Review and photos by Mary Rehak.
Wednesday night’s show at La Zona Rosa was to a surprisingly sparse crowd. The last time Blitzen Trapper played Austin, it was at their popular 2009 ACL set. For the Fruit Bats, it was—as singer Eric Johnson reminisced—”the hottest show ever,” to a packed and sweaty crowd inside the Mohawk. But then, La Zona Rosa is a cavernous space. If the show isn’t sold-out, it looks empty.
I showed up right as the first band was ending, and while the Fruit Bats set up everyone in the room pressed forward. My fellow concert attendees was very vocal in their Fruit Bats appreciation, singing loudly along with multiple songs and yelling replies to Johnson’s stage banter.
It was pretty impressive, how much these guys could expand their sound live. Last year’s show was intimate, stripped-down folk-rock; last week they were rocking out, filling the room with noise and getting the crowd moving. And thankfully, by the middle of their set, the crowd numbers these bands deserve started showing up. Almost five songs in, the Fruit Bats’ pace finally slacked a bit, and for the first time I glanced at my phone to see how long they had left. For a band whose songs I’m not at all familiar with, they were entertaining, engaging and fun, and it felt like they had to leave the stage entirely too soon. The crowd was screaming for an encore, shouting out song requests.
Blitzen Trapper was immediately a huge contrast. From the very beginning of their set, they were polished, professional, and the crowd was much more subdued; the energy and momentum the Fruit Bats had just built seemed to disappear for a while. When a band tours a lot, their live performance smooths out, and they start sounding more and more like the album. As an audience member, it can be nice hearing a band perform well live—if only because there are some so disappointingly bad at it—but sometimes you want at least a few of
the foibles, quirks, and glitches that come from a live show… you want an interesting concert story to tell.
“Black River Killer,” five or six songs in, was the first huge crowd pleaser that got people really singing along; after that the band seemed to loosen up. And as usual, there was the one drunk uber-fan in the crowd, shouting at the top of their lungs, who thought the band loved hearing about their favorite song (if you’re wondering, this is always incorrect. If you are that person, well, everyone else in the audience hates you).
They wound down with “Sleepytime In the Western World,” with an added-on slow-jam outro, and were lured back to the stage after a few minutes by chants of ‘one more!’ for a three-song encore. The first, “Not Your Lover,” they introduced as “a romantic number”, singing about cheating in dreams as the crowd swayed awkwardly. Their biggest hits are about murderers, thieves, haunting scenes and broken-down love, and on
Wednesday they finished the evening by giving the crowd what they wanted to hear, playing their goodbyes with lyrics about ‘dragons and demons’ and ‘big black birds hanging in the sky’.
Blitzen Trapper and Fruit Bats performed in Austin on Oct. 13.