This past Tuesday evening, Oklahoma City’s Tower Theatre featured a memorable triple bill line-up of Lost Dog Street Band, Matt Heckler and The Tillers. In all my years of attending concerts, it’s still a rarity for a line-up to be as musically condusive and impressive as this evening’s was. Flash and polish have slowly crept into Americana Music over the years. Elaborate production and fancy stage shows have become the norm. This was the exactly the opposite. It was essentially, a night of surgically stripping down years of varnish and polish to display the bare roots of true Americana.
These roots are strong.
The Tillers hail from Cincinnati and have been doing their thing since 2007. Mike Oberst, Joe Macheret Sean and Aaron Geil, deliver a potent blend of Appalachian based, folk, blues, jazz and even punk rock inspired energy. (Bassist Aaron Geil was even sporting a Dead Kennedy’s shirt for Pete’s sake!) That blend of musical energy quickly captured the attention of the Tower audience. Over their short 45 minute opening set, the band combined a handful of traditional interpretations such as “Darlin’ Corey!”as well as songs from their 2018 release, “Hand On The Plow”. At times, the OKC audiences can show a bit of indifference towards support bands, and other times, thankfully more rare, they can be down right rude with their decision to loudly socialize, drowning out the band. The Tillers took matters into their own hands, and their engaging strumming and stomping won over the crowd and soon had them hoopin’ and hollerin’ right along. Their talent’s definitely peaked my interest in further checking out this talented quartet. You can visit their page here: https://www.the-tillers.com/home
Next up, was a completely opposite, but every bit as effective approach, by Matt Heckler. Taking the stage solo and trading off between banjo and fiddle, Heckler’s even simpler approach stripped off yet another layer, revealing his Catskills/Appalachian upbringing and Irish-American punk rock fortitude. Whether it was songs from this year’s album release, “After The Flood” such as, “Blue Eyes Dancing,” and “Haw River Blues,” or the captivating “Antietam,” Heckler was fantastic. Perhaps it was the impressive musicianship, or the self depreciating humor, or maybe even something less tangible. Whatever it was, Heckler made an impression. Many in the crowd were very familiar with his songs and approach, singing along with each song. Heckler’s voice is rich and warm, and his songs reflect a personal approach, and ultimately redemption. Find more information on Matt Heckler right here: https://www.mattheckler.com/
Lost Dog Street Band is the real deal. Ashley Mae, Benjamin Tod and bassist Jeff Loops really got my attention with the second song of their set, a cover of Townes Van Zandt’s “Nothin’.” Long a devoted disciple of all things Townes, it’s not often that an artist or band can impress me performing one of his songs. This one really did. Unequivocally so. Their version captured every razor sharp sliver of pain and hopelessness Van Zandt weighed in his original, no small feat. Yet, conveying that weight of hopelessness and pain seemed to come as natural to Tod as pulling on his boots. For better or worse, that’s where the band’s power seems to originate. Lost Dog Street Band carries with it, among other influences, a healthy dose of authenticity. “Outlaw” musicians are a dime a dozen these days and it seems just wanting to be an outlaw on the music scene makes it so. Tod carries an air of an authentic outlaw. He carries himself like a man that has faced demons head on, and knows that they still lurk in the shadows, hungry for even the slightest opportunity. In a perfect balance, Ashley Mae seems to carry with her a light that seems to keep the shades at bay. Her harmonies and fiddle playing adds a softer touch and a beauty to otherwise dangerous subjects. The trio delivered a special set of songs that included songs from their 2019 Anti-Corp album “Weight Of A Trigger,” showcasing “Terrible And True,” “War Inside Me” as well as the title track. Other highlights included “September Doves” and a version of Steve Earle’s and Del McCoury’s “The Mountain.” Lost Dog Street Band is a special group that won me over quite easily. It would be difficult to not be affected by their sincerity and passion. They should definitely be on your radar, and you can find out more here: http://www.lostdogstreetband.com/
I came to learn that this evening was a celebration of DIY Americana. A truer form of the genre centered on a genuinely authentic approach to the songs. I was struck with the songwriting, the musicianship and presence of these artists. I was also impressed with the OKC fan base and their support of these humble musicians. A predominantly younger, many would say hipster crowd; and one that knew these bands and their songs. Through conversation with a few, I thankfully learned about GemsOnVHS and their field recording styled approach to highlighting these artists. I really didn’t know what to expect Tuesday night. To be sure, I knew I’d have a good time and hear some good music, but I didn’t expect to have the night make as big an impression as it did. All three of the bands managed to fly under my radar, and perhaps they’ve done the same with you. Tuesday night’s immersion into DIY Americana has sent me down the rabbit hole of new to me music discoveries and new favorites. Hopefully that happens to you as well.
Find out more about these artists and the efforts of GemsOnVHS by visiting: https://gemsonvhs.com/