Michigan-based indie-folk combo Frontier Ruckus played at Bend’s McMenamins venue last night, and I really don’t know what else to say. In last week’s paper, I said this show had a chance to be “special.” I was wrong. It wasn’t special. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t special. It just was.
Head Frontiersman Matthew Milia writes terrific songs with melodies that will knock around your head for a good long while. And his band — the most misnamed band I’ve heard in a while, for there really is no ruckus — plays those songs very, very well. The banjo provided a nice thread of texture, as it often does, and the guy who switched between trumpet, singing saw and melodica was the MVP; each of his instruments boosted Milia’s tunes from engaging, pleasant folk to unique, engaging, pleasant folk. Bottom line: The songs are pretty, and they sounded great.
But there was no oomph whatsoever. There was no life in the room, unless you count the dozen or so sub-5-year-old girls running around and dancing for the first half of the set. (Seriously, kids everywhere. So much so I wondered if some Mommy & Me group decided to have a night out.) Milia and his crew played their songs, and occasionally stepped gently on the gas and jumped from 20 mph to, like, 35 mph. But that was about it.
Certainly, a band can top out at 35 mph and still be captivating. You don’t have to be Sammy Hagar to put on an amazing show. But Frontier Ruckus wasn’t captivating. They hardly even seemed fully there. They were almost like a specter, floating into town, quietly setting up to quietly play their quiet songs, and then floating away again.
Nonetheless, the songs are quite good, and you should check out the two videos I shot: