ACL Live Review: Tyler Childers
No honky-tonk masquerade this bracing, backwoods moonshine
By Doug Freeman,
9:25AM, Sat. Oct. 5, 2019
Amid the flash and pop of ACL Fest 2019, Tyler Childers stands out by moving in the opposite direction. The American Express mainstage nearly swallowed the Kentucky songwriter and his fivepiece as they tore through his hour-long afternoon set Friday, but their hard-driving hillbilly country proved powerful enough to encompass mass adulation.
Opening with “Whitehouse Road” from 2017’s launching pad Purgatory, Childers kept it tight and simple through the bruising “Dead Man’s Curve” and fiddle-licked “Born Again.” That slid them into funky jam “Tulsa Turnaround.” The frontman let the backing electric and steel guitars do the heavy lifting to his acoustic, which torqued the tension of his low-key, high-twang delivery and the rumbling breakdowns swirling behind him.
That tension focuses Childers’ music, emphasized by the trailer park tripping, neon pagan backdrop the musicians brought with them. Songs of fast living balanced with a pull of backwoods simplicity are less the standard Saturday night/Sunday morning country dichotomy than the internal journey their author travels in the similar wake of his producer and mentor Sturgill Simpson’s standout Metamodern Sounds in Country Music.
The appeal is a broad one that casts beyond just country, driven by the songwriter’s simple yet poetic turns of phrase, uncompromisingly deep holler settings, and willingness to explore outside of the box both in sound and sentiment. It’s a complex rural renaissance that thrives in exploring the contradictions of modern America under Childers’ hard and intimidating stare.
Most impressive is the journey the blazing redhead takes the crowd on. The set moved through moonshine and cocaine-fueled backroads to ballads of nostalgia and regret in “Bus Stop” and “Creeker” from new LP Country Squire. Rolling to the edge of a tentative redemption, “Lady May” and closer “Nose on the Grindstone” touched down for a smooth landing.
Tyler Childers doesn’t pretend to have any answers, but he and his growing legion of fans at the ACL Fest mainstage proved one and all are enjoying the search for them.