Smile Politely

Making god a liar

Blitzen Trapper are quite good, and they’re coming to your town* (*offer void outside of Champaign)! The erstwhile denizens of the Pacific Northwest will be making at least their third stop in Champaign-Urbana (having played Canopy Club in 2009 and 2011) at the Highdive on Thursday evening. Here are some details: Doors at 8:30 p.m., local dance-pop legends Psychic Twin at 9:30, and then the headliners at 10:45. Tickets are $15 in advance, and $18 at the door. It’s the latest installment in the Smile Politely Show Series; you can consider this our personal stamp of approval, for whatever that’s worth.

As a fairly unknowledgeable music fan (especially compared to every single person whose music writing you’ve ever read on this site), my first exposure to Blitzen Trapper was the lovely, lovely song “Furr,” off their 2008 album of the same name (the one with the album art that kind of looked like the Eagles’ Greatest Hits). It’s probably the best song you’ve ever heard about a person who was born human, decided to become a wolf or some other wild animal, and then returned to the land of the humans for love. If you expected a song with that sort of narrative to be accompanied by a video which is twee beyond belief, then you would be most correct:

Probably the greatest of my many weaknesses as a music writer is my complete inability to describe a band’s “sound” to someone who’s unfamiliar with their work. So, I copied the text from a bunch of reviews of Blitzen Trapper’s most recent album, 2011’s American Goldwing, and used a free web tool to make a word cloud in order to make some sweeping generalizations:

And, wow, is that unenlightening. Sorry about that. The “rock” is bigger than the “country,” which seems about right, and “pop” is tiny. “Like” is pretty big, which is a good sign, considerably bigger than “best,” and trailed by “classic,” which indicates that there is still room for growth. Pitchfork gave it a 5.4, but thank goodness, it was nearly all constructive criticism.

“Blitzen,” “Trapper,” “American,” and “Goldwing” are all sizable, which indicates that I used text from reviews for the correct album. “Steel” is bigger than “pedal,” which means that there must have been occasion to use those words separately at some point. There’s really not much meat on this bone, unfortunately.

Let’s face it, what you clicked on this article hoping to learn was this: will my presence at a Blitzen Trapper show be sufficient to impress a hip young lady, either immediately Thursday night, or as part of a larger wooing strategy? Sadly, the answer is: probably not. Anything in the same area code as alt-country hasn’t been cool for about a decade, pardner, and BT (I’ve avoided abbreviating this whole article, only to have a crucial lapse of discipline at the last moment) probably do too much genre-hopping to please the hardcore honky-tonk crowd.

However, all is not lost. The stiltingly-named Portlandians have the goods to take you on a 90-minute ride from Skynyrd to Harvest-era Neil Young to early Wilco to a bunch of other archetypal bands that I should have probably listened to but haven’t, and back again. It may not be a wild ride, since these fellas can rock, without a doubt, but they keep their shit collected. Put on the flannel, but be prepared to sweat through it.

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