Over the course of the past decade, Portland’s Blitzen Trapper has been oddly caught between two worlds, straddling the line that separates plucky, pastoral folk and gritty, guitar-blazin’ Americana. In their best moments, the band’s penchant for crisp, reverberating four-part harmonies can silence a room. But at their weakest, Blitzen’s amps-cranked guitar jams can come out sounding like a run-of-the-mill bar band.
On Saturday, the band — made up of frontman Eric Earley, guitarist/synth player Erik Menteer, drummer Brian Adrian Koch, bassist Michael Van Pelt, and guitarist Marty Marquis — delivered a set that touched on all the bases, hitting and missing in equal measure. The quintet frontloaded their set with a handful of new, slightly funkified, AM radio–inspired tracks but spent the majority of the night revisiting the oldies. Highlights included “Lady on the Water,” during which Koch abandoned the kit for a melodica to stunning effect, and “Stranger in a Strange Land,” which found Earley and Quiet Ones frontman John Totten flexing their impressive vocal chops in stripped-down acoustic mode.
But the five-song encore — and specifically the never-ending guitar solos that marked “Street Fighting Sun” — felt as drawn out as they did unnecessary. The verdict: Blitzen’s got the talent to pen and perform great songs; they may just need an editor to help steer the ship.