Saturday, Dec. 12

Before the Melted Wires set began, Calexico drummer John Convertino recalled, "I think Howe's always heard a choir in some of his music. I remember him saying 20 years ago things like, 'Here's where the choir comes in.'"

Gelb eventually recruited a choir to that vision after he happened to share a stage with them at a Canadian blues festival. He tells the story in the film 'Sno Angel Winging It, a documentary that debuted Saturday night at a benefit for Miles Exploratory Learning Center.

The film documents Ottawa's Voices of Praise and their work on Gelb's 2006 release 'Sno Angel Like You, plus a handful of tour dates, mostly in Spain. The film details happy collisions of structures, sounds, lifestyles and expectations as Gelb and choir director Steve Johnston exchange mutual amazement. A near-capacity crowd of Miles ELC parents, children, teachers and administrators joined Gelb fans in chuckling knowingly as the choir and band members marveled at the magic in Gelb's ad-hoc work ethic.

Before the film, Gelb performed with His Melted Wires, including Convertino on drums, Giant Sand regular Thøger Lund on upright bass, and Calexico's Jacob Valenzuela on trumpet. Gelb said they have been working on new music with an acoustic-jazz emphasis around his piano playing. The set featured a couple of new instrumental pieces in that vein, a development that gave a welcome break to the American Sign Language interpreters. Two of the highlights were old favorites, though: "Thin Line Man," from Giant Sand's 1986 Ballad of a Thin Line Man, and "Wonder," from 1994's Ramp. Another crowd-pleaser was a delicate and syncopated version of Rainer Ptacek's evergreen "The Farm."

Drawing from more recent work, the combo played "Ballad of the Tucson 2," which Gelb recorded over Christmas 2005 when the fate of Samaritans Shanti Sellz and Daniel Strauss was still in question. The song is timely again with the recent conviction of Walt Staton for "littering" the desert with life-saving water bottles.

Gelb's latest songwriting effort, a co-write with daughter Tallulah, stole the show when Tallulah and five of her classmates, whom Gelb dubbed the Room Four Singers, closed the set with a holiday song they had recorded to promote the benefit on KXCI FM 91.3.

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