Frontier Ruckus – Mercury Lounge – August 19, 2014
“What’s the song about?” For many singer-songwriter types, that’s probably an annoying question to answer. Sure, sometimes it’s easy (I, like, love you very much!), but I imagine for Frontier Ruckus, with their word-dense, evocative, nonlinear songwriting, it’s usually more complicated than that. That being said, last night’s late set at Mercury Lounge featured plenty of explanations. So we had a number of introductions from frontman Matthew Milia like “this song is … vaguely about finding a stash of porn behind a Taco Bell” and “about getting drunk at your enemy’s wedding” and “winter in Michigan” and “on the surface, this is a breakup song.”
But when these tunes were played, dense forests of language with layers of lyrical fauna and flora, it was clear that they were much more than the descriptions offered. Part of the joy of listening was trying to grasp and digest these bits of imagery before the next one quickly came along. Of course, Frontier Ruckus are more than just lyrics, and the band was in fine form for their first of two area shows. To describe their sound, you need only know that in addition to the folk-rock staples of acoustic guitar, bass and drums, they feature a banjo player, David Winston Jones, and one of those Swiss Army knife guys who does a little bit of everything. This was Zachary Nichols, who rotated through keyboards, melodica, tuba, trumpet and the freakin’ saw, oftentimes all in the same song.
The set featured older material, songs from their excellent Eternity of Dimming album
as well as a healthy highlight of their soon-to-be-released, Sitcom Afterlife, which, ever with the wordplay, is both their fourth and forthcoming album. Highlights abounded: “Dealerships,” nominally about Michigan winters, punctuated with nice trumpet and banjo; the instrumental banjo-meets-saw duet of “Moon River”; the audience-requested “The Tower,” another duet with Milia again backed by Nichols on the saw; and the set-closing, long-player, “Adirondack Amish Holler,” with enough musical and lyrical twists and turns to fill at least a month of Tuesday nights. What’s the song about? That’s a good question! —A. Stein