Kalamazoo College's Student Newspaper
By Emily Guzman
Not minutes after the Vermonters of American folk-rock band Chamberlin left the stage at Bell’s Brewery on Saturday night, anxious fans both young and old inched toward the platform to get personal with the main attraction: Lake Orion’s hyper-experiential folk rockers, Frontier Ruckus.
The five-man band includes lead singer Matthew Milia, resident mustachioed banjo expert David Jones, the multi-instrumentalist Zachary Nichols, drummer Ryan Etzcorn and a revolving bassist. Nichols started on trumpet, but switched from song to song — and often within songs — between melodica, baritone, keys, and several other instruments.
Although talented in every instrument he played, Nichols intrigued the audience most when he strummed a carpenter’s saw with a violin bow. By bending the blade with his knees and sliding the bow against the flat edge, he produced a rather mystifying, eerie, science-fiction tone. He altered the pitch by changing the amount of tension he gave the saw with his knees.
After maneuvering his way through a persistent and growing crowd of admirers, one photographer came out of the woodwork at various times to capture the ingenuity of Nichols’s singing saw.
Defying traditional perceptions of folk music, the group relied heavily on improvisation, mainly coming from Nichols’s array of instruments and Jones’s banjo. The chord progressions were often quite complex, as were the rhythms produced by the drummer, including mid-song changes in time signature.
As lead vocalist, Milia had a natural ability to captivate the crowd with his strikingly poetic lyrics — vivid scenes from everyday life and love that were often nostalgic of familiar locations in the metro Detroit area, like Pontiac and the band’s hometown. Milia’s on-stage energy was akin to a fidgety but fervent adolescent. He was appeased with the sound of his harmonica at random, complementing the band’s self-described style of tender pathos.
The band left the stage around midnight, but was brought back on by a screaming crowd for an encore. Frontier Ruckus is arguably the best Michigan folk band and is a must see any time they come through Kalamazoo.