by Brandon C. Bouchillon
Trampled by Turtles is slowing down.
Known for firing off punk-inspired bluegrass diddies, the group’s new album, Wild Animals, feels like a sea change. It’s more controlled than the ones before it. Gone are the torrents of fiddle and mandolin, the notes now sparse and atmospheric.
There’s more standing around.
And Saturday night at Pisgah Brewing Co., this was too often apparent.
Forty-eight hours of rain made the evening a slog through the mud, but fan favorites like “Wait So Long” and “Victory” were incisive as ever, still potent for making people move.
The show’s highlight played out halfway through – a spot-on cover of The Band’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” sung by bassist Tim Saxhaug (and nine-tenths of the crowd). Those not singing were generally shunned thereafter. A cover of The Pixies’ “Where is My Mind?” came later, during the encore, right after a shot of “Whiskey,” just before “Midnight on the Interstate.” Sounds about right.
Still, every time TBT picked up steam, a newer, slower tune was quick to take the air out. “Lucy” was guilty of this early on, as was the title track from the new album, late in the set. “Alone” still made for a climactic set closer, and the classic stuff is still just that. The evening was largely hit-and-miss.
Part of this new sound stems from producer Alan Sparhawk, of Minnesota minimalists Low. Sparhawk knows a thing or two about spacing in music, and his influence here is apparent. He brings out what’s placid in Trampled By Turtles, prodding them to contemplate, to play at ambiance.
Restraint is the name of the game.
If Saturday night found TBT slowing down, it also saw them trying on a number of hats. “Gasoline” was pure noise rock, while “Are You Behind The Shining Star,” the first single from the new record, conjured up a different act entirely. It made clear the group’s indie aspirations, with little discernible connection to its past.
Change can be good for a band, allowing it to once again take fans by surprise. When it works – stepping outside of what people expect, and doing something different – the results can amaze (see My Morning Jacket’s album, Z, which TBT cites as a constant influence).
Wild Animals is no Z. It veers into melodrama too often, leaving TBT’s live show scattershot, a jumble of home runs and head scratchers. This still sounds like a band in search of new territory, but now, all the songs come off the same way – plaintive lyrics set to slow, slow tunes.
Problem is, people like it when they go fast.