Tuesday, May 18, 2010


Frontier Ruckus – what a great name. It conjures up images of grizzled wilderness explorers, facing down adversity and bristling for a fight. Surprising then to see band leader Matthew Milia take to the stage in clean-cut red Lacoste cardigan and chinos: more preppy than pioneer.

Mismatched expectations about appearances should not take away from what a beautiful, authentic sound Frontier Ruckus make. The five-piece from Michigan play a heartfelt back-porch strain of Americana given gorgeous depth and poignancy by bowed saw and banjo alongside acoustic guitar, bass and drums. Matthew’s lyrics are shot through with nostalgia and memories or reference the fictional setting of Orion town. But tonight in this intimate setting it felt immediate, alive, truthful and all very real. Frontier Ruckus have been playing together since 2006 and it shows. The band were also openly appreciative of the welcome and hospitality they had received in Manchester: “we’re from the North of our country too”.

The Set List:
The Back-lot World?
Mona and Emmy
Orion Town 2
Orion Town 3
The Latter Days
What You Are
Adirondack Amish Holler

Frontier Ruckus were preceded by local boys and girl Walton Hesse who I’d seen here last month but tonight were minus a keyboard player. The remaining five still looked the part in checked work-shirts and worn t-shirts. Except that is for the incongruous glamour of singer Nicola in black mini-dress and high heels (clearly she missed the dress-code briefing). . Incongruous because the sound of Walton Hesse is dusty-road grit and truck-stop sweat, country-rock songs about toil and solitude, hard-living and mountains.

This is the fourth time I’ve seen them now and I spent part of the seven song set wondering whether it is the thumping rockers (like ‘The Only Son’ – on their MySpace page) or the wheezing, slow ballads (‘Cows’?) I like best. Actually both sides of Walton Hesse are equally good. Another band from the industrialized North playing alt-country music with a thrilling ring of authenticity.

The evening started with Christopher Eatough, sitting atop bar stoll with acoustic guitar and singing with eyes closed. He gave us his songs of “late nights and empty bottles” with high, clear and strong vocals (he’s no mumbler) which made the heart-breaking drama all the more captivating and the outside sunshine a distant memory. In a good way. He has a debut EP of songs available appropriately titled "Shadowlands".
Frontier Ruckus play Glasgow, York, Leeds, London and Winchester over the next week plus Wood Festival near Oxford alongside Tuung and Fionn Regan this weekend.

MONA AND EMMY (Daytrotter Session)
Frontier Ruckus
[BUY The Orion Songbook]


Anonymous said...

it's the first time we'd seen walton hesse and were very impressed. i must say though, i thought the glamour of the girl singer alongside the the others was a bit different and pleasing on the eye! it's not a fashion show after all.

frontier ruckus were brilliant. really enjoyed their set. might have a look in the tool shed later and see if i can finally become the musician i've always wanted to become.

The Archivist said...

Good points anon. If you master the saw let me know how it's done.