Concert review: Blitzen Trapper at Mohawk Place
blog by Ben Kirst • October 31, 2011 @ 12:00pm
The band: Blitzen Trapper is a five-piece from Portland, Oregon that is known for its Americana-on-mushrooms style of music—a stylistic blend of 1970s rock, country + western, folk and weirdo progressive stuff. Their lyrics are a mix of cowboy bravado and painful introspection. The band is currently touring the United States in support of their new album, American Goldwing, which—like their previous records—has garnered its share of supporters and haters. The band cruised into Buffalo on the heels of a Boston show that they claimed offered the best audience of the current tour.
Blitzen Trapper is Eric Earley (guitar/vocals), Erik Menteer (guitar/keyboard), Brian Adrian Koch (drums/vocals), Michael VanPelt (bass) and Marty Marquis (guitar, keyboards, vocals)
The venue: The Saturday night show was held at Mohawk Place (47 E. Mohawk St., Buffalo), a venue that I swore I would never return to following a F***ing Hotlights show at which the entire club smelled like a stale hard-boiled egg and there seemed to be a weird layer of greasy moisture on all surfaces.
I wasn’t going to miss a chance to see Blitzen Trapper, egg smell or not, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that Mohawk Place was maybe as clean (or cleaner) than I remember it ever being. It was almost…pleasant. That may be a bit of an overstatement, but it was as very tolerable from a hygiene perspective. I didn’t find any mysterious stains on my clothes, which is always a plus.
The crowd: The show was pretty packed, which was great to see on a big bar night like the unofficial pre-Halloween Halloween celebration. In attendance were such well-known Buffalo online media all-stars such as Mac McGuire of Buffablog, Seamus Gallivan of The Good Neighborhood, Joe Popiolkowski of The Buffalo News, Erica Morano of Buffalo.com (see here photos from the show!) and, of course, me. There were probably Artvoice people and Buffalo Rising people hanging out, too, but I did not see them. Oh, to expand my narrow social circle! Maybe I should write a folk song about it.
All in all it was a good crowd—pretty mellow but generally respectful and definitely open-minded towards the opening act, Belle Brigade, a Southern California sextet that put on an amazingly upbeat and impressive performance.
One note: to the drunk kid who smelled like pine air freshener, insisted on romantically mauling his girlfriend, made several PBR-soaked attempts at “rocking out” and teetered into me for the better part of three songs before finding a new space to stand / sway—I hate you.
The performance: Blitzen Trapper opened with “Might Find It Cheap” from American Goldwing and then immediately dipped into their back catalog with stellar performances of “Wild Mountain Nation” and one of my personal favorites, “Love and Hate.” Things were going well! Early has an amazing voice, but I was particularly impressed by Menteer’s fluid guitar work. “Love and Hate,” in particular, also showed how solidly this band could lock into a hard, driving rhythm, which—in a tiny club like Mohawk Place—produced that wonderful locomotive feeling that a solid roller coaster ride through the set can provide.
I felt like the music dragged a bit, however, with “Gold for Bread” and “American Goldwing,” but picked back up with the murderous “Black River Killer.” “My Home Town” offered more of that locked-in rhythm along with harmonica work from Early, and “Evening Star” continued that rootsy, nostalgic, stories-from-a-small-town atmosphere. “Evening Star” is another favorite—I liked Destroyer of the Void a lot, what can I say?—and Blitzen Trapper’s songs about bad decisions and missed opportunities in these rural, forgotten towns always hit home with me, probably because I grew up in a rural, forgotten town. Memories!
The band peeled through a rocker and then tore into “Your Crying Eyes.” We were reaching the heavy, ‘70s-influenced portion of the set—lots of stuff that sounded like The Band with rollicking piano and curling guitar licks. Next up were strong and even poignant versions of “God and Suicide,” “Furr” and “Big Black Bird” before an absolutely incendiary version of “Sleepytime in the Western World.” It almost sounded like Alive-era Kiss, for crying out loud. Which is awesome.
The encore offered a range of covers—Bob Dylan’s “The Man In Me,” the Dukes of Hazzard theme song (which of course was a Waylon Jennings tune) and closed it out with a searing take on Led Zeppelin’s “Good Times, Bad Times.”
The verdict: Pretty effing amazing. What a show. Blitzen Trapper is a fantastic live band, and while critics may hate (rightfully or not) on some of the band’s recorded work, it sounds very strong in concert. Well worth the $18. Come back soon, boys.