Blitzen Trapper + Dawes Live Review (Boston Globe, 10/31/11)

Posted on November 6, 2011


Bands offer blasts of rural rock, alt-country

There was a time when it seemed like willfully independent musicians like Wilco and Son Volt had taken roots music away from the mainstream. They made it sparse, hushed, wry, and contemplative. It was like a mild-mannered and acquired taste.

That’s not so much the case any more, with West Coast bands like Dawes and Blitzen Trapper shredding through shows like Friday night’s at Royale. The cowboy shirt is still the garment of choice, but these bands proudly harken back to the days when rock bands blasted county fair-worthy anthems and ripped solos destined for Guitar Hero.

Blitzen Trapper, ofPortland,Ore., is the more bombastic of the two. The five-piece has grown a healthy disregard for boundaries and it’s as comfortable with pseudo-Dylan acoustic ballads as with Deep Purple-style proto-metal riffs. Singer Eric Earley alternated between reedy Dylan croons and Black Crowes squawking, all the while handling fuzzed-out guitar duties like a sorcerer’s apprentice.

Blitzen was promoting its new album “American Goldwing.’’ It melded the new batch of rural rockers with older, almost prog-flavored tunes using a mix of electric and acoustic guitars and a battery of sleek modern synths spread across the stage. The members tempered the new down-on-yer-luck ballad “Love the Way You Walk Away’’ into an Elton John crawl (think “Bennie and the Jets’’). “Baby, I’m on the make / In my old sport coat / My head it aches,’’ Earley crooned. Later, the band made its own headaches with big swamp rock riffs and a very banging version of Led Zeppelin’s “Good Times Bad Times.’’

Dawes played more to the crowd. ALos Angelesband built on the sibling core of guitarist Taylor and drummer Griffin Goldsmith, its sound is a retro-fittedNashvillesoul. It’s a more vintage approach, with bearded keyboardist Tay Strathairn playing lush organ parts through a spinning Leslie speaker cabinet. Dawes could also gunsling its way through relaxed solos (Taylormay be a closet Frank Zappa disciple). But the main focus with Dawes is direct and to the point – find the heartstrings and yank. Taylor has a cute Bruce Springsteen/Rick Moranis thing going on, and he hammed up narratives about suicide cases and brides-to-be with relish, milking every corny possibility out of the pop-country prom dance epiphany of “A Little Bit of Everything’’ as fans across the club swooned. It was cool and calculated and worked, the way a generation’s worth of bashful alt-country would never admit it would.

Originally published in the Boston Globe here.