Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2019
The Ritz, Raleigh
When Tyler Childers last passed through the Triangle in a June 2018 tour stop at Cat’s Cradle, he was already outgrowing the rooms he was playing. That show was sold out by April, sandwiched between the release of his breakthrough second LP, Purgatory—produced by Sturgill Simpson—and a big win for Emerging Artist of the Year at the Americana Awards.
Unfortunately, I hadn’t yet fallen in love with Purgatory’s gritty Appalachian storytelling, which is set to a hybrid of honky-tonk, outlaw country, and string-band styles. So I missed the Cradle show (though I would catch him later that summer at FloydFest). But I heard rave reviews from a friend, who compared the energy to The Avett Brothers playing the same room in 2005.
With an arena tour alongside Simpson looming in 2020, Childers played at The Ritz on Wednesday. It sold out far in advance once again, with resale tickets going for more than $200 late in the day. It seemed like one of the last chances to see him in a club.
The jam-packed crowd—the type where well-meaning requests to squeeze past were met with a chuckle and a “good luck”—seemed hellbent on drinking enough to ensure that area Lyft drivers would have plenty of extra cash for holiday shopping. After an opening set from Liz Cooper & The Stampede that was treated mostly as background music for boisterous conversation, I was feeling cramped and concerned that the well-lubricated audience would overpower Childers’s gentler moments.
Opening with five straight from this year’s Country Squire, Childers and his blue-collar band were economical as they blazed through heavy helpings of his last two releases, occasionally stretching their legs. A funky intro to “House Fire” teased the crowd with extended vamping. Not surprisingly, the singalong reaction was considerable, as it was on the rowdy “I Swear (to God),” which began a stretch that showcased the range of the six-piece band, now bolstered by keys to help recreate the lush layers of the latest album.
A peek at set lists for previous shows on this tour revealed that there had typically been a brief batch of solo acoustic tunes mid-set, but Childers—perhaps reading the room and wanting to avoid disruptions like last week in Boston—opted to push through with full-band renditions of nearly two dozen songs.
A cover of “Long Long Time to Get Old” by the obscure Canadian country-rock outfit Great Speckled Bird didn’t resonate strongly, but even Childers’s deepest cuts seemed to elicit a sizable reaction. Though it has only appeared on the 2013 EP Live on Red Barn Radio, “Charleston Girl” seemed to transform more folks into honorary West Virginia citizens than any song since “Country Roads,” and made that early-Avetts comparison ring true.