Sunday, 16 September 2018

GIG REVIEW: Frontier Ruckus - Thimblemill Library, Smethwick. Saturday 15th September 2018

The name may have been familiar for a number of years, but the paths of Frontier Ruckus and me were yet to cross at any level prior to this gig at Thimblemill Library. A couple of pre-show snippets online whetted the appetite and the stage was set for another act from the Loose Music stable to glide into my sphere. This show was the latest offering from the team behind bringing some high quality roots music to a venue ably adaptable in switching the arts from the written to the performing word. Frontier Ruckus’s brand of lo-fi sensitive alt-folk fitted in well in this quintessential listening environment, to the extent of front man Matthew Milia implying it was a little unnerving. The bonus to that lay in the fact that every nuance of this trio’s intrinsic music was delicately heard, savoured and akin to another favourite band added to a growing list passing through the art deco surroundings of this fledgling venue.

To states such as Oregon, Virginia and Tennessee, you can now add Michigan, a location that very much influences and informs the music of Frontier Ruckus, being represented at Thimblemill events. This was perhaps the most we learned about the trio as they lent heavily towards allowing their soundtrack to sell the message. Milia’s vocals and guitar playing acted as the focal point, although at times it was seriously challenged by the instrumental diversity of Zachary Nichols, fluidly moving between melodica, trumpet, organ and your common hardware DIY saw. This was not the first time seeing the latter appear on stage this year with Jonathan Byrd’s sidekick Johnny extracting some twang from the handy tool. Nicholls probably used his more frequently and a very haunting sound added to the atmosphere, drawing comparisons to what you hear in Hawaiian pedal steel.

Completing the Frontier Ruckus trio format is banjo player David Jones, consistently giving the core urban feeling to their songs a deft rural coating with a range of subtle strumming and pickin’. Jones frequently joined Milia on two-part harmony and sonic similarities to the Milk Carton Kids occasionally flickered across the mind.

Across the hour and ten minutes that Frontier Ruckus appeared on stage, it would be difficult not to honour the last three or four songs as the evening’s highlight. Sensing the perfect opportunity to improvise, the band unplugged (not that the saw was electrified in the first place) and set up shop inches from the front row to play the most barest of purist music you could expect to hear in a formal gig setting.

This was not an evening to draw too much on the songs of Frontier Ruckus in their informative existence, as introductory titles were sparse. One exception was ’27 Dollars’, a track proving to be the centerpiece to the band promoting their most recent album. There was a hint of looking forward to returning home as this West Midlands visit acted as the penultimate date on a European tour that included a set at the inaugural Long Road Festival last weekend. However, this did not impact upon a performance rich in texture and compelling in its poignant delivery.

The saw having a rest
Contributing to the fullness of the evening’s presentation was an opening forty-minute set from Irish singer-songwriter- guitarist John Blek. Hailing from Cork, which proved relevant to his standout song about a Dutch seaman, Blek’s presence grew significantly during his performance. The inter song introductions added to the spice of the set and it was not too difficult to see how he had made the touring troubadour life his living over a number of years now. The booking of John Blek seemingly went down positive and plans are in motion to him returning soon.

Hopefully, the same can be said about Frontier Ruckus. Hazy memories surround any previous gigs in the area, but future dates will be more pertinently absorbed. There were initial perceptions of the band being a little quirky, but I found their song style quite conventional, with the left field influence coming from the instrumental assortment, which tended to garnish the tracks rather than lead on them. The success of this gig stemmed from the aura created from a band individual in style and one steeped in the diversity that flows from the all-encompassing Americana state of mind. 

www.frontierruckus.com

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