While waiting in line Friday at The Tralf, a young woman asked her bearded, plaid-clad friend what she should expect from the evening’s headliner, Blitzen Trapper.
“Well,” said the young man, “they’re a folk band.”
It’s safe to assume that, after watching the Portland, Ore., outfit’s 22-song march through an assortment of Gibson-led mountain jams, harmonica-flavored sing-a-longs and moonshine-soaked funk stompers, this young woman questioned whether her friend knows what the word “folk” means.
Now touring on their seventh album – the appropriately titled “VII” – Blitzen Trapper has been lumped into the indie folk rock conversation since their 2007 Sub Pop release of “Wild Mountain Nation” for a variety of reasons. They boast lyrical mention of rivers, birds and howling wolves. Four of the band’s five members currently have beards. And, yes, they do have songs that feature frontman Eric Earley’s earnest vocals over a harnessed harmonica and strums of his acoustic guitar.
But, as listeners have learned after absorbing electric tracks off such releases as “Furr,” “American Goldwing” and the band’s latest release, Trapper packs substantially more instrumental thunder than would be deemed appropriate for the average emotive folk gathering. They’re not a coffeehouse act. They’re a Midnight Ramble act.
Friday’s amplified performance confirmed this.
After easing the Tralf’s crowd out of their club seating with Earley’s harmonica and harmony on “Love The Way You Walk Away” and percussionist Brian Adrian Koch’s snare-walk of “God and Suicide,” Trapper’s set list seemed intent on evoking memories of their last visit to Buffalo – a wild 2011 date at the late Mohawk Place that elicited piles of fan-inhaled Pabst cans at the foot of the stage.
With a switch from his Gibson acoustic to an Angus Young-style electric, Earley and lead guitarist Erik Menteer threw dirt on the band’s erroneous folk designation under a series of dueling solos and a hailstorm of Koch’s cymbals on “Sleepytime In The Western World.” Halfway through the five-man winding space jam of “Thirsty Man,” the band buried it. Marty Marquis’ pacing keys and Michael Van Pelt’s threading bass took the song’s extended instrumental into territory foreign to traditional indie folk line-ups, but commonplace for Trapper’s eclectic – albeit hillbilly-tinged – offerings.
But, amid their thumping bluegrass funk on new track “Feel The Chill” and farmhouse thrust of “Might Find It Cheap,” Earley and his bandmates still found space to swap in the acoustic instruments and take the mood down for the fantastical “Lady On The Water,” animalistic narrative “Furr,” and a beautiful encore rendition of “Not Your Lover.” Their gentle handling of such numbers is possibly responsible for lulling casual listeners or concertgoers into the false impression that Blitzen Trapper is indeed a folk band.
After their latest barnstorm through Buffalo, it’s safe to say that no one in attendance will make that generalization again.
Supporting Blitzen Trapper was Phox, a seven-piece band from Baraboo, Wisc. The sweet and soulful band’s opening set featured a number of prancing tracks carried by light percussion, illuminating keys and the angelic vocals of Monica Martin. The revelatory young singer entranced the Tralf crowd with her Feist-meets-Adele renditions of “Shrinking Violets” and “Kingfisher,” and her siren-like sing-a-long of “Evil.”