Tyler Childers performs at The 8×10 in Baltimore on Oct. 16, 2018. (Photo by Matt Ruppert)
Tyler Childers recently released his early recordings Live on Red Barn Radio I & II on vinyl and CD with a flashy new cover. Having been on tour for just a slice short of forever (Tyler sang a tune called “Ever Lovin’ Hand” about, well, I’ll call it monogamy and the loneliness of touring two-thirds of the year), this tour was not exactly for the new record, but a continuation of the heavy lifting he and the boys have been muscling through, as they did at The 8×10 in Baltimore on Oct. 16.
Stream Live on Red Barn Radio I & II by Tyler Childers on Spotify:
It’s been a wild year and some change for Tyler, having released Purgatory August 2017 and taken off to the stratosphere (or just about) in the interim. The record got solid press (Metacritic score of 82) and a push from Sturgill Simpson’s production, but Tyler became a household name on the back of his live performance. He played Songbyrd Cafe last September (selling out eventually) and now he filled 9:30 Club to the rafters with people shouting his songs back to him on Monday.
So imagine that same energy back in a smaller club with a max capacity of 400 (compared to 9:30’s 1,200). The 8×10 primarily books bluegrass and jam bands, rarely pulling in acts with as much cachet as Tyler Childers. For perspective, people walked by the venue asking about the parked bus because most acts have vans and cars.
Tyler and his band possess the twang and the instrumental know-how for Americana and bluegrass. “Country” is probably the most appropriate descriptor, but that lacks nuance; last year, he wrote “Sludge River Stomp” on the insert of my vinyl, and it’s the closest anyone’s gotten to describing his music. It’s a stew of sounds flavored by Appalachia roots, West Virginia rock salt and venison, and some of that Sludge River roll.
Following the opening act Ona (friends with TC and the band), Tyler and company took the small stage to a crowd so dense that going to bathroom stopped being an option. They slid right into “Whitehouse Road,” a longstanding romp of a song about the substance abuse epidemic in Appalachia (he recently headlined a fundraising concert to fight addiction).
He then ripped through a roaring set of songs from Purgatory and Red Barn Radio with a healthy addition of new songs and a smattering of covers. “Deadman’s Curve” and “Tattoos” and “I Swear (To God)” and “Feathered Indians” among the most well-known tunes, but he also sang “Redneck Romeo” and “Country Squire” and a song I’d not heard called “Gemini” that I wanted to take dancing and listen to all night long. He covered Dr. Hook’s “I Got Stoned and I Missed It,” which led to a good old-fashioned beers-in-the-air sing-along with a handful of trucker and cowboy hats being raised in the air.
Tyler said this was the first show where an “altercation” hadn’t happened in the audience and he laughingly stated that he never thought his music would be the background to MMA fights on a nightly basis. He then told us all not to “f**k it up” before moving on to the end of the set, first with “Honky Tonk Flame” and its joyful barnstorming heart. This was followed by “Universal Sound”, which ends with my favorite verse of 2017, “I’ve been up to the mountain /And I’ve seen his wondrous grace / I’ve sat there on a barstool and I’ve looked him in the face / He seemed a little haggard, but it did not slow him down / He was hummin’ to the neon of the universal sound.”
The first time I heard the song was on BJ Barham’s recommendation; the rest of the next times I heard it, California and Oregon roads buzzed under our tires until we made our way to Portland and saw Tyler play a possibly-hipster log cabin bar joint where a strange man mistook me for the artist and the night ended as we watched him sing “Lady Mae” to Sonora May (his wife) in the audience. It sounds like a made-up love scene in a movie, like the one with Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga, but I promise I didn’t.
That was altogether too many words to say that seeing “Universal Sound” and all of Childers’s other songs live is the most special way to hear them, and I can only recommend it until my fingers stop tapping and my gums stop flapping.
He ended the show with a not-encore, bemoaning the absurdity of leaving the stage, as have quite a few other musicians I’ve seen recently. I am very fond of this development. The audience continued to sing along raptly, somehow packing together tighter, as though getting closer will make it last longer. There will always be a next time, but I would be unsurprised if the next record lands him at The Anthem. And he sells out an even bigger joint.
Here are a few pictures of Tyler Childers performing at The 8×10 on Oct. 16, 2018. All photos taken by Matt Ruppert.