Blitzen Trapper: Wild Mountain Nation

Note: He’s too modest to say it, so please welcome Casey to the fold. Casey is a long-time podcaster, first-time blogger. He’s a co-worker, but I met Casey at a Shins concert, so I knew I could coax him into this tangled mp3 Web. His tastes are matched by his quality writing. So I’m hoping this is just the first of many posts from him.

Wild Mountain Nation by Blitzen Trapper

As venues go, the northeast corner of Stinkweeds poses certain challenges to the modern indie rock band. For starters, the amplification is iffy. The audience, while vaguely appreciative, will spend a significant portion of your set browsing used CDs. And then there’s the space issue: Any band bigger than the White Stripes will find itself spilling into the aisles, competing for attention with displays for new albums by Bright Eyes and Spoon.

Fortunately, Portland sextet Blitzen Trapper made the most of things this weekend during an in-store performance at Stinkweeds. With 25 or so skinny white dudes looking on, the band dived into a series of crowd pleasers off their new record, Wild Mountain Nation. Frontman Eric Earley warmed the crowd up with a VH1 Storytellers take on JJ Cale’s “Cocaine,” after which the band began distributing a handful of maracas into the crowd. (Web 2.0 meets the rhythm section!) I would have grabbed one but found myself too far back in the crowd, so I settled for stomping my foot.

It’s worth mentioning what a weird record this Wild Mountain Nation is – the erratic, rambunctious opener, “Devil’s A Go-Go,” transitions into the polished country-rock of the title track, and then into the Shins-like indie pop of “Futures and Folly.” This continues throughout the record: Lengthy, raucous bursts of noise give way to sparkling AM country radio ballads. It’s easy to name-check the band’s influences – Neil Young, Johnny Cash, Sonic Youth, Pavement – but harder to describe the way those disparate forces come together on Wild Mountain Nation. The record manages to feel familiar and disorienting all at once.

But back to Stinkweeds. The six Blitzen Trappers are refreshingly uncool in person, looking uniformly like extras on some great lost season of That 70s Show. They apologized that they would only be able to play a handful of songs, on account of being down a keyboard or two, and that they wouldn’t be as loud as they were a few weeks back opening for the Hold Steady at the Brickhouse. But by the time Earley launched into the gorgeous Americana of “Country Caravan,” no one much seemed to mind.

Eventually, word came down that the evening’s headliner, David Vandervelde, had broken down in the desert and would not be appearing. This was fantastic news, I thought: Blitzen Trapper could play some more songs! The band looked actually looked a bit worried upon learning of the Vandervelde breakdown – minus those extra keyboards, they said, their repertoire was rather limited. So I politely suggested “Futures and Folly,” and the band quickly agreed and began playing it. It was great.

After 45 minutes or so, the band played its last song. I wondered about the economics of sending six guys from Portland to Phoenix to play nine or 10 songs for 25 people who had paid $5 apiece. But Blitzen Trapper seemed to be enjoying themselves – Pitchfork had just anointed Wild Mountain Nation with its Best New Music crown, and last week Sub Pop announced they had just signed the band.

Look for them soon at a tiny record store near you. (Tour dates from Pitchfork.)

07-19 Hattiesburg, MS – Thirsty Hippo $
07-20 Atlanta, GA – Drunken Unicorn $
07-21 Wilmington, NC – Bella Festa $
07-22 Washington, DC – Rock and Roll Hotel $
07-23 Philadelphia, PA – Johnny Brenda’s $
07-24 Allston, MA – Great Scott $
07-25 New York, NY – Mercury Lounge $
07-26 Buffalo, NY – The Icon $
07-27 Ann Arbor, MI – Blind Pig $
07-28 Chicago, IL – Empty Bottle
07-29 Minneapolis, MN – Triple Rock
07-30 Omaha, NE – The Slowdown !
07-31 Denver, CO – Hi-Dive %
08-01 Salt Lake City, UT – Kilby Court
08-03 Seattle, WA – Crocodile Cafe ^

$ with David Vandervelde
! with Coyote Bones
% with Smoosh, Aqueduct
^ with Jennifer Gentle

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