with The Parson Red Heads
Americana ensembles The Parson Red Heads and Blitzen Trapper visited Salt Lake City on March 22 for a sold out show at the State Room. Rock shows are interesting because each song sounds different in some small way from what’s heard on the album, allowing the listener to tune in on the small characteristics of the music that are lost without seeing the band perform the music. Plu,s if the live show sounds like shit then you can more or less guess how much engineering went into the record to make the band sound the way they do. I was eager to hear how both bands were going to sound live.
When I got to the State Room, I noticed that I, as a beard grower and flannel shirt wearer, was contributing to the majority. The average age of the attendees confirmed my conviction that Americana is for old people, and by “old,” I mean early to mid-thirties. You know, old people. After getting a good sense of my surroundings, I was able to focus on the music happening on stage in front of me, which was The Parson Red Heads, who opened up the show. It was clear to me after their opening tune that the quartet knows their way around a four-part harmony. Having both a male and female presence in the vocals gave them the rich harmony that many bands aren’t able to achieve. One could say they sounded a bit corny, but the same person to do so wouldn’t appreciate things like vocal harmony, great guitar work and the ability to legitimately play the harmonica. I couldn’t help but think of Tom Petty while watching their set, probably due to the clean guitar and the near perfect pitch that singer Evan Way belted out over the microphone.
Blitzen Trapper opened their set with “Might Find It Cheap,” off their most recent release, American Goldwing. The song hit hard, but Eric Early’s voice didn’t. For a few minutes it hardly sounded like Early at all, as the man singing into the microphone strained to hit the high notes in the chorus, which was unfortunate because he hits them so well on the record. I was bummed at first, but as the show went on, Early’s voice warmed up and his smooth warm tones came with ease even on the high notes. It was none too soon, as about five songs into the set a familiar guitar riff began to play which soon revealed itself as Led Zeppelin’s “Ramble On.” If Early was going to cover Robert Plant, he would need all the tenor he could muster. I was scared for them, but they ended up doing as good a job covering Led Zeppelin as anyone could. They followed with great renditions of “Black River Killer,” off their album Furr, along with newer songs like “Girl In A Coat,” “Love the Way You Walk Away” and “Street Fighting Sun,” which featured a solid guitar solo from guitarist Erik Menteer. They ended their set with the crowd favorite “Furr,” which was followed up by a three-song encore performance of “Lady on the Water,” “American Goldwing” and “Gold for Bread.”
Both the Parson Red Heads and Blitzen Trapper have their sound pretty well figured out. The backup vocals weren’t too quiet or too present, each members’ solos blended well with the band, there weren’t any awkward transitions in tempo changes and the songs that were meant to hit hard, hit really hard. I left the State Room that night convinced that I just attended what some would call a real rock n’ roll show.