Monday, July 31, 2017

Beatin' Them Strings Like They're Owin' Him Money


As a parent, it’s pretty amazing to be able to grant your child’s wish.  To be able to help them cross off a bucket list item.  And to help them manage their fears as they travel down life’s road.
Friday night the whole damily went to the Mountain Arts Center to see Tyler Childers perform.  Newtown opened for him and they were pretty good, but we were there to see Tyler.  Bean was stoked.  She’s begged to go see him ever since Mandy and I and her dad saw him open for the Steep Canyon Rangers at the MAC last winter. Unfortunately, he plays mostly in venues that require you to be 21 years old to get in the door.  When he announced he’d be playing at the MAC last Friday we got tickets as soon as we could.  Lily was beside herself with excitement.
 
After we got the tickets he announced a new album coming out a mere week after he’d be playing in Prestonsburg.  Sturgill Simpson has produced this album—Purgatory—and while I like Sturgill, I was a bit apprehensive about how he was rendering Tyler. 
Mandy and I have joked that Sturgill is scared so he offered to produce the album to keep Tyler down.  Sabotaging him.  Before I go too much farther let me say that I think the album is fantastic now that I’ve heard the whole thing.  I’ll get to that in a bit. 
Lily kept her cool all day.  She even passed out and napped on the drive to Prestonsburg.  When we got to the show she kept it together, and even as he finally took the stage after Newtown played she was a cucumber.  It was when we got in line after the concert to meet him that she started getting jittery.  When we were next in line she said: “My legs are all wobbly.”  When we eased up to the table in front of him—as an aside he had flown in from a few gigs in Europe that morning, had gotten three hours of sleep, and then played a two hour set and was meeting and greeting in the foyer of the MAC until midnight—Bean locked up. 
Lefties are cooler
In fact, we had to explain to Tyler that she was huge fan, knew ALL the words to most of his songs, and was excited to see him.  He liked her “Wild Kentucky Child” t-shirt, and signed for Lily a poster making reference to the shirt.  We also asked him to sign the drawing that Boone made during the concert.  It was a self-portrait of him sitting in the middle of the crowd with loud people all around.  Boone is our sensory kid, and in his drawing he reveals much about his own personality even down to the drawing pad and pencil in his hand. 
 
Young Master Childers played well with his Foodstamps.  I’m going to say this now and again, and again: Tyler is an artist best enjoyed live or recorded live.  There’s something about the way he grabs ahold of the song and shakes it trying to get it fully awake in your mind.  I’ll get to the album in a bit, but it just doesn’t feel the same as hearing him in front of an audience.
They came out with Tyler’s standard cover song: Rock Salt and Nails.  He’s taken the song and made it his own.  He’s turned it into a pleading, broody song, and he dances it across the stage like a master.  Then for two hours he played almost every song I had ever heard him play anywhere else.  He didn’t do a couple of covers (notably Time by Pink Floyd and Paradise), but otherwise he went through a deep set list that would have pleased any die hard fan.
 
In the middle of the show the band took a break and Tyler sat down on a chair facing the audience with his guitar.  I hope no matter how famous he becomes that he will always do this during his shows.  It’s what he’s best at, and it’s where his true talent shines.  His voice is unique, and distinctive, and while it doesn’t really get overpowered by the band—as if that were possible—the melding of his singing and solo guitar playing gives you the essence of who he is and why his songwriting is so important.
 
I’ve rarely heard a bad rendition of anything by Tyler.  His playing seems consistent.  His songs are well established after years of playing in all kinds of venues in front of thousands and thousands of people.  He has totally control of his voice, and he knows just how to evoke the right moment in each song.  And the words he has chosen to arrange together to create the stories in his music are poetry.  His vernacular is one that is familiar and comfortable to someone who has grown up or lived very long in Central Appalachia—particularly Eastern Kentucky.
He played a handful of songs I had either never heard before or had only heard once or twice.  My favorite was Woodward Creek followed by Bus Route.  I think one of the things about Tyler is that his songs are songs I would have written if I had been more talented and/or diligent in my early musical explorations.  In Shake the Frost he sings: “And I used to ride a Mustang, and I’d run that thing on high hopes, until they raised the price of dreams so high I couldn’t pay.  And I let that car just sit there, when I should have took you driving, the windows down, while the music played.” 

That was me.  When I was eighteen I had this little blue, 1985 Ford Mustang that I tried to ride off into some nebulous sunset.  I had my love interests that I tried to lure into it, and ultimately, I let go of all of that and moved on to wider paths and more colorful dreams.  It was that song that grabbed me the first time I heard it and dragged me through the door into Tyler Childer’s musical wonderland.
A great surprise was finding out they were selling advanced copies of the album at the concert.  Of course, we picked one up and listened to it on repeat all the way home.  And for a couple of days after.  The album starts out with Swear to God.  The album version is slowed down from his live performances and it doesn’t let Tyler’s voice dig deep in the gravel like you’d expect, blood running down his chin and teeth gritted.  This song absolutely rocks live.  I hope new fans will realize this and dig deeper.
I think the shining jewel of the album is Feathered Indian.  This song proved to me Tyler’s songwriting genius.  At first I wasn’t taken by it, but after a few listens and finally hearing a cover of the song I realized it is one of my favorites.  The lyrics are just amazing.  He paints with sound and language like no one else I’ve ever heard.  And the studio version of this song is far and away one of my all-time favorites of anyone. 

The entire album is great.  We made a copy for the car and put the original up.  This is one we plan on wearing out again and again.
We had a great weekend.  Bean was just bouncy the whole time except when she’d crash to recharge.  We’re already scheming how to get her a fake ID (at 10 years old) so we can get her into his normal venues for future shows.
 

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