One of the things I like about Trampled By Turtles—aside from the reaction that band’s completely ridiculous name elicits—is that it gives me some hope as a mandolin player. Not to say that mandolinist Erik Berry isn’t a talented, accomplished and impressive musician—he is all those things, and a far better player than I. But compared to, say, Punch Brother’s Chris Thile—whose playing style produces notes that flit and waft through the ether like the delicate scents of a lemon-butter beurre blanc simmering on the stove—Berry doesn’t make me want to pack up my instrument and sell it on eBay out of the despair of realizing I’ll never be able to produce those sounds. He and the other boys from Duluth play a sort of blunt-force bluegrass, pounding out notes with all the brutal honesty of a garage band that has just discovered Ralph Stanley and Bill Monroe. There is nothing delicate, nuanced or overly reverent in their approach to traditional acoustic music, and that can be an inspiration to clumsy-fingered instrumentalists like myself.
Here are some of my observations from the quintet’s show at The Fillmore in San Francisco on Thursday, which I attended with my wife, who bought me the tickets for my birthday and offered to go with me even though she is 36 weeks pregnant. Thank you, darling!
- That was an awful lot of I-V bass to expose my unborn daughter to. She’s gonna come out bobbing and clogging.
- “They look so Midwestern,” said my wife. There was an awful lot of flannel and beard up on that stage.
- The crowd kept getting whipsawed between gentle swaying and headbanging all night long.
- Guitarist and main vocalist Dave Simonett was nothing if not gracious. “It’s so cool for us to be at The Fillmore,” he said. “It’s a place we’ve wanted to play for a long time.” And later: “You guys all look absolutely beautiful from up here. Thank you.”
- Dear Ryan Young: How can anyone possible play offbeats that fast and not get totally out of sync? You, sir, are some sort of goddamn syncopation cyborg.
- There were a lot of long re-tuning breaks between songs, but I didn’t see the instrument techs running out to replace broken strings nearly as much as one would expect.
- Opening act honeyhoney did a fine job, too. On their own, Suzanne Santo’s vocals, fiddling and banjo picking wouldn’t sound that out-of-place on contemporary country radio in its more traditionalist moments, but then the rest of the band chimes in with a bunch of grungy rock grooves. Needless to say, I was smitten.
Here is photographic evidence of the evening:
Or in gallery form if you prefer.