Though Sub Pop label mates FLEET FOXES have had gallons of ink spilled in praise of their latest record, it’s hard to figure out for me why that sort of gushing didn’t get directed towards Portland, Oregon’s BLITZEN TRAPPER, whose 2008 release Furr stomps all over the sunny harmony-drenched Foxes record. The Trapper men have made an album which really couldn’t be predicted by their three decent previous records, one which bristles with all sorts of obvious roots-rock touchpoints but makes it all into a very cohesive and singular sound. Despite the presence of three guitars, three keyboards, and a microphone in front of four of the six members on stage, what could have been an unwieldy and scattered mess turned out to be tighter than JOAN RIVERS’ facial skin.
Wisely kicking off with relentlessly upbeat material from Furr (“Fire and Fast Bullets,” “Sleepytime in the Western World”), flashes of BAND-influenced Americana meshed perfectly with the Hammond organ sound of “Sleepytime”; one had to do a double-take to make sure that it wasn’t actually DYLAN-era AL KOOPER playing those lines, and even Rip Van Winkle would be unable to catch a quick forty winks if this song resonated through the air. The vocal manners of de facto band leader ERIC EARLEY suggest an odd but highly effective mix of ERIC BACHMANN, ROBBIE ROBERTSON and a slight pinch of Spiders-era BOWIE, and more than able backing vocals were handled by Napoleon Dynamite lookalike MARTY MARQUIS. Fine stuff indeed. “Big Black Bird” from the tour-only cd which was for sale settled into a very comfortable ‘Cripple Creek Ferry” lope, and all was good.
A change of pace was made when the stage was vacated aside from Earley, who played some acoustic songs, including a cover of “Cocaine Blues,” made most famous by JOHNNY CASH. The title track was also played, and shades of SIMON AND GARFUNKEL were there, though neither would likely tackle the subject of transmogrifying into a wolf and back. This somewhat langorous pace would continue for a few songs, and a couple of guys joined back on stage for “Not Your Lover,” “Country Caravan” and “Lady On The Water” but the steam had gone out and the crowd was a bit restless, waiting for the big guitar licks of ERIK MENTEER to reappear. A great reading of “Black River Killer” helped, a cold-blooded, emotionless account of a serial killer. Finally, the dam broke loose with “Bread For Gold” and Menteer’s guitar howled in all the right places. The overall show was very good, but also underscored the potential pitfall of being a band that can bring both the hot-blooded rockers and the cooler acoustic moments. It’s a tricky balance to achieve sometimes.
Opener ALELA DIANE played some earnest, straight-forward acoustic material, helped by her father on guitar and a drummer who looked almost exactly like CHEVY CHASE’s rollerskating hippy character from Fletch. She’s got a great voice and a nice presentation, the band sounded full (though the bass became way too prominent in the mix as the set went on), and her inclusion in Mojo magazine’s ‘Top 9 of 2009 to Watch” list isn’t unfounded. Great version of “Gold Dust Woman” too.
As always, more shots of both band can be seen on my tinnitus photography website.