By Jon Stone (@jwstone)
Late into Blitzen Trapper’s set on Friday night in Urbana, a member of the packed Canopy Club audience began to crowd surf. His ride lasted only a few seconds, but from the grins on the faces of the band, it was clear something special had just happened. After the song, guitarist Erik Menteer advised us that we had just witnessed the very first crowd surf ever at a Blitzen Trapper show. He felt it was significant, also, that the surf occurred during “Furr,” the title track off their most recent LP and, arguably, the song that after four albums and nine years, launched their career. We’d now have something to tell our grandchildren, he said.
Blitzen Trapper is an eclectic band; but while there are many bands who fain eclecticism as an attempt to be interesting, every leaf on lead-singer/songwriter Eric Early’s many-branched tree is a brilliant and unique autumn color. Still, the Tom Petty/Bob Dylan comparison is inevitable. But the Heartbreakers never had three-part vocal harmonies like this, and, well, it’s been a long time since Dylan played the piano—both of which Blitzen Trapper did brilliantly.
Blitzen Trapper comes at their set from every direction. One song would have three keyboards going and the next song could swing into guitar-god, prog territory. And while I like this band best in their quieter, folky moments, the diversity on display was breathtaking. Near the end of the show, the band covered Neil Young’s “Harvest” and couples from the audience crawled on stage to slow dance. Again, the grins on stage made it apparent that this was a show that the band wouldn’t soon forget. When a band is having fun on stage, it’s nearly a sure bet that the audience is enjoying themselves as well. We were.
We’ve had quite a music year in Champaign-Urbana. I don’t know if the specifics of this show will make it into that projected “when I was your age” conversation with my grandchildren, but surely the year as a whole—a year that included shows from Jeff Tweedy, The National, Iron and Wine, The Books, My Brightest Diamond, Sufjan Stevens (and soon the Avett Brothers and Neko Case)—is a contender.