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For Blitzen Trapper, the musical potpourri works

Paradise, Boston, February 27, 2009

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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Blitzen Trapper is not the easiest band to musically pigeonhole. At times, the Portland, Ore. group opts for a softer, folkier side with Dylan a clear reference point, but you wouldn't exactly label them a folk act. Later during their sold-out show in their headlining debut and only second time in Boston, they veered towards a country, more rootsy lilt, but from the overall perspective, they're not a country at and don't look for them on mainstream country radio anytime soon. For a fortunately short stretch, they grew experimental with lots of dissonance. Rock was part of the musical soundscape as well with odes to The Beatles.

Generally, whatever the pastiche they adopted, Blitzen Trapper succeeded.

The sextet first started gaining traction with the self-release of their third disc, "Wild Mountain Nation," in 2007 to acclaim from folks at Pitchfork Media and Spin. That led to a record deal with Sub Pop Records and the release of "Furr" this past fall. The title track gained them airplay. Not having toured widely before, according to their drummer, the band gigged with label-mate Iron and Wine last fall before embarking on the current tour.

Many songs have an acoustic guitar-underpinning with both main lead singer, the handsome Eric Earley and sometime lead singer Marty Marquis playing acoustic guitar interchangeably with electric. Earley is an earnest leader, engaging the crowd and growing seemingly more relaxed as he went along.

That about summed up the 90-minute show as well. It grew stronger and stronger with the songs seeming to become a more ingrained in the head with good beats, a little bit of keyboards here, guitars there to maintain interest.

BT also must have confidence in its material - as they should - since they didn't wait until the last song of the regular set to play Furr. Instead, they turned in a good version of it about half-way through. A long stretch of country and roots songs towards the end of the night worked particularly well, with Cocaine and Gold For Bread among the standouts.

About the only misstep was the dissonant regular set closer, which just had too many twists and was so different from the rest of the night to be labeled dull. It then took several minutes due to equipment problems for Earley to finally get going with the encore, which started with a mash-up of Queen and Kenny Rogers (no joke!). Kind of dumb, kind of cute. But they turned in a country-based reading of Tom Paxton's oft-recorded The Last Thing On My Mind, which sounded lovely in a country setting with only Earley, Marquis and drummer Brian Koch on stage with the latter two adding only vocals.

While perhaps hard to necessarily identify Blitzen Trapper from a musical perspective, the flipside is that there are enough stops, starts, mood changes and whatever else you want to throw into the musical potpourri to keep it interesting.

Opener Alela Diane (she doesn't use her surname Menig), was very solid. Touring behind a Rough Trade album, "To Be Still," out just a few weeks ago, she is of strong voice. The California native is more folkie and would fit in well with the Hotel Cafe crowd. Her vocals were clearly the key part of the sound mix thankfully, allowing you to easily hear the words and the emotion invested.

Menig also has a definite presence and confidence on stage that comes through without ever being overconfident on such songs as To Be Still and My Brambles. Interestingly, her father, Tom, is her lead guitarist/mandolinist and producer, a rare combo in music. Menig received a deservedly good hand.