Words & Images by: Jake Krolick
Fruit Bats & Blue Giant :: 03.21.10 :: Johnny Brenda's :: Philadelphia, PA
Folk is enjoying its climb back into the mainstream music saddle, but just because it's cool to grow your beard, strum out melodies and sing harmonies doesn't mean you shouldn't take notice of this new wave of folk music. By now some of you are saying, "Hey what-the-fuck, we've been into this since discovering our parents' vinyl copies of The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan." As bands like Fleet Foxes and Bon Iver have caught the ears of many, helping reinvigorate the genre, other outfits such as Fruit Bats have snuck in the backdoor creating equally pleasing folk pop contributions. These Illinois to Oregon transplants slid under the radar and played a weekend eve in Philly to a small crowd, where they reminded us it's high time to catch up on some of the other artists rewriting the folk genre.
The opening band, Oregon's Blue Giant, is somewhat of a Portland folk super-group. They had recorded with Corin Tucker of Sleater-Kinney and their ex-pedal steel wiz was Chris Funk of a little band called The Decemberists. Today, Blue Giant is a mix of musicians from the original lineup including Kevin and Anita Robinson from Viva Voce, drummer Evan Railton of Swords, and a few others.
Sunday found Blue Giant in a playful mood as they jammed on a jovial mix of country rock, the kind you'd expect to find along Route 70 at some dive in America's heartland. The Robinsons were as fun to watch as they were to listen to. During "Target Heart," the title track off their 2009 EP, Anita dug into her electric guitar and fearlessly played edgy swirls of notes while husband Kevin smoothed the song over by thrusting his acoustic guitar upward and accentuating his powerful vocals. With Anita's heavy handed strum and Kevin's direct approach, the pair sounded a lot like Mark and David Knopfler playing a country version of "Money for Nothing." Kevin remarked that we were perhaps the most civilized crowd they'd seen and gave an extra special thank you to the Romanesque balcony mob for not stoning Blue Giant to death. They finished by playing a few interesting covers including The Kinks' "Johnny Thunder" and an amazing version of The Byrds' "Wasn't Born to Follow."
Johnny Brenda's has a way of eating up any genre it holds under its massive spinning disco ball. The lights reflected out in a slow dance of twirling circles that combined with a breezy version of the Fruit Bats' "Primitive Man" and lulled the crowd into a wide eyed gaze. We were completely surrounded by spinning illumination and melodies that danced together as partners. Their coexistence created an eerie effect on the spectators and the ornate wooden decor. I discovered Fruit Bats' latest album, The Ruminant Band, last year during a stretch of Indian summer. For several weeks I found myself stretched out in the backyard listening to guitarist, pianist and singer Eric Johnson and his Fruit Bats. It was nearly impossible to turn an ear away from their cheery melodies, lyrics and interesting instrumental arrangements. As their music fused with my routine of spending the last warm evenings outside, I realized that I was completely consumed with the nostalgic feelings brought on by this new age of folk music.
This show was an extension of those September backyard sessions. As Johnson played the piano and sang, he brought back the same recognizable feelings, a rush of images, each faded like a photograph of moments past, a soundtrack to the setting sun, one that fits best with crimsons, oranges and yellows as they burn away with the last bits of daylight. It was a few moments before I realized that I'd been lost in my own traveling thoughts as the lyrics of "Tegucigalpa" washed over me in a rush of sunset folk.
|Fruit Bats :: 03.21 :: Philadelphia, PA|
"My family moved us ever northward up to the terra borealis/ Along the crooked pikes of the ruminants and voyageurs/ But my heart belongs to the smoke of Hamilton and Monongahela/ And all the dirty cities along the way"
One of the greatest reasons to love this band is an implausible ease inside their dusty melodies and strangely familiar lyrics. Sunday evening the Fruit Bats filled our anxious minds with soothing pastoral melodies.
Fruit Bats aren't new. They formed in 1999 as a side project for Johnson, but they soon became his heart and soul after the release of the band's debut, Echolocation. A few follow-up records, Mouthfuls and Spelled in Bone, added to the Fruit Bats' accomplishments. After seeing them play live it was clear that both Johnson's time away from Fruit Bats with The Shins and his band's time off the road were well spent. Highlights of the set, which was pretty wonderful in its entirety, included outstanding versions of "Feather Bed" and "Ruminant Band." Each song glowed with a vintage rock feel that pulsed just below the surface directed by guitarist and Tim Bluhm look-a-like Sam Wagster's gravelly electric work and drummer Graeme Gibson's nonchalant thumping.
Before the evening let us back into her arms Johnson showed just how captivating a man and a guitar could be as he performed a solo version of "Beautiful Morning Light." His voice was as strong as ever and it quivered with hope and energy. It's that hope that has others and myself taking notice and looking for more of these moments to latch onto.
Fruit Bats are currently on a westward tour until June; dates below.
Fruit Bats Tour Dates :: Fruit Bats News :: Fruit Bats Concert Reviews
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