As I talked with Blitzen Trapper's amazingly gifted singer Eric Earley last week it became apparent that this band thrives on taking audiences on the dusty roads of Americana. It appeared going into the show last night that it had all the perfect scripting for a great musical journey that would surely get the crowd ablaze with excitement.
By the end of the night, I'm confident that everyone there came away moved, astonished at the twisty and turning roads that Blitzen Trapper treaded in their ever shifting sonic landscape. That sonic journey journeyed into the human spirit, both the positives of love and companionship and the joys of having a good time and laughter to brooding tales of the darker side of the road as showcased in "Black River River."
But even before they hit the stage the audience had a taste of a different but just as powerful journey. Fellow Portland band Loch Lomond came on stage to start things off, and while I had no clue what to think of them going in, they proved that they're quite talented storytellers and songwriters in their own right.
Like Blitzen Trapper, this was the band's first visit to Milwaukee and it made sure it left a mark as it played its lush symphonic pop and folk dripping with atmospheric filled harmonic vocals that came from the co-ed sextet.
Lead singer Ritchie Young showcased his vocal range during their set, with the unique ability to pick up the volume at a moments notice or soften his voice in time with the mood of the music. During one song, the band invited the audience to become part of the song as whenever he lifted his guitar the audience inhaled in and exhaled when he swung it down.
It definitely seemed the show acted out like an instrument musical chairs as band members frequently switched spots during their performance, taking on instruments such as mandolin, bass clarinet, guitars and drums. During one part of the show one of the members moved back to add some additional drumming to the song. That's pretty impressive to me that a band can do that.
With songs titles such as "Elephants and Little Girls," one would expect a very intriguing journey filled with interesting lyrics. Young explained before the band's newest song that revolved the story of a ghost of an earthworm that he had a dream that he was one of the giant worms that can be found in India and moved into a skeleton to attempt to be human. The audience enjoyed a few laughs during the show at some of the humorous lyrics and a joke between songs of a "wasted" whale. I'm glad that I came early to see them and kudos for Blitzen Trapper for inviting them along.
But the night was still young and much music was left to be played by the band everyone came for. When Blitzen Trapper came out, everyone clamored to get close to the stage as the band came out and launched into "Sleepy Time in the Western World," its first tune off its critically acclaimed "Furr" album. From there it showed off its incredibly vibrant sonic range with most of the tunes coming from that aforementioned album that got the band swaying in tune with the beat of many of them.
Throughout the performance you could definitely tell that everyone was enjoying themselves and in turn putting all their effort in creating the best journey that could for the audience. Like Young, Earley has a unique vocal range that is pretty much the skies the limit and he delivered songs with expertise. I definitely thought at least a few times of his interests in the great singers of the past like Neil Young and Bob Dylan as he invoked these influences in his delivery. He went from the calm and collected vocal "Lady on the Water" to the powerful "Love U" complete with a high pitch yell. "Black River Killer," a chilling story is a perfect example of the band's ability to make a powerful journey in the song itself.
Each song seemed to put me under the spell of the band's transitioning styles and the band gave it their all the whole set to capture these moments in their journey so well. At one point when several fans started stomping Earley noticed their enthusiasm and said "I like how you rumble."
I really got a kick out of drummer Brian Koch, who proved to be the comedic member of the band, making jokes about his long beard being organic. As the night drew on, the band decided to bring out some songs from their other critically acclaim album "Wild Mountain Nation." Playing the title song and ending with a escalating to a climax "Devil's a Go-Go" that band seemingly put an exclamation to the journey.
But with the crowd's enthusiasm and a desire to keep that journey playing just a little longer, the band came out and gave the crowd a couple more. As I left, I knew I had seen something special.
At one point during the show, the band brought out the lighters and proved to be a powerful metaphor to that whole evening. With sonic journeys that put the Milwaukee crowd in a fired up state, we can only hope that both bands visit again.