Monday, September 12, 2011

MusicfestNW dispatch #2 - Pacific NW bands - Blitzen Trapper, Fernando, Sarah Gwen Peters, Moondoggies

Usually at these festivals I try to check out bands I have not seen before or at least can't see often. But somehow the sets I enjoyed most this weekend by NW acts were, with one exception (The Moondoggies), bands I am familiar with.

Blitzen Trapper's new CD American Goldwing is being released tomorrow and it's a good one. Mixed by top shelf engineer Tchad Blake (Tom Waits, Pearl Jam, Los Lobos, Elvis Costello etc etc), the new record is a big step up for this terrific Americana band. They played a high energy set at a packed and sweltering Crystal Ballroom on Friday night (we get one heat wave per year and it happened to be this weekend) and while the crowd reacted best to the older familiar songs, I thought the new songs were by far the highlights. I particularly liked the keyboard sounds, really tasteful. Fans of the Band and similar timeless Americana music should pick this record up (link at end of this post).

I can think of no higher compliment than this - Fernando Viciconte (performs under his first name only) is Portland's Bruce Springsteen. Fernando's songs brims with energy, compassion, intelligence, and most of all, heart. His live sets are always a thrill ride and I try to see him whenever he plays. Here's a cool film set to what I'm talking about:

Sarah Gwen Peters is an artist on the verge. Her debut record is in final mixing and looking for a label. I've heard it and it is stunning. Great songs, voice, well played, everything. There is an authenticity to Sarah that I find intoxicating.

Often compared to Lucinda Williams, Sarah writes in a very direct manner and lays it out there, while managing to stay away from anything sounding even remotely self-indulgent. She played a great set with her very tasteful guitar player Scott Weddle (Amelia, The Flatirons) in a packed pizza parlor on oh-so-hip North Mississippi Ave on Friday night. I love this film and recording, but this performance here is far quieter and subdued than Sarah's live shows and the upcoming record:

One tricky thing about these festivals - with so many bands playing, one can be tempted to hear the first song by one band and decide to scoot out and down the street to see another band instead. Had I done that for the Moondoggies from Seattle, thinking it was the sort of hippie jam band stuff that doesn't do much for me, I would have missed a varied, ambitious and rocking set. Fans of My Morning Jacket will like the Moondoggies.

Band web pages:

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