Miles Nielsen, Christopher Gold Share Bill at Appleton Beer Factory
June 3, 2023 – Appleton, Wisconsin
When people think of the Wisconsin music scene, most gravitate to the action in Milwaukee and Madison, but on any given night Appleton has a host of talent to choose from. I had a difficult decision about what show I wanted to cover in the city known for its annual Mile of Music Festival.
I opted for the doubleheader at Appleton Beer Factory, an establishment that doesn’t just brew their own craft beers, they actively support and sponsor live music. In fact, ABF was sponsoring one of the other gigs I had contemplated across town at Jones Park (by the way, you can’t go wrong with a Them Coulee Boys show). But since I’ve seen Them Coulee Boys numerous times, I took a risk on something new.
I had not been to a Mile Nielsen and the Rusted Hearts gig before, even though the Rockford, Illinois-based quintet frequently performs in the area. I didn’t know much about the band except that its namesake is the son of Cheap Trick’s flamboyant Rick Nielsen, and the band’s website says their “music draws force from the prime years of western-influenced rock music and classic ’60s soul.”
OK … I’ll bite. If the apple didn’t fall far from the tree and the website PR has any merit, it’s worth a gamble. Did I mention the opening act? Christopher Gold and The Old New Things are a known and pleasant commodity for me, and worth the 40-minute drive alone.
Let’s start there: with the opener. Front man Christopher Gold was born in Kentucky and lived in Wyoming before finding his way to America’s Dairyland. Gold has said that folk, country and bluegrass music “has always dominated the largest part of my musical heart,” but the influence of punk and metal are obvious both in his music and his stage presence.
The New Old Things (Caleb Cheslock on lead guitar, Andrew Zimmerman on bass and Ryan Gracyalny on drums) opened the night with a raucous melodic urgency that took me back to 1990-era Soul Asylum. “Rearranged,” announced as a “brand new song,” was immediately followed by “Joni.” Gold encouraged those gathered at the back of the room to move up front and dance — “You’ve got a lot of room down there. We’re all cramped up here. If you don’t dance, it’s like a slap in the face. We want to dance so badly” — before leading the band into “Burn the Boats.”
Christopher Gold performs in the Appleton area a bunch, so it was not surprising that much of the crowd was familiar with The New Old Things material. They did incorporate several new songs into the set, including the aforementioned “Rearranged,” “Run for Cover” and “New Names.” All three seemed to resonate with those in attendance, which bodes well for the future. When I asked Gold if we should expect a new album soon, said he had now news on that front — “Just a few new ones we have. Not sure where they’ll end up.”
Certainly, they’ll end up in future setlists as Gold and TNOT continue to tour through the summer. Visit christophergold.com for information.
Speaking of touring through summer, Miles Nielsen and the Rusted Hearts are in the middle of a lengthy tour that sees them hitting stages in Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, North Carolina and Georgia.
Their Saturday set at Appleton Beer Factory was, for me, a fine introduction to Nielsen’s discography with a couple of gems dating back to his 2009 debut Miles (“Gravity Girl” and “1938”). The night opened with “Old Enough” from Nielsen’s last full album release, 2019’s “OHBAHOY.” Guitarist and Appleton resident Daniel James McMahon’s song-ending solo morphing into The Beatles’ “Something.”
It was immediately evident that these guys have been playing (and I mean that literally … at no time during the night did the group give the impression that they consider what they do “work”) together for years. It was also evident, in both sound and style, that this Nielsen did, in fact, not fall far from the family tree. While he may not bounce about the stage the way his father did in his prime, Miles and his mates are clearly fun-loving guys.
Nielsen’s repartee with the audience was always light-hearted and appreciative. A highlight of the night — for the band, if not for the bridal party — was when, during the middle of the set, a bachelorette party wandered into the performance and asked if the band could play something by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Nielsen humored the group by doing his best Anthony Keidis impersonation with as many words as he could recite from the RHCP’s “Give It Away.” “I could take my shirt off and dance around the stage like I have a broken foot,” he offered.
Nielsen proceeded to banter with the ladies in a mix of flirting and ridiculing — even toasting the bride with a serving of tequila shots, before announcing “we’re going to get back to the slowest song in our setlist.”
The band began the haunting “Ghosts,” but midsong Nielsen realized the song was not hitting the mark with the bride and her entourage. “I can’t do this. I want this to be festive,” he said. “I’m going to bring my man Dave (bassist Dave McClellan) up to the front to do this one specifically for you guys.”
“Hola. Do any of you speak Spanish?” asked McClellan. “No? That’s OK. This is a song of ours we were messing around with in practice the other day, and I thought I would just sing it in Spanish.” The song? “Hey Hey Hey” from the 2009 debut album.
Then, after encouraging the bachelorette to come check out the band’s gig the next day at CheeseFest in Little Chute (“We got a 2:30 spot right after the community band”), Nielsen and band regrouped and carried on with “Ghosts.” They then sent the ladies on their merry way as they segued from Beyonce’s “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” into “Ten Feet Tall.”
The remainder of the set showcased Nielsen and McMahon trading smooth guitar licks, while allowing Adam Plamann to stretch his muscles on keys, clarinet and alto sax. The band proved adept at bending genres, while McClellen and drummer Jeff Werckle held the whole thing together. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Werckle’s propensity to interject a variety of sound effects and other oddities from his sampler. It was, at times, distracting, but overall it played well into the schtick of the show.
You can find out where Miles Nielsen and the Rusted Hearts are playing next at http://www.milesnielsen.com. If you’re in the Appleton area, they’ll be back, as will Christopher Gold and The New Old Things, in August for Mile of Music 10.
Christopher Gold and the Old New Things Setlist
Burn the Boats
In the Fire
Run for Cover
Miles Nielsen and the Rusted Hearts Setlist
Dear Kentucky (You’re Killing Me)
Ten Feet Tall
Howl at the Moon