Show Review: Tyler Childers Was Raw Honest Heartache at Exit/In in Nashville

Show Reviews

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The first time I heard of Tyler Childers was after he opened for Margo Price during her multi-night Ryman run in Nashville this spring. The excitement and over-the-top enthusiasm for they way he supposedly tore the roof off the place and upstaged Price (at least on the first night) definitely caught my attention. I made a point to learn more about him, maybe buy a couple new records and keep my eyes open for a chance to see him live. Unfortunately, it took longer to catch him in concert than I had hoped but here we are on a cold, rainy Friday night, in a packed club in Nashville waiting for Tyler Childers to take the stage for the second show of a sold out three-night stand. The crowd was popping with electricity. You could hear people talking about the show, amazing by all accounts, that he put on the night before and comparisons between it and other shows they had seen. Standing there, stage left, as anxious about what was about to happen as I have been in a while, I was taken aback at the rapturous reception Childers received as he walked onto the Exit/In stage.

Strolling out he seemed almost bashful as he approached the mic stand and picked up his guitar. Running through “Take My Hounds to Heaven” before easing into “Going Home” you get a quick feeling that Tyler is having more fun than anyone in attendance. The fine fiddlin’ courtesy of multi-instrumentalist Professor Jesse Wells sets a nice tone for what’s to come. I think the thing that grabbed me in the beginning and refused to let go over the course of the show is what a great voice Childers has. And it is not just that he has an amazing voice but he knows how to use it, when to let it boom and when to turn nearly a whisper into a moment you will always remember.   A funny tale about being in band called the Dinosaur Burps who rapped about cheeseburgers and smoking marijuana preceded “Charleston Girl” before “Gemini” with its classic country bass line and a fiddle fill that goes for a walk rounded out the first eight songs of what eventually turned into a twenty-nine song set. “Feathered Indians” is the first song I ever heard from Childers and it may still be my favorite song of his. Live, it made my hair stand on end, as it had the crowd singing along and hanging on every note. The band harmonizing behind him as he rolled through a modern country classic, steel guitar whaling away in the back ground. “Tattoos” with its fantastic mix of barroom country and Appalachian folk is every bit as good as any song you have ever heard and upon retrospect, was one of the more amazing moments of the night.

Standing there as the last notes wash over me, I was not prepared for “Shake the Frost.” The tale of a man trying to keep the one he loves with promises to be better if only she will give him another chance hit me like a sledgehammer. The wounded voice pleading for one more last time is as raw and honest as anything I have heard in a while. I guess even Childers needed a break from the heartache as tackled the first of three covers- Kenny Rogers & the First Editions’ “Tulsa Turnaround”. It was the right song at the right time as the band stretched out – drums filled the room and the guitars were grinding with a nice little duel towards the end. “Peace of Mind” which nicked its sound from a Texas roadhouse with a little choogling outlaw country thrown in, was a fantastic way to close the first half of the show. That is not be construed as there was a break as there was not. Instead he took center stage with his guitar for the next four songs. Not content to go totally solo on “Lady May” he was joined by Professor Jesse Wells on fiddle. Strikingly beautiful is the only way I describe this moment and everyone in attendance knew it. The party girls by the bar shut up and even the group of bros who were there because it was something to do between power drinking the night away stopped dead in their tracks and listened. There are moments that find themselves forever etched into your brain and I expect I will always remember the first time I heard “Lady May” until they lay me down. “Nose on the Grindstone” rings off the walls, the warnings of a father to his son still resonating before “Banded Clovis” starts up. All I can imagine the entire time is Willie Nelson taking a turn at this but that didn’t lessen my enjoyment of the song. “Follow You to Virgie” completes the solo acoustic portion of the show and again Childers rips out the heart of his audience. A true story about his friend’s grandmother who passed away it capped off a four song stand that wrecked me with the weight of the subjects he tackled in song.

So now the band is back and I need a pick me up. The opening notes of “Whitehouse Road” strum out and we are off and running. The crowd is back on point, half singing half shouting the chorus as the band takes them for a ride. It feels like 1978 and the outlaw country influence is strong as his band takes every opportunity to show off their skills. Another cover, Dr. Hook and/or Shel Silverstein’s “I Got Stoned and I Missed It” is given the Childers treatment and comes across less goofy and more of a tongue in cheek good time party song. The steel guitar from James “Bloodbath” McGrath helps this song for right in with Childers canon. “Redneck Romeo” is dead perfect, “Country Squire” and the tale of how a good Christian man swindled him on a camper and “Honkey-Tonk Flame” wearing its Waylon fascination on its sleeve are fine songs as the evening starts to wind down. Childers closes with “Universal Sound” shedding the core country sound and making a strong case as an “Americana” song. It is not easily categorized and is too country for rock and too rock for country but damn if it doesn’t knock the crowd back a step or two. The guitars interweaving and pulsing beat set the crowd up perfectly for “Trudy” by the Charlie Daniels Band. It is funky and I swear I heard some milky Grateful Dead style guitar creep in. The band is having a blast and as they trade off and jam a little you get the feeling this is going to be the finale. Turns out it was, as once they finished, they thanked the crowd and walked off to calls and hollers for more from the appreciative crowd.

Whew! What a great show. I was exhausted and all I did was stand there. The band was tight and Childers was spot on. I’m not sure there is anyone in the same space with him right now and I total understand how he blew Margo Price off the Ryman stage. There are not too many artists who can boast twenty-nine song sets with every song resonating. While I wish I had seen him earlier in his young career I am glad I saw him as his star is beginning to rise. While I do not have a crystal ball I can only imagine, after what I saw on this night, that Tyler Childers will be here for a while and he will definitely have something interesting to say.

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