Trampled by Turtles has performed for ten years and released six albums, so it would be unfair to assume they are opportunists riding on the Mumford and Sons' wave. There is nothing fake or inauthentic about this band from Duluth, Minnesota. They started to gain greater public attention after releasing Palomino in 2010, but it wasn't until last year with Stars and Satellites that they gained national TV recognition, performing on Letterman. This most recent album has tragic emotions, notably in the incredibly moving Widower's Heart, performed near the end of the main set in Manchester. Midnight on the Interstate was similarly reflective, and exceptionally sensitively played. Sadly some of these quieter songs were marred by chatter from the audience; it was the end of an usually sunny day in England, it sounded as some had been drinking outside all day.
In view of the mood of the audience, the more extrovert songs such as Risk made the greatest impression. Trampled by Turtles are notable for their extreme emotional range, and at times this small venue felt as if it was in the midst of a Scottish Céilidh. There was a celebratory feel, helped by cries of enthusiasm from the crowd and some amazingly energetic dancing from some at the side of the stage. Despite moments which brought me close to tears, this near two hour performance felt like a party. There was only brief talk between songs: front-man Dave Simonett has a modest personality. He's also blessed with a charismatic, nasal voice, an expressive instrument well suited to the melancholy moments, even if remarks in some reviews suggested it can be an acquired taste.
By far the most exceptional element of Trampled by Turtles though is the virtuoso instrumental playing. Ryan Young's intricate fiddle solos were breathtaking, whilst it was unsurprising that mandolin player Erick Berry broke a string an hour an a half in. David Carroll was indefatigable on the banjo in songs such as Sorry, whilst bass guitar player Tim Saxhaug (the only unbearded person on stage) contributed to the warmth of the sound; a drummer wasn't missed. Saxhaug stepped up to the microphone to convincingly front the vocals on the cover Swimming Song, but above all this was a communal, team effort, honed by years on the road. They took advantage of this with extended instrumental sections.
Fleet Foxes-like vocal harmonies were on display at times, but the raw energy and speed from these acoustic instruments was staggering. They create bluegrass with a punk or metal sensibility: genre is irrelevant in the face of such musicianship. Trampled by Turtles' execution is so perfect, and their ensemble so tight, that the moment they start playing, you're exhilarated. As when watching Alamaba Shakes, I was mesmerised, hanging onto every note. Yet, the subtlety of the slower ballads such as Alone from Stars and Satellites prevented the gig feeling relentless or raucous as Avvett Brothers did in March. Buoyed by the current resurgence of folk and roots music, Trampled by Turtles is now playing large venues in their home country. They deserve wider recognition in Europe, yet I will remember the joy of this experience from the front row of a small cafe for a long time to come.
- Midnight on the Interstate
- The Calm and the Crying Wind
- Keys to Paradise
- It's A War
- Walt Whitman
- Swimming Song
- Widower's Heart