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Americans Abroad Amuse an American Abroad

Blitzen Trapper at Camden Barfly, London—9/14/09

“Welcome to the wild forests of Oregon,” singer/guitarist Marty Marquis advised the multinational crowd at the Camden Barfly in Camden Town, London Monday night. The pre-show air of international banter revealed an odd mix of Germans, Canadians, local Brits, and Scottish, though by the end of the evening all stood in the mysterious, foreign foliage that serve setting for the lyrical stuff of Blitzen Trapper’s full-blown pastoral Americana indie rock.

And what full-blown pastoral indie rock it is.

Lead singer (and songwriter) Eric Earley has been mining musical gold ever since 2007’s wild, bouncy Wild Mountain Nation went public through Lidkercow Ltd. The Portland-based sextet followed up with Furr in 2008, expanding their catalogue with tender, hold-me-closer numbers (“Not Your Lover”), storytelling ballads (“Furr,” “Black River Killer”), and sheer country-rock beauty (“Stolen Shoes & A Rifle”).

Monday night’s show opened with a delightful re-arrangement of “Golf for Bread”, pushing the opening guitar solo back a few measures to appease the rock-hungry crowd. The band pulled a similar trick with “Sleepytime in the Western World”, choosing to open by harmonizing the very catchy chorus sans music, saving the even-catchier organ slide for a full-on sensory assault a few moments later.

As they were in Norman, Oklahoma, when I last (and first) caught a Blitzen Trapper show, the guys were chatty, friendly, and clearly very happy to be onstage, though they left unacknowledged an interesting dynamic to the performance. How would Europe handle Earley’s very American songwriting influences (he cites Jeff Tweedy and Neil Young) and natural nostalgia?

If crowd reaction was any indication (probably the best and only indication), then it was taken very well. The Barfly cozily held about 130, and each member of the crowd whistled and sang along with the best-known songs, “Furr” and “Black River Killer” and generally delighted in the performance-oriented songs like “Devil’s A-Go-Go” and “Love U”.

Synthetic wolves and winds howled through a chest-high stack of speakers, right before Earley kicked off the title track from 2007’s “Wild Mountain Nation,” and Marquis slapped a cowbell on “Devil’s A-Go-Go” (for which he was appropriately heckled by a Will Ferrell fan). All told, a wonderful show, particularly for an American abroad, as myself. It was just nice to hear voices pronouncing words without that silly Cockney jumble.