A sparse crowd arrives early enough to catch support act Paper Kites. Which is a shame, because the gentle tunes and elegant harmonies of this unsigned indie-folk band deserve a bigger audience. The endearing quintet employs an impressive array of instruments (only the drummer and bassist remain monogamous) as they take us through tunes from their Woodland EP.
Opening with You Might Find It Cheap, Blitzen Trapper then launch into a block of songs from latest album American Goldwing before moving to tunes from earlier albums. The lyrical talents of frontman Eric Earley are showcased when (oh, when) we get to the dark and disturbing Black River Killer, followed by the bleak Evening Star, while Fletcher is dedicated to “bogans”, a newly acquired word in Earley's vocabulary. Such tunes offer a respectful nod to the sounds of The Band and The Grateful Dead (but without the lengthy psychedelic meandering of the latter). This is particularly evident in some of the vocal harmonies and arrangements. But Furr is Blitzen Trapper's and theirs alone.
Upon finishing the set on Big Black Bird, the previously merely enthusiastic and appreciative crowd goes wild, calling for an encore. A bemused Brian Koch (drums/vocals) returns to stage. “You guys are so polite and quiet,” he says. “We can't tell whether you like us or not.” This is the exact same accusation Tim Robbins levelled at the crowd when his Rogues Gallery played a Bluesfest sideshow at the East Brunswick Club last year. Like Robbins, Blitzen Trapper choose to take this for what it is – the crowd wants to hear the band rather than each other: “You guys really seem to be music fans. So thank you.” And to show their appreciation the band notches the energy up to 11 with a couple more songs, finishing the night covering Led Zeppelin's Good Times Bad Times. It's a nice touch because, like Zeppelin, Blitzen Trapper are masters at blending hard rock, folk and other traditional genres in a seamless way that never seems to confuse the band's identity.
Overall, Blitzen Trapper do a great job melding homages to their influences in with their own alt.folk/modern roots sounds. Earley's lyrics are pure poetry and cover themes from gentle whimsy to much darker places. Definitely one to catch next time they're in town.