Sound Advice: Legit tripping balls

Tripping: After maybe the third slow, improvisational jam session, a friend asked, “Are we at a Phish concert?”

This conversation happened at Blitzen Trapper’s show last Wednesday night at Harlow’s Restaurant & Nightclub. I had expected an early sell out—Blitzen Trapper is a pretty big deal, and the band packed the same venue a couple years ago. This time around, the place started out half-full and cleared out early.

In any case, hopefully Blitzen Trapper didn’t hear the Phish comment. Though perhaps that would have shaken the Portland, Ore., Americana band from its strange lull faster.

It happened eventually. Blitzen Trapper played the title track off its hit 2008 album Furr, and the audience softly sang along in between harmonica solos. Everyone went wild after the first chords of “Black River Killer” were struck—this was the Sub Pop Records band we all remember at its very best, even though Blitzen Trapper has released three albums since then.

“Lady on the Water” followed, another Furr track and a real beauty—no drums, no bass, just one acoustic guitar, keys, synth and melodica. Eric Earley’s raspy, storytelling voice juxtaposed against such airy sounds was magical.

Still, one fan was—perhaps—more recent to hop on the bandwagon and demanded “some new stuff.”

The band laughed and, after some brief discussion, agreed to “Heart Attack” off the 2013 record VII. “Let us all bend to the whims of one man in the audience,” drummer Brian Adrian Koch said.

It was one of the rockingest tunes all night, but already, the thin crowd thinned out further. Music-lovers in the area were probably still exhausted from TBD Fest or Hardly Strictly Bluegrass or whatever other festival they attended a few days prior.

Which is too bad, because Blitzen Trapper really brought it with the final 45 minutes of its lengthy set. Plus, there were a couple charming interludes, including a debate about the validity of the term “tripping balls.”

Earley started the three-song encore off solo, with a soft and lovely acoustic cover of “No Place to Fall” by Townes Van Zandt.

The rest of the band joined, and Koch made a very important announcement. He read aloud the official Urban Dictionary definition of “tripping balls.”

“And may you all trip balls on this next song.”

Birthday nostalgia: Longtime Sacramento music promoter Brian McKenna celebrates his 45th birthday Friday, October 17, at Harlow’s with a gig sure to bring folks back to the ’90s. Or perhaps specifically to October 17, 2009.

Headliner Kai Kln is kind of a local legend, made up of Gene Smith (vocals/guitar), Neil Franklin (drums), Scott Anderson (bass) and Sherman Loper (guitar). The band formed in 1989, playing loads of underground shows and house parties with crazy energy and a ’70s hard rock, ’80s metal sound. Sacramento promoters McKenna and Jerry Perry took notice and snagged Kai Kln an opening spot for then-up-and-comer Primus, and soon enough, the band was selling out gig after gig—including the Crest Theatre. Rumor has it, Kai Kln was the first unsigned band to ever do so.

Then, in the same way many rock music stories end, the band broke up in 1997.

So why did I mention 2009? Well, the band got back together in 2007. And in 2009, it played McKenna’s 40th birthday, also at Harlow’s.

This is still a rare occurrence. Kai Kln’s members collaborate with a bunch of other bands instead. Loper and Franklin play in Dutch. And perhaps the longest-running and most active band among them is Brubaker, with Franklin and Smith. As with Kai Kln, Smith is the primary songwriter in Brubaker, which also features bassist Larry Boothroyd of Victims Family and guitarist Christian Riley of Walrus.

Brubaker plays along with Kai Kln at Friday’s birthday bash, which doubles as Brubaker’s self-titled album release party.

Powers TK: Last week, Death Grips announced on Facebook that it has completed its new double album The Powers That B. It’s also likely to be the last album ever from Sacramento’s experimental hip-hop group, which announced in July via picture-of-scrawled-on-paper-napkin that it was breaking up. Still no word on digital and physical release dates.

Even though back in July Death Grips explicitly noted that the break-up wouldn’t affect the new album release, fans totally freaked out online and thought it signaled a reunion. Fans, get a grip and learn to read more carefully.

—Janelle Bitker