Buzzing alt-country artists don’t come much more old-school than Tyler Childers. And that’s not just a comment on the vintage stylings in his music.
Starting with his high-revving show Sunday night, the 28-year-old Kentucky twanger became the rare artist of late to settle in for a two-night stand at First Avenue. Most acts on the rise nowadays just play one night at the refurbished Palace Theatre (also run by First Ave, Inc., and almost twice as big).
The Palace is a fine room, but there’s still something special and solidifying about an artist on the verge playing the storied old nightclub at this juncture.
Childers may have already crossed the line into long-term stardom, based on how loudly Sunday’s crowd sang along to about half the songs and how far in advance he sold out both shows, all of which made Night 1 feel all the more memorable and mayhemic.
It’s hard to say exactly how the warbly but thickly voiced singer got so big so quick. Locally, he opened for Jack White last year and landed a modest amount of airplay on 89.3 the Current, but otherwise he hasn’t earned a lot of other media exposure.
One big leg up for him came via Sturgill Simpson. The fellow Kentuckian and Waylon Jennings acolyte produced Childers’ two latest albums, including the August-released “Country Squire,” a contender for best twang album of the year. But it’s not like Simpson is famous enough to come anywhere near filling stadiums like so many of the country dudes without true country flavor can.
Childers will actually combine forces with Simpson his next time in Minneapolis to try to fill up the Armory together on April 4 at rock-starry prices (tickets go on sale Tuesday for $80-$100). Fans can be confident the younger countryman will add plenty of value to that double bill.
Much like Simpson — and fellow ’60s- and ’70s-influenced country upstarts Chris Stapleton and Margo Price — the redheaded singer has a plain ol’ killer band with genuine groove and chemistry, the kind of tight groups that might overshadow lesser songwriters.
The five-man crew — including piano, pedal steel, fiddle and occasional banjo — highlighted both the wild-eyed, roughneck energy and more tender romance in Childers’ lyricism. They showed their versatility right off the bat with three highlights from the new album launching the 90-minute set: the straight-up, R&B-tinged love song “All Your’n,” the youthfully lustful “Bus Route” and the smooth-rolling title track “Country Squire,” a uniquely manly and hillbilly-ish romantic tune about refurbishing a vintage camper.
“I’ve gutted to the studs and the rafters, and I’m building it back piece by piece,” he sang, “I’m trying to fix her up a temple. My lady of the Estill Springs.”
Be still my heart. There were some genuinely swooning moments later on, though, particularly when Childers delivered “Lady May” in a mid-show solo acoustic montage. He also showed his subtle bluegrass influence more plainly during a solo delivery of “Keep Your Nose on the Grindstone.”
But once the band took over again, the show went into overdrive and even got downright jammy. They put a hellish spin on “Whitehouse Road,” a fan fave from his 2017 album “Purgatory,” and smoldered on “House Fire,” a sexually charged centerpiece of the new album.
Childers’ voice was emotive in both the heavy and lighter fare and held up strong all night, an impressive feat considering he’s nearing the end of a long stretch of road dates.
His voice didn’t exactly ring out between songs, though. Much of Childers’ stage banter was hard to decipher with his thick drawl and mumbly delivery. It sounded like he was being witty, but also like he was seriously happy to be there. If that’s correct, then the crowd reciprocated the sentiment loudly and clearly.