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Portland, Ore.-based band Blitzen Trapper. (Photo by Robbie Augspurger)

Concert review: Blitzen Trapper makes welcome return to Duluth

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Hats off to Blitzen Trapper for doing it right.

Oftentimes, a touring band will come through Duluth and never return. Blame geography, mediocre turnouts, or any number of things. But Portland, Ore.-based Blitzen Trapper — who came through Duluth for the first time a couple summers ago with Wilco — came back to town for a show at the Rex on Friday evening, and the decent-sized crowd of a few hundred that showed up was at least partly there as a result of that previous appearance.

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Openers the Parkington Sisters eased attendees into the evening with a fine display of their mournful, lush material. Lovely three-part harmonies were the main focus, with sparse instrumentation (guitar, viola, violin) that was arranged in such a way that the sound the trio made seemed like it was comprised of many more components than it was. A cover of Radiohead’s “There There” was a nicely-chosen move, emphasizing the “alt” side of their alt-folk sound.

Blitzen Trapper took the stage just after 10 to an audience that was happy to see them again, and the band took little time in showing off the numerous styles at which they’re adept. It’s easy to see why they were chosen to tour with Wilco, as the band has many similarities to Duluth’s favorite non-sons.

Opener “Wild Mountain Nation” was full of excellent guitar bits and bobs and Band-esque vocal harmonies, while “Saturday Nite” (from the 2008 breakthrough “Furr”) was full of sha-na-nas, guitar solos, and funky keys from multi-instrumentalist Marty Marquis, who is a dead ringer for Poindexter from “Revenge of the Nerds.”

Early on, the band’s grooviness was emphasized, which got the crowd waving arms and raising drinks. A jammy detour into something resembling Phish doing Pink Floyd was punctuated with washes of blue light and strobes before everything came back around. Later, “Love and Hate” (from the “Destroyer of the Void” release) showed off the group’s ability to play something resembling hard rock.

Less successful was the group’s country-styled material, which was grouped together in a chunk and suddenly made the group sound more like an iffy modern country act. Lead vocalist Eric Earley played a mean harmonica on those tunes, but his voice got a little too generically twangy, and the songs came off fairly middle-of-the-road. But, while the crowd thinned a little during this section, the ones who stayed cheered loudly to show their appreciation.

In all, though, they’re an impressive band — Earley was especially notable as a guitar shredder — and the warm reaction they got indicates they’ll have no problems building on the fanbase they’ve been cultivating in Duluth, should they choose to return in the future.

Tony Bennett reviews music for the News Tribune. He can be reached at tonybennettreviews@ gmail.com.

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