A little bit of Kentucky came to Komedia to help celebrate Independent Venue Week in the shape of Tyler Childers, the man behind this month’s Purgatory. Its mixture of an old-school country aesthetic allied with a modern grit through Childers’ starkly honest lyrics has been winning hearts on the other side of the Atlantic for some time, but tonight’s show was his first in Brighton. Perfect timing for IVW ’18, the campaign that shines a light on those smaller venues around the country that are the lifeblood of local and breaking artists alike. Purgatory may be the first record to break through over here, but the long years on the road to here showed as Childers put on a show of real class and self-assurance.
Support came from young Brightonian, Alistair Bain, whose softly smoky voice was reminiscent of a younger Ray Lamontagne or John Smith. With only a handful of songs to his name, he understandably relied on covers to bolster his set list – though it was his own material that carried more potential. With a touch more confidence on stage, and a few more songs of the quality of ‘Home’ under his belt, Bain should be filed under ‘one to watch’. At the complete opposite end of the spectrum, Childers bounded onto the stage with a supremely confident demeanour and proceeded to introduce himself. “Here’s a bunch of songs I wrote, some I didn’t write, some I’ve half written and a bunch I’m still learning to play. Ah well. We’ll get there together.” With a piercing stare and an imposing stage presence, he was one of the most charismatic performers that Komedia Studio will have seen for quite some time.
Starting with his version of Utah Phillips’ classic ‘Rock Salt and Nails’, his voice captured the essence of a version of America that probably didn’t ever really exist outside of our imagination. While the majority of his set obviously reflected the success of Purgatory, he interspersed them throughout the night with choice cuts like this – completely transforming and moulding them into his own style, as if the originals were just a blueprint. Much of his own material carries the air of truth with its autobiographical nature, whether in the parental warning of ‘Nose On The Grindstone’ (“Daddy worked like a mule mining Pike County coal, ’til he fucked up his back and couldn’t work any more”) or the stark honesty of ‘I Swear (To God)’, (“I only had a couple drinks last night and few good hits from an antler pipe/and I must admit, I had a few white lines and I don’t know what all happened”). It all serves to carry on in the outlaw tradition of classic country music, though performed by one who has come out the other side and settled down.
With short and witty introductions (and some lengthy jokes) in between songs, Childers was the very embodiment of charm and good humour. At times, it was his personality as much as his music that pulled the audience in ever closer to the front – all enjoying the intimacy of a one-man performance, with his recording band left back in America. With a stunning voice and impeccable mastery of volume, he matched that with a fluid style of guitar – equally at home on the bluegrass ‘Purgatory’ as with the mournful ‘Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain’. With song subjects as diverse as “Psychedelic mushrooms and one night stands” (‘Heart of Stone’), there was little risk of it being too “traditional” country for modern ears – it was instead a thrilling update on a timeless genre.
The atmosphere was so heady with whoops and hollers that his cover of Kris Kristofferson’s ‘Help Me Make It Through The Night’ prompted a mini hoedown, as well as some fairly hilariously off-pitch drunken singing from the crowd. “If I ever made any money from this tour, I would be compelled to pay you for that” he laughed, finding it as amusing as the rest of us. Closing with a crowd-pleasing trio of ‘Universal Sound’, ‘Honky Tonk Flame’ and finally ’Whitehouse Road’, each song provoked a louder reaction than the one before. After that, out of songs and out of time, Childers thanked the crowd and rushed from the stage into the cold Sussex night – leaving behind new tales for the audience to tell of a major talent announcing himself.