmy the Jackalope,” local bluesman Hans Olsen rambled onstage, singing blues tunes laced with themes of equality and justice. Olsen let his harmonica and guitar take off together during his second song, causing the crowd to periodically burst into applause.
Although the theater was nearly full, the show felt less like a concert and more just a jam session. Performers often stopped to converse with audience members as though they were the only people in the room.
Kylie and Bret Babb kept the same casual atmosphere when they got on stage, joking to the crowd about how they should have tuned up before they got on stage. But nobody seemed to mind. The Babbs hammered out a couple of pretty country tunes, before turning the room over to local band Flathead.
Recalling both a train engine and a drunken night out, Flathead played a hard-hitting truck drive song, while laughing and joking with the crowd.
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As a grand finale, several members of the audience(most of whom happened to be members of local bands) climbed up on stage to join Mill Ave. Inc. director Nicholas Holthaus in an impromptu performance honoring Mill Ave.’s golden boys, The Gin Blossoms. Holthaus belted out a fine rendition of the Blossom’s 1993 hit “Found Out About You.” The crowd clapped and sang along, harking back to an era when Mill Ave. was the place to find great music, and showing that perhaps it still can be.
Random Detail: Robin Wilson of the Gin Blossoms joined the party via the speaker phone mode on Director Nicholas Holthaus’ cell.
Personal Bias: Singing “Found Out About You” at the premier of your own documentary about revealing the evils of corporate takeovers is a little much.