Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz
here's light in the darkness of Trampled by Turtles. The latter is in the subject matter of the songs - there's a lot of doom and gloom in these relationships. There doesn't seem to be a lot of happy moments. As if to underscore that, the stage was often saturated in dark hues.
So, where's the light? Well, despite the cup half-empty bent, this was by no means a depressing concert. In fact, Duluth, Minn.'s finest has never been a downer of an evening. Coupled with the fact that the sextet was on hiatus for four years, this was a most welcome back.
That might well be because when you have a lot of good material, a concert that grew and cascaded as the 90-minute show wore on and probably most importantly a lot of really good players romping through a chunk of the songs at a blistering pace, then there's a lot of light to be had.
While the pacing often tend to be at breakneck speed, TBT started it off very laid back with the title track of the brand new release "Life is Good on the Open Road." It was mainly lead singer Dave Simonett and acoustic guitar plus a bit of backing vocals. Here and elsewhere, Simonett easily carried the songs with his plaintive vocals. There's not a lot of frills or ego with Simonett. Call him reliable and steady in putting his heart into the songs, but he's not, nor has he ever been, a rah rah kind of performer.
It was as if TBT left it to the overall effect for the long haul to provide that. And they stepped right into it with the fiddle playing of Ryan Young kicking off "Kelly's Bar."
It could just have easily been mandolin player Erik Berry or banjo man Dave Carroll or cellist Eamonn McLain holding court. Young had a habit of just taking over the songs - or segments thereof - with his enthusiastic playing. McLain gave the material a lot of bottom as well.
TBT fleshed out the songs with different tones and emphases from song to song.
And just when a feeling of sameness crept into the music - and that did happen a few times - it seemed that TBT went in a different direction - perhaps with the sonics or an easy going style.
One of the highlights was "I'm Not There Anymore" from the new disc, where Simonett laments, "And I come back to start again/You picked me up and let me in/But I woke up in my own skin/I'm not there anymore." Life has not been easy for Simonett, who got divorced.
But with concerts like this, things ought to be looking up for Trampled by Turtles.
Hiss Golden Messenger opened with a satisfying set. The band, which is ostensibly lead singer MC Taylor and a trio backing him up, may not have been especially distinctive in their musical style (sometimes rocking, sometimes a bit on the swampy side), but they were good at what they did.
Taylor is a good, sure-voiced lead singer, and the slide guitar playing was especially taut. Hiss Golden Messenger did a good job in setting the table.