Parker Millsap brought his immense talent to Knoxville’s newest venue, The Outpost, on Wednesday, December 5th. It was one of his first solo shows in nearly half a decade, and one of only four solo shows he’ll do all year. The venue sits nestled behind one of Happy Holler’s many antique shops, and was nearly sold-out.
The doors opened at 7pm, with seating being first-come-first serve. The seats were filled within the first half hour, and the rest of the excited—and quite diverse, really—crowd leaned against the old warehouse poles and lined the venue’s walls.
Millsap nearly ran onto stage with his Martin in hand and began the first half of his 23-song set. He began with “Pining” from his 2016 record, The Very Last Day, which I remember thinking, “alright, this is super fun” and then, “holy s— this guy can REALLY play.” His charismatic stage presence and banter between songs was an ongoing conversation which captivated the audience. The audience was incredibly attentive throughout the entire show. Millsap’s trademark smile contrasted with some of his moody and darker songs, such as “I Hope I Die” from his and Michael Rose’s 2012 album, Palisade, and, especially with The Very Last Day’s “Heaven Sent” which illustrates a young man’s struggle between his homosexuality, religion, and his father—I heard some sniffles after that one. Some other stand out songs were “Rolling” which is a new song that wasn’t on his set list, and it literally had rolls all over the place, from his guitar to vocal dynamics, even to his percussive lyrics. He began “The Very Last Day,” by saying, “I like to dream that the rapture happens while I’m singing this song. That’d be cosmic.”
He performed “Truck Stop Gospel,” a personal favorite of mine from his 2014 self-titled album, but seeing it performed live, especially in a solo set, was a game changer. It seemed he had sped the arrangement up a bit compared to the studio version, and I loved it. It was hard to stand still, and most people weren’t. He really took to the red-faced, bible-thumping preacher- like character in his song and broke a sweat with this one. I should also mention how much I enjoyed that the older gentleman sitting beside me knew. Every. Single. Word.
After a quick break, Millsap came back to the stage with “Hades Pleads“ with his harmonica and his guitar. He’d barely strummed a note before the crowd recognized the tune and cheered. He then performed “You’ve Got to Move” in a rendition which, like the others he performed from his 2016 and 2014 albums, showcased how he and the songs have matured since the 2016 release. Millsap played many of the songs from his most recent album, Other Arrangements, released earlier this year, which were extremely well-received across the venue. Some of my favorites of the set were “Other Arrangements,” “Your Water,” and “Coming
On” (which he warned the crowd of being at least PG-13). As he ended the show with “Fine Line,” the first track on his latest record, two women in the front couldn’t stand it anymore and got up to dance, along with some folks in the back. His Other Arrangements record itself is even more evidence of Millsap’s evolving, versatile talent and style, with no two songs sounding the same, yet feeling cohesive as a body. Overall, his songs, and the show itself, almost felt too short, but that’s because no one truly seemed ready for it to be over.
Millsap is a writer’s writer, but he’s also the layman’s writer. He has a talent for pairing complex lyrical and writing technique with the classic and approachable. He brings the blues, gospel, folk, and even throws some indie punk into a form that can only be said to, simply, work. It’s easy to find a songwriter, it’s easy to find a singer, and it’s easy to find a musician, but Parker Millsap is one who does all three and does those three incredibly well, and that is what truly sets him apart as an artist and performer.