Masonic Temple, Detroit, 6.6.2023
Only four years ago, I saw Tyler Childers at a festival and felt the day was too hot, there was too much cigarette smoke (because it was outdoors), and I was not nearly “bruh” enough to hang with the aesthetic in the fanbase. I don’t consider Tyler “bro-country” per se but the bro vibes were as thick as the nicotine haze that day.
I’m not saying there weren’t some bro-vibes tonight (I overheard someone in the men’s room talking about an upcoming Morgan Wallen stadium show), and the marijuana vape pens made things plenty smoky for an indoor show where that shit is surely prohibited, even though recreational weed is legal in my former hometown.
Confession is I love too many genres to allow my own sense of my own identity, to deter me from loving great lyrical folk art, genre fanbase stereotypes fulfilled, yet notwithstanding.
So this show was so different, because I have had more time to learn Tyler’s music and continue to feel compelled to see him live, like it was a hunger and a course to correct that disappointing summer day back in 2019.
Granted I am sure Tyler was fire that day too, but I wasn’t ready. At a dedicated sold out show on a sold out tour, I was in for something else entirely. Tyler: A still rising star and a master of his craft in every way, with his voice an instrument, a conjuring spell, a distinctly unforgettable Kentucky-inflected wailing, howling, transcendent moaning, inimitable outlaw twang.
I met a fan from Iowa who said she was staying at the same hotel as him. Then she showed me a video of Tyler with his dog. Tyler is into his dog. The album is about dogs, really, dogs and heaven and so much more. But there’s a universalism to his Universal Sound that attaches itself to you like dirt attached to the side of your truck, stuck to you like the threads of your lineage to place and people.
Now I know that the Ryman is the mother church, but the Masonic Temple is another mother church. His stage set is so perfectly to convey that homey comfort and rustic rural wow, with an old-school TV, with black white cowboy shit on.
And the crowd, and this was perfectly evident in the first four acoustic songs. They know every song and every word to every song and they sing loud and in unison and they actually sound good. I admire Tyler, but I am not a superfan at their level and it puts chill bumps all over my arms.
During Creeker, I’m like how sad is this song and is this song about suicidal ideation and wow how can a sad AF song with suicidal ideation be so freaking holy. But it’s the late set rendering of the aforementioned Universal Sound and the sacred-dance-hall keyboard-and-drums smoking “Way of the Triune God” that has me “screaming and shouting” and slapping hands with a few thousand strangers.
In this catalog spanning set, he still packs in covers by SG Goodman and Kenny Rogers. He only samples from the recent gospel album but those songs are some of the funkiest (think the Country Funk compilation) and not the least sectarian and abiding a universal impulse toward inclusion. It really is church but the whole concert is church not just the newer songs, especially those churches of the honky tonks and highways and camping trailers and hunting lands.
At the end, which is just the last song, he does the most talking of the night.
It begins with an ask:
-be good to each other
-eat lots of vegetables
-drink lots of water
Then he starts talking about lyrics that were thinking about psychedelics, that were about letting go, and then he is telling us about a dying friend and moonshiner and hippy dear brother and Tyler is bringing music to hospice. Then Tyler is crying and introducing an acapella rendition of Sour Mash by Cory Brannan.
Then he is holding up one of those disposable shot glasses they have at shows. And it looks like it has whisky in it. And my brain is like wait and what and I thought you were sober. He holds up the shot while rendering the song more emotional and eerie than the original version. I really am terrified he is going to drink it, but at the end of the song, he turns the glass upside down and sprays the caramel-colored shine into the crowd.
Tyler songs are humming in my head on the way to the car, and I put on the "Purgatory" album as soon as I start up the silver Toyota with Tennessee plates.
Setlist (my notes mostly check with the version on Setlist.fm, although a couple on there may be out of order)
Nose to the Grindstone
Shake This Frost
Follow You To Virgie
with Full Band - Food Stamps
Tom Turkey - Charley Crockett cover
Rustin in the Rain
Cluck Ol’ Hen
I Swear To God
Old Country Church
Take My Hounds To Heaven
Space & Time - SG Goodman cover
Tulsa Turnaround -- Kenny Rogers cover
Way of the Triune God
Honky Tonk Flame
Heart You Been Tendin
Sour Mash - acapella Cory Branan cover