Blitzen Trapper Mean Business

October 4th, 2013

Blitzen Trapper – Music Hall of Williamsburg – October 3, 2013

Watching Blitzen Trapper, dressed to a man in coats and ties, take the stage last night at Music Hall of Williamsburg to the Knight Rider theme (!) playing over the PA, I could think but one thing: These guys mean business! Despite a great new album to work with, the Portland quintet opened with the first track off their seminal Furr album, “Sleepy Time in the Western World,” and despite some technical difficulties handled with humor and grace, you could tell from the start they had brought their A game. The second song, “Thirsty Man,” off the new VII record, wrapped up the Trapper sound—glorious and groovy countrified Southern rock by way of the Pacific Northwest. It went full exploratory with a spaced-out, double-guitar-and-keys jam that reached some nice places.

The show proceeded through several movements, the band pushing the boundaries of what their Americana roots could do while maintaining their unique crunchy sound. The new material fit in perfectly with the old, wolf in sheep’s clothing ready to devour the crowd, lots of teeth-bared moments. Small tweaks of instrumentation—acoustic guitars, harmonica, dashes of electric piano and organ—provided a lush soundscape on songs like “Valley of Death.” Midway through the set, just like on the album, the band delved into a manic movement, Eric Earley switching to electric banjo for the wild, almost experimental pairing of “Heaven and Earth” and “Neck Tatts, Cadillacs.”

Zipping through the set like pros, they followed that with a fantastic three-song stretch of pro’s-pro songsmanship, Earley and Co. pairing delicious imagery with gorgeous melody and perfect execution on “Black River Killer,” “Astronaut” and the sing-along-inducing “Furr.” The set’s final section was throw-the-hammer-down Southern rock highlighted by a two-guitars-are-better-than-one take on “Fletcher.” Jackets off and ties plenty loosened by the time the encore rolled around, Blitzen Trapper put in some serious overtime, playing a hefty six more songs. These included a positively Neil Young–like solo performance from Earley on “Stranger in a Strange Land” and the honoring of a couple audience requests like “Country Caravan,” off 2007’s Wild Mountain Nation. After 90 minutes of nose-to-the-grindstone rock and roll, they finally punched out their time cards with a Skynyrdesque rock out in “Big Black Bird.” Some serious business, indeed! —A. Stein