MiddleEarth plays all original songs based on the novels of J.R.R. Tolkien. They’re sort of a cross between Kansas and Jethro Tull, with a little Blues Traveler thrown in (courtesy of my friend Tim, who looks and sounds like John Popper). MiddleEarth played last night at The Stars My Destination, a sci-fi/fantasy bookstore on Belmont, and Tim introduced the set by claiming that every note would be played on instruments native to the real Middle Earth. Everyone laughed and then, as the cool harmonics of MiddleEarth descended on us like the morning mist of Mirkwood, we began clapping and singing and bobbing our heads in a joyous unison.

Early on, however, an unfortunate incident threatened to mar the evening. One girl was twirling so hard to “Wizard, Heal Thine Elf” that she tripped over a table of Anne McCaffery paperbacks, and opened up a nasty gash on her forehead. Overall her wounds were minor, but a guy in a cape, who called himself Grendel, said she was lucky: Had she crashed into the stacks just a few feet to the left, the life’s work of Isaac Asimov almost certainly would have killed her.

The band restarted the set with a shrieking piccolo solo in “Our Love’s In Runes” followed immediately by the fist-raising anthem “Wargs (What Are They Good For?).” Tim closed with his usual dramatics, covering Led Zepplin’s “Kashmir” and then returning to the stage for a single encore: a mournful medley of power ballads, including “One In a Silmarillion” and “You’re a Hard Hobbit to Break.” After the show, we drank until 3 am.

The main topic of gossip was the ongoing pre-production of Hollywood’s live-action Lord of the Rings. Tim plans to send the director a tape with a sampling of MiddleEarth’s songs. It would be cool if the film had Tim’s tunes in it, but I don’t really care if they use them or not, as long as they don’t botch the rest of the movie. I told Tim that when he sends his tape, he should write a note reminding the filmmakers that hobbits are NOT midgets. And they’re not British either. So help me if they fill up that cast with a bunch of British midgets. Dwarves are okay to play the dwarves, though. I also told him to say that Liam Neeson should be Gandalf. I don’t think he’ll put that in the note though, because Tim thinks Sean Connery should play Gandalf, which would also be very cool.

I’ve looked all over the internet and I’m pretty sure MiddleEarth is the only Tolkien band in Chicago (Gary, who plays the auto harp, is also in a Heinlein quartet called the Strangeland Strangers). MiddleEarth plays The Stars My Destination every few months or so. Look for them at the Door County Renaissance Fair in July, and at Hog Head McDunna’s following all Manchester United games.