Friday, November 5, 2010

Blitzen ... Free and Easy

I just saw Blitzen Trapper at the recently refurbished Paradise Rock Club in Boston (see The New Old Paradise). It was a good show; not quite stunningly great, but very entertaining. The crowd was enthusiastic, but low-key, while the band delivered a well-paced performance interspersed with some truly inspired moments.

Despite having heard a couple of live recordings of the band, I didn’t know quite what to expect performance wise. I've enjoyed Blitzen Trapper’s few records, and heard from reliable sources that they were good live. But I also couldn’t help but wonder if they would fall into the seemingly growing category of bands that I really like on record but which prove to be a snore in concert (e.g., The Brian Jonestown Massacre, proven; Built to Spill, suspected and confirmed by others; and Black Mountain, marginally proven, but I’m willing to give them another chance). Any fears I had with regard to Blitzen Trapper were quickly alleviated.

BT @ The Paradise, Boston 11/4/10 (a Sick Frank Photo)

The Portland, Ore.-based sextet put on a varied and engaging show that while short on visuals and theatrics was long on sincerity and well-developed songwriting. Their total lack of pretentiousness – though headliners, the band members were actively involved in setting up their own equipment after the opening act’s set (not something I’ve seen too often at The Paradise) – infused their performance and was almost as remarkable as the instrumental interplay and the absolutely killer harmony vocals. No one player really dominated, though lead singer and main songwriter Eric Earley is clearly the frontman.

The tandem of Earley and Marty Marquis (both of whom play formidable guitar along with Erik Menteer’s Mick Taylor-esque Les Paul licks and synthesizer dabbling) were really remarkable. In fact, beyond the array of catchy tunes, the most remarkable thing about the performance was the tandem of lead and harmony vocals (mostly provided by various configurations of Earley, Marquis and drummer Brian Koch). Truly powerful and impressive stuff.

But what did it sound like? A little rawer than the band’s records and, surprisingly, casual given the sophisticated, layered arrangements and production of their CDs. There’s no doubt Blitzen Trapper fits into the “Americana” genre, and live they come across as one part Bob Dylan, one part Simon and Garfunkle, one part Exile-era Rolling Stones, one part Drive By Truckers, one part Neil Young (electric), and half-parts Black Crowes, Big Star, The Faces, C.S.N. and The Band. Nevertheless, their music is sufficiently original, and despite the touches of southern gothic (hence the DBT, Crowes, Big Star and Band refs.), they are also characteristically “Northwestern” sounding. Overall, they wear their influences well.

Their set was well-sequenced, flowing from three-guitar rockers to mellower keyboard-driven songs and even solo acoustic guitar and vocal duets featuring Earley and Marquis. Their hits were strategically sprinkled throughout the course of the set. “Furr” was the highlight, followed by “Jericho,” “Wild Mountain Nation,” “Fire & Fast Bullets,” “Silver Moon” and the melodica-powered “Lady on the Water.” Only the mid-set rendition of their biggest hit, “Black River Killer,” didn’t quite live up to expectations, seeming a bit rushed and cursory. Nevertheless, it was a very entertaining 90-minute show. I’ll definitely see them again and I’d recommend checking them out if you get a chance.

Click to see an interesting streaming video of a more hirsute version of the band than I saw tonight. It’s a concert recorded a year ago in Sydney, Australia. Also, check out YouTube, where you can find some good official (but non-embeddable) Blitzen Trapper music videos.

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