While this made circulation easier and bar space more available, it also hindered St. Louis' Bear Hive, who blipped and jangled before a thin downstairs crowd. Guitarist and singer Chris Phillips' vocals felt trained push against the intricacies of Joel Burton's samples and light key work.
"Wigwam" held the promise of glimmering warmth, but the track seemed chained by a repeating and overdriven drum loop. Soon, Bear Hive shined when Nate Heininger hopped back on the drums, a live kit, and crashed through "Wild Yonder." Here Bear Hive sounded like a stripped-down Minus the Bear, but pumped-up with more punk. The song's thunderous build transferred perfectly into the chorus, but I missed the harmony found on the recording.
The crowd thickened and I soon found myself surrounded. People near me took pictures of the setlist a roadie had taped to the Rock House's wooden stage floor. Crazy. You couldn't pay people to document things this well in real life.
Then I thought of my presence and assignment, looked around furtively, and quickly wrote down the setlist in my little notebook, a tad disgusted with myself, but satisfied I didn't take a camera phone snap of it or get noticed by Eric Earley, Blitzen Trapper's singer, songwriter and guitarist, as he set up his pedals, each carefully secured to a wooden gig board.
Later, amidst smoke machines vapor and darkness, Earley, guitarist Erik Menteer, drummer Brian Adrian Koch, bassist Michael Van Pelt and multi-instrumentalist Marty Marquis filed on stage. Earley sported a bolo with a silver adornment, a button-up plaid shirt, work boots, jeans and a full-goatee. "Sleepy Time in the Western World," from 2008's "Furr." lit the room as Blitzen Trapper scaled through organ-laced acoustic work before blasting into squealing guitar solos.
"Thirsty Man" offered an Eagles vibe with a repeating lick that encouraged foot-stomping and hooting along. The song oozed pure cool as Earley sang, "Your love's like rain in the desert to a thirsty man." The song jammed out a bit too much toward the end, but Blitzen Trapper is known for pushing parts of their catalogue into festival circuit-type head-jamming. Still, the guitar-work was stunning.
"Fletcher" was infectious as it is on 2011's "American Goldwing." "Astronaut" dynamically leapt from acoustic introspection to folky backporch rock. Earley delivered a nice line about being a lonely traveler "...on the shores of this grand illusion."
"God & Suicide," "Not Your Lover" and the laid-back, slide-guitar of "Taking It Easy Too Long" paved the way for a slew of new songs, from "VII," due out on October 1. The single "Shine On" did just that, showcasing Blitzen Trapper's interest in gospel with thick guitar and nasty harmonica. After a few more new numbers, which included "Earth," Blitzen Trapper transitioned into the reason why so many were present and asked if we wanted to hear a rap song. "Black River Killer" found the house singing along as Earley painted a story of an outlaw, violence and lost souls.
After "Furr," Earley said, "That ain't a bad song," smiling wryly as he did at the end of every tune. "Big Black Bird" and "Fire and Fast Bullets" closed out the set with a nice wash of Trapper nostalgia.
The set proved that Blitzen Trapper remains methodical, enlightening and ever willing to push old ideas into new territory, Trapper territory.