Some of Blitzen Trapper's most-gentle songs are about topics including mass murder, and transforming into a wild beast to howl endlessly in a primal, savage world.
The band's wildest songs, then, have some catching up to do, and often fly headlong into a blazing realm of dueling guitar solos and unhinged rock. Yes, it's the same band. No, they shouldn't change a thing.
Blitzen Trapper may have burst onto the scene in 2007 as Sub Pop's earthiest band, but it's taken a genre-shifting path since, combining quirky Americana, harmonious Northwest folk, heavy Southern rock and more, building a powerful live show all the while.
The band played its first Tucson show in nearly four years at Club Congress, selecting liberally from last year's American Goldwing, and coming out of the gate strong with songs like "Might Find It Cheap" and "Astronaut."
Singer-songwriter-guitarist Eric Earley seems equally at home writing songs for the acoustic guitar and the wailing electric, and the rest of the band can switch just as well, with beautiful piano and keyboard accents, plus tremendous slide-guitar work.
More of the muscular American Goldwing tunes like "Fletcher" and "Your Crying Eyes" filled the early part of the set, before Earley switched to acoustic guitar (and often harmonica) for most of the set's middle portion.
"Black River Killer," from 2008's Furr, used a Twilight Zone-themed keyboard riff to set a spooky backdrop for Earley's meditation on sin, circumstance and the search for salvation. "God and Suicide," "Taking It Easy Too Long" and "Furr" continued the captivating acoustic stretch before the band again unleashed its wild side.
"Street Fighting Sun" unfurled the dueling guitar leads; Earley took the hard and blistering route, joining muddy, wailing slide-guitar from Erik Menteer. That proved a perfect warm-up for an amazing cover of Led Zeppelin's "Ramble On" to close the set, with the rowdy "Gold for Bread" capping the two-song encore.
Fellow Portlanders Parson Red Heads opened, with a sunny back-porch combination of gritty Southern rock and laid-back Laurel Canyon vocals. The melodic guitar leads from Evan Way and Sam Fowles complemented the band's rich and beckoning two-, three- and four-part harmonies.