Review: Frontier Ruckus at the Railway Inn, Winchester

Frontier Ruckus drew their European and UK tour to a close in Winchester on Sunday at the the beautifully intimate Railway Inn, a venue carved into St Paul’s Hill up above the city’s train station. Having meandered through Switzerland, the Netherlands and France over the tail-end of August, the trio from Detroit, MI ventured over to these shores to play a flurry of shows that commenced in Newport on 4th, before visiting the likes of Edinburgh, Bedford, Bristol and Durham, to name just a few, before the finale at the former Victorian inn.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the three-piece – consisting of vocalist and guitar player Matthew Milia, banjo supremo David Jones, and Zachary Nichols – appeared a tad weary following their travels, but rather than allowing this to affect their performance, it actually went some way to creating a transcendently relaxed atmosphere which was enjoyed by all those in attendance.

This was a predominately sit-down gig, with tables and chairs scattered around The Barn (the Railway Inn’s backroom space), further enhancing the state of repose, allowing everyone to enjoy a band that is at one with their sound. Frontier Ruckus possess a wonderfully mellow folk-inspired sound, with simplicity at the heart of everything they do; there is no need for big expensive keyboards or synthesisers seen so commonly on every stage nowadays, instead they need just a guitar, a banjo, and a collection of wonderfully weird other “instruments” that are orchestrated perfectly by Nichols.

The reason for the word ‘instruments’ appearing in quotation marks is due to the dubious nature of the implements used, of which one was not actually an instrument at all. Amongst the trumpet and simple keyboard lay a saw and what I could only describe as a miniature or toy accordion – a tiny keyboard played by blowing into a straw-esque attachment. It would be safe to assume that these additions to the setup would cheapen the sound of their music, but they did exactly the opposite, instead enhancing the band’s sound and actually leaving me in a positive state of bemusement and awe.

Nichols’ manipulation of the saw, with the aide of a violin stick and strategically timed warps, created a mesmerising accompaniment to numerous tracks played throughout their set – tracks greeted by the more raucous applauses throughout the evening upon their close, perhaps highlighting everyone else’s awe in the room as to the skill of using an everyday tool as an effective instrument.

The trio evidently adore their music and playing with each other; bouncing off one another between tracks whilst offering numerous anecdotes about a specific track or their time on tour, there was a keen sense of friendship and togetherness that is not always quite so plainly obvious. This leads to the clear emotional investment in their music, with all three band members singing along to every song, even when away from the microphone.

This was a thoroughly enjoyable performance from a band that makes music for the love of it, rather than for the fame and fortune it can bring. Whilst stood in that backroom of a former Victorian inn, ginger beer in hand, I couldn’t help but think to myself that this was the perfect way to spend an autumnal Sunday evening.

Frontier Ruckus were playing at the Railway Inn in Winchester Sunday 16th September.


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