Furr is a thrilling trip through the minds of a band still interested in being, in their own words, “wild and reckless.”
What was the first album anniversary tour that made you say, “Dear lord, I’m getting old?” For me, it was the announcement of Portland indie-folk mainstays Blitzen Trapper’s 10th anniversary tour of their 2008 landmark album Furr, an album I rabidly waited for when it was initially released. I was barely 18 when I caught the band at the Wonder Ballroom, performing with future stars Starfucker (who announced their plans to change their name at that show to appeal to mainstream appeal – they’d become Pyramiddd for a moment, before just becoming STRFKR) and Parson Red Heads. Even then, Furr felt special and worthy of future reverence, and though the band may not have foreseen it, it’s comforting to know that, sometimes, you can predict the ones that we’re still going to love a decade on.
Before Blitzen Trapper took the stage, Australian duo Luluc made their appearance, playing on Blitzen Trapper’s instruments. At first the duo – comprised of Zoë Randell (on guitar) and Steve Hassett (guitar, bass, keyboard, and anything else he was needed for) – seemed like a sleepy and somewhat ill-fitting pairing for the show. But as their set wore on, their vocal melodies – and charming stage presence – helped them weasel their way into the hearts of the audience. By the time they got to an aching cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Boxer,” the crowd was invested in the set enough that a sizable chunk provided a “Shh” to replace the echoing thud that accompanies the “lie-la-lie” chorus of the original – made even more magical by the fact that this was an unplanned addition to the song. The only shame is that this came later in the set, and by the time they’d warmed the crowd up, and Hassett was explaining why ‘90s butt-rock bands would tune down their guitars for their power ballads (it makes your voice sound higher by comparison), they were nearly done with the set.
Blitzen Trapper took the stage to thunderous applause – and rightfully so. While the staying power of Furr feels obvious, the band doesn’t quite see it that way. “A decade ago, we had no idea we’d ever get to do something like this,” said frontman Eric Earley after they’d finished playing the album, “A decade ago, we were playing “Medicine Hat” for, like, five friends.” But when played in front of a crowd – a sold-out one at that, and one that was there on the first night of a two-night engagement (the second night was also sold out), it becomes clear that it was really always going to go this way. Furr is an impressively solid album, full of songs that stand up as being not just the best of their catalog, but among the most underrated alt-country songs of the last decade, from the remarkable murder ballad “Black River Killer” to the Dylanesque (without being a blatant rip-off) “Furr,” and even oddballs like the piano-led “Not Your Lover” and the quietly-groovy “Saturday Nite.”
Furr is a thrilling trip through the minds of a band still interested in being, in their own words, “wild and reckless,” and the sequencing of the album puts this on full display, with solemn piano ballads (“Not Your Lover”) preceding screaming guitar dirges (“Love U”). This is exhilarating on record, but when played live, it can lead to a few moments where you spend half of a song trying to get your bearings after the transition – even with the small guitar interludes they added between many songs. The remainder of the set, unburdened by having to fit into a specific order, fared far better – after playing the aching Furr B-side “Booksmart Baby,” they played through other favorites, with classics like “Wild Mountain Nation” and Destroyer of the Void’s own wonderful murder ballad “The Man Who Would Speak True” (performed by Earley alone) thrown in for good measure, as well as handful of other shouted requests.
There will always be advantages and disadvantages to the “front-to-back” album show. Playing through it without any change in order of any sort can be both comforting and stifling in equal measure. While it was wonderful to spend time in the company of a band who are growing to understand just how good their album really is, it’s easy to wonder whether or not it would have been an even better experience, had they done what Mercury Rev did with their recent Deserter’s Songs jaunt and shuffled things around. Doing so not only puts the element of surprise back into the celebration, but also helps to remind us that the band is still a living, breathing thing, rather than a static collection of songs trapped on wax a decade ago – even if those songs are still really, really good.