Frontier Ruckus and the Moondoggies put out two of my favorite underrated albums of 2010, the Moondoggies’ all sweeping vistas and huge sounds and Frontier Ruckus’ all creeping sadness and mournful Michigan landscape, so to get them both in a single weekend was a huge joy. But where the Moondoggies get their huge sound from, essentially, four guys who really know how to rock, Frontier Ruckus does it a lot more subtly — with lead singer Matthew Milia’s plaintive voice, David Winston Jones’ incredibly well-picked banjo, and Zachary Nichols’ veritable menagerie of “other stuff”, from saw played with a screwdriver to euphonium to tiny Casio keyboard. (They have an incredibly tight rhythm section, too — Ryan Etzcorn is a fantastic drummer, and a hell of a lot of fun to watch.)
Deadmalls & Nightfalls is a quiet and eerie testament to the current state of Michigan, in a lot of ways, and a show that could have been incredibly depressing was instead incredibly gorgeous. It all really hinges on Milia’s voice, which pleads and soars at the same time, and he manages to turn his clever and sharp lyrics into things with wings, in a quiet room. (The room was quiet last night; the crowd, which was a lot larger than I expected it to be, was respectful but very quiet during Ruckus’ set.) The unquestionable highlight of the evening was when they unplugged and stepped to the edge — the very tiny ledge edge — of the 506 stage to play acoustic, sounding as big there as they did plugged in. I loved the whole set, but my favorite was a new song, unreleased, called “Junk Drawer”, about the things and feelings that collect in the human body, and it was so heartbreaking and spot on to what I was standing there feeling that I can’t put the experience into words. It was stunning; I cannot wait to have it on an album, and even better, hear it again live.
Curtis Eller, formerly New York’s Angriest Yodeling Banjo Player and now, I suppose, Durham’s Angriest Yodeling Banjo Player, opened the show, and managed what I have seen plenty of far more famous indie rock bands fail to do with sold out crowds in the Thrill: engage the crowd into interacting with him. Funny and smart, with a sharp songwriting ear, he reminded me in his demeanor and subject material of the Two Man Gentleman Band, and I think that a tour with the three of them would be a hilarious, high-kicking blast of a time. He was great — engaged the crowd, got them to sing along and make pigeon noises, but alas, nobody makes a crowd in the CH dance if they don’t want to. I loved his set — I haven’t loved an opener’s set that much in a really, really long time. And since he’s in Durham now, I hope to have plenty of chances to see him! (He’s at the Pinhook on February 3, locals; I’ll be in Raleigh shooting Paleface, but if you won’t be, you should go.)
Full photo set here.