Dawes and Blitzen Trapper Play Classic Rock for Classic Town

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[Credit: Josh Miller]
WRITTEN BY
Marc Hawthorne

For a pair of bands that embrace the down-home and rootsy, Dawes and Blitzen Trapper couldn't have chosen a better place to kick off a six-week co-headlining tour than Petaluma, California. Whether time forgot it or the town simply stopped telling time altogether, rolling into downtown P-town instantly conjures up images of Marty McFly making his way through Hill Valley circa 1955.

Similar cinematic nostalgia crackles from the Mystic Theatre and its glowing, old-timey marquee. The venue has been around since 1912 and has featured everything from vaudeville to porn during its last century. Old theater seats can still be found in the balcony and lining the walls downstairs — the room holds half the capacity of the Fillmore in San Francisco, which both bands will hit on the penultimate date of the tour.

Blitzen Trapper had little trouble getting this crowd riled up and, judging from the rousing applause that the quintet received, this was the band most people had come to see. Frontman Eric Earley and his scrappy players have found a way to take a multitude of vintage rock touchstones and filter them through playful songs that are as folky as they are country as they are jammy, never fully committing to a particular sound. Friday's performance of "Astronaut" had some of Elton John's "Honky Cat" in it, "Your Crying Eyes" felt propelled by the spirit of Bowie's "Suffragette City," and the sprawling title track from last year's Destroyer of the Void had Queen stamped all over it. But the homages never felt forced or cartoonish, instead simply giving the band's eclectic set an enjoyably familiar feel.

Touring behind their sixth album, American Goldwing, Blitzen Trapper clearly has a good grasp on what they do best, and yet the band also plays with just enough abandon to occasionally create the illusion that it could become completely unhinged. But then along come the guitar heroics of Earley and Erik Menteer, not to mention the interplay between Earley's electric and Marty Marquis' acoustic. Not just any set of guys can freely swipe from the canon while still sounding both reverent and unique. They've also been around long enough to know how to work a crowd, as Marquis did as he sipped from his beer: "Nice to drink Lagunitas from the teat," said the Napoleon Dynamite look-alike, repping the local microbrew.

Blitzen Trapper saved their most memorable tribute for last, paying respects to Led Zeppelin during American Goldwing's "Street Fighting Sun." Earley appeared to catch some of his bandmates off-guard by launching directly into the source material, blowing up Led Zep's "Good Times Bad Times."

The crowd thinned a bit by the time Dawes took the stage, but the difference was made up by the sound of cheers — primarily female. It was a showcase for the latest album by the Los Angeles quartet, Nothing Is Wrong, which sports a gentle beauty that was somewhat lost in translation in the louder live setting. That said, Dawes' songs are built in such a way that they could presumably withstand various interpretations; it's a sturdiness that harkens back to a time that the band clearly admires, and yet it can also make for paint-by-number songs that lack spark. About halfway through Dawes' set, the pairing with Blitzen Trapper started to make less sense, or at least the creative discrepancies between the two bands was magnified.

But then along comes "Little Bit of Everything," a poignant track full of frustration, pain, depression, and love that just might be one of the finest songs you'll hear this year. It got some "woos" during the part that references San Francisco until people realized the character in the story is planning to jump from the Golden Gate Bridge. Two songs later, Goldsmith turned the mic to the crowd so that everyone could take part in "When My Time Comes."

Even Goldsmith — who's got a little Springsteen swagger in him — got caught up in the moment. "I can't hear you guys with these things in," he said, pulling out his in-ear monitors. "We need to do this together." And soon the room was bonding over Nothing Is Wrong's opening track, "Time Spent in Los Angeles." Maybe sturdy and classic isn't so boring after all.

Blitzen Trapper Set List:
"Might Find It Cheap"
"Sleepytime In The Western World"
"Astronaut"
"Wild Mountain Nation"
"Love The Way You Walk Away"
"God & Suicide"
"Girl in a Coat"
"Furr"
"Destroyer of the Void"
"Your Crying Eyes"
"Miss Spiritual Tramp"
"Evening Star"
"Black River Killer"
"My Home Town"
"Fletcher"
"Street Fighting Sun"
"Good Times Bad Times" (Led Zeppelin cover)

Dawes Set List:
"The Way You Laugh"
"If I Wanted Someone"
"That Western Skyline"
"Coming Back to a Man"
"My Girl to Me"
"So Well"
"Fire Away"
"Little Bit of Everything"
"Peace In The Valley"
"When My Time Comes"
"Time Spent In Los Angeles"
"?Million Dollar Bill"
"My Way Back Home"

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