My favorite band plays in my hometown. Luckily for me, venue be damned, these guys know how to put on a live show.
9.0 / 10.0
I’ve been on a Blitzen Trapper kick for about three years now that just doesn’t seem to stop. In short, I think they are the best rock band in the world today. After finally getting to see them live, I’m happy to say that I have one more arrow in that quiver when I need to make the argument. Blitzen came to Kansas City’s Riot Room on May 31st in a club tour leg supporting 2012′s American Goldwing. When chatting up the friendly merch person, I find out that the band specifically selected smaller club venues and small market cities. This is a good sign.
I can’t say I didn’t have at least a little trepidation going in. First, when you haven’t seen a band live yet there is always a danger of destroying everything you love right before your eyes. I still can’t truly enjoy a Strokes record after a particularly bad night a few years ago. Second, The Riot Room is probably my least favorite venue in the entire city. This bar in the hippest part of the city has been around as long as I have been interested in live music and was designed with all of the eloquence of your parent’s (unfinished) basement. The venue is split into three areas; bar, showroom, and outdoor patio/stage. Anyone interested in hearing the music HAS to be in the showroom, which is also probably the smallest of the three. The blackbox showroom holds maybe 75 before watching the music becomes difficult past ten feet from the barely raised stage. I’ve seen several shows here over the years, and frustration has been a central theme of those audiences.
The opening act for this wave of Blitzen shows is an artist I hadn’t heard before; Sydney Wayser. Get used to that name because we’ll be talking about her a lot on Earbuddy over the coming weeks. At this point, the crowd was still sparse enough to enjoy the performance. What I found interesting however was how this blonde, headband-adorned waif was holding every member of the rock club audience in complete captivation. Sydney plays keyboards and sings (sings VERY well) in front of her three-piece group. As she yips, jumps, stutters, and woo-a-hoo’s through the set, I hear no less than five complete strangers say something akin to ‘she’s got a voice’. Sydney is playing pop-oriented, reserved singer-songwriter tunes. To keep an entire audience of rocking Blitzen Trapper fans by the eyes for an entire set was downright impressive. I decided then that Sydney was someone to keep an eye on. I’m sure I wasn’t the only fan she made this night.
Now we have the true game of the Riot Room. Once the break hits, the crowd disperses for bathroom break and bar visits, all trying to get back into a stage-visible part of the showroom before the rest of the crowd. In my infinite wisdom, I decided to multi-task by talking to Sydney Wayser while waiting in line at the bar. The gambit didn’t work. By the time I make it to the black box room, the crowd is firmly in place. Now, here is where I’ll have to digress for a moment. What makes a live show really great is the crowd. If a group performs the perfect set, a dead crowd can still sap all the energy from it. There are bands that have built cults around their live performances based almost entirely upon a fan base that is absolutely committed to making sure everyone has a good time. This was one of those crowds, and they absolutely saved the night.
I by chance ran into a pleasant guy at the bar named Pat. After exchanging a few niceties about being excited to see Blitzen live, we wished each other a good night and went our separate ways. Maybe it was my pathetic dejected shoulder slump at the back of the room. Maybe it was that he could obviously tell that this 5’2 geek was never going to see anything from the back or push his way to the front. For whatever reason, Pat walked up to me during Blitzen’s opening number (“Might Find It Cheap”) and told me to follow him. Typically, that’s not the kind of order one would follow from a stranger, but I did. As I followed behind Pat, barreling through the thick crowd, we came to a perfect oasis at the front corner of the stage. All of a sudden, there was a perfect view of the band, plenty of space between bodies, and even a dedicated bathroom at the side of the stage. In ten years of seeing shows in this room, I’d never even thought about this area. Apparently, no one else did either. I thanked Pat mercilessly. He simply smiled and nodded in response. With us was a crew of cast-offs that truly made the show. There was Joe and his girlfriend and my right and Joel on my left. No one knew anything else, but by the end of it, we would be as close to friends as you can get in a loud, dark room. Everyone was overly-excited about what song the band would play next and even happier when we got to find out. A few high fives may have even been exchanged. So, the setting is now in place. It’s all up to the boys in the band to bring the last magic. Oh, they brought it alright.
Most impressive tonight was the band’s set list choices. I’ve always felt like this is a band that is more concerned with their fans enjoying themselves than having critics describe them as ‘beautiful’. The set tonight would confirm that feeling. Over the course of the two-and-a-half hour set, Blitzen Trapper would play every single song that anyone wanted to hear. The set was dominated by selections from American Goldwing, but they were all highlights from the record and everyone in the audience knew them by heart. After kicking off with “Might Find It Cheap”, they would move on to play the title track, “Love the Way You Walk Away”, “Astronaut”, “Street Fighting Sun”, and a blazing rendition of “Fletcher”. Outside of the Goldwing selections, the set played like a greatest hits compilation. We were treated to versions of “Evening Star”, “Black River Killer”, “Furr”, “God & Suicide”, and “Wild Mountain Nation”. The performance itself was an exercise in happy. It can be said that performing a song as it is on the album is a slight against the live performance. I tend to think that Blitzen just prefer to treat their album sessions like a live show. As such, the performance tonight was pitch perfect. Eric Earley’s vocals were spot on through the entire night, but my utmost respect went to Erik Menteer. After spending the show doing triple time on guitar, Moog synthesizer, and maracas, Menteer’s playing was a straight shot of energy into the crowd. The group kept the crowd’s energy at such a fever pitch, that by the time they finished the encore closer, a cover of the Edgar Winter Group’s “Free Ride”, the entire crowd was spent. I believe theater artists refer to it as catharsis. I’ll just call it a damn good show.
Find out where Blitzen Trapper will be going next HERE