Trampled By Turtles brought the cool of hometown Duluth, MN with them to the Georgia Theatre in Athens on Tuesday, November 12, 2013. The first local evening of the year to dip below freezing, the band warmed the audience with fast pickin’ and a choice setlist.
I’ve been a fan of Trampled by Turtles for years, although this was my first show. I first got exposed to their material through the miracle of modern music shopping, with Amazon suggesting the band based on my library and past purchases. However, I’d been told and read time after time that the live experience was their trademark, despite excellent material spread amongst their six studio recordings. I got a taste of what was to come with their newest release, the must-have Live at First Avenue, hitting Spotify the day before the show. Nonetheless, I was unprepared to be completely swept off my feet.
As the evening progressed, it dawned on me that if these guys had British accents, they’d be headlining Bonnaroo and Glastonbury. I was impressed with not just the band but also the production and organization. These guys are professionals.
The origin of the name Trampled by Turtles really clicked with me on this evening. The band has an ability to lull you with a ballad (think turtles) before dialing it up with a hard-charging number that leaves you feeling trampled. Take the first few tracks of the evening as a case in point. “The Calm and the Crying Wind” – a sweeping ballad of the highest order – is followed up with the rolling “November,” before the bands explodes into the punk-grass “Codeine.” Not many bands can take you from that low to that high in ten minutes.
Dave Simonett leads the band with a comfortable confidence. He’s like the 2009 Brett Farve (the Minnesota Viking’s Farve), drawing up plays in the dirt and letting the talent around him shine. An accomplished guitar player and singer, he’s an entertainer in every sense of the word.
At the end of “Codeine,” the fiddler Ryan Young inquired about the volume of his mic. I could hear him playing so I figured all was fine, but whatever adjustment they made propelled his sound into another hemisphere in the always too short “Walt Whitman,” as the crowd responded to his solo effort with an appreciative roar. Young and mandolinist Erik Berry are the skill positions in the offense. They could probably pick with just about anyone.
Another highlight of the evening, Simonett introduces “Risk” as a “song by our banjo player (Dave Carroll), it’s a killer,” and boy is it. Carroll is completely self-taught on the five-string, taking his experience with the guitar and applying it to the banjo. He flatpicks, bringing a more mainstream, pop feel to the instrument, quintessential – along with Simonett’s vocals – to the band’s sound. Carroll’s the fullback getting the tough yards and complementing the work of Young and Berry.
The band presented their treatment of two choice covers, Bob Dylan’s “Nobody ‘Cept You” and London Wainwright III’s “The Swimming Song.” The latter featured lead vocals from bassist Tim Saxhaug, presenting a nice change-of-pace. Saxhaug has a great voice that could be leveraged more in the future. It fit the song perfectly. He’s the center anchoring the line, with bass work – an acoustic bass guitar instead of the bluegrass-traditional upright – that kept the band on pace all night.
Even though it was a Tuesday night, the crowd brought enough energy to make it feel like a Saturday… and it doesn’t get much better than Saturday in Athens, GA. A hit amongst fans, “Wait So Long” received one of the best audience receptions of the night. With the thunderous bass and chop, you could swear there was a percussionist on stage. “Sorry,” a personal highlight of the evening, took off like a steam train and received a huge response from the packed crowd.
“Oh my God, this has been so cool!”
-Quote from one of the many bearded gentlemen in the crowd
“Midnight on the Interstate” enjoyed vocal support from the crowd, as did “Alone” in bringing the set to a close. The “Whiskey” encore featured some bluesy mandolin and fierce fiddling.
At first, I was a bit surprised by the one set performance. As a “jamband” veteran, I always secretly wished that my favorite bands would just bust it for two hours rather than the multi-set marathons typically pumped out. That being said, when it actually happens I’m always sort of confused. As I marinated on it during the drive home, it made perfect sense: Trampled by Turtles are top-notch entertainers, and the number one rule of entertainment is “always leave them wanting more.”
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Makeshift Setlist/Recording (incomplete) Via Spotify