Published: February, 2009, West Coast Performer Magazine

Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band / The Parson Red Heads / Blitzen Trapper
The Independent
San Francisco
December 2, 2008

A timid audience was no deterrent to playing hard for Seattle’s Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band. Taking the opening slot on Tuesday, December 2 at The Independent in San Francisco, the band unleashed a torrent of occasionally hardcore rhythms, speedy Zeppelin-esque riffage, and even some meter changes from powerhouse drummer Marshall Verdoes with a business-like approach, but with enough slack – a tumbling mike stand, band members nearly bumping into each other, tennis balls bounced off a drum out into the audience without much warning – so there was no doubt that it was indeed a rock show. The sometimes slick and danceable indie rock heard early in the band’s set might have made one wonder where the connection was with the next two bands, but by the end of their set, a sure sign of acceptance occurred when singer/guitarist Benjamin Verdoes successfully cajoled the crowd to move in closer and “get rid of the arc” they had unknowingly formed in front of the stage.

While Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band may have been musically across town from the rest of the night's lineup, their matching flowery shirts were perfectly in line with the Parson Red Heads’ similarly uniform, mostly-white outfits. The L.A. band’s last San Francisco appearance of the year, after what seemed like monthly visits since early summer, found them upbeat and confident, with their trademark familial harmonies coming through loud and clear on their standard set opener and instant classic, “Time is Running Out.” In typical fashion, however, the rotating cast of musicians meant that there were some changes in the music – no harmonica in “Time is Running Out” and the absence of guitar octaves in “County Line” – but with the band in high spirits, guitarist Sam Fowles’ occasional outbursts of guitar scratching leant some extra musical levity to the proceedings, as did his playful back-and-forth with leader Evan Way on “Out to Sea.” If Evan’s Neil Young fixation hadn’t made itself clear enough through his newly Neil-esque distorted guitar leads on the band’s perfect pop number “Got it All,” it was wholly obvious by the time they broke out a beautiful rendition of Young’s 1992 song, “From Hank to Hendrix,” complete with band harmonies and cameos from Blitzen Trapper’s Eric Earley on harmonica and Marty Marquis on vocals.

The Parson Red Heads were to reciprocate the goodwill later on, with half of the band jumping on stage with Portland-based Blitzen Trapper to bang on tambourines, adding to the controlled chaos of the unhinged rocker “Devil’s A Go Go.” The band’s set, which was heavy on light-hearted banter and the group’s usual blend of folk-rock textures with funky, John Bonham-esque rhythms and prog-rock flourishes, veered from the dramatic throat-shredder “Love U,” to light acoustic fare such as the title track of their Sub Pop debut, “Furr,” the latter of which induced shouts of approval from the heretofore stony audience. By encore time, an impromptu sing-along of Kenny Rogers’ signature hit “The Gambler” had perfectly captured the humorous side of Blitzen Trapper, leaving their touring mates, and their audience, on a natural high.

-Review by Michael Fortes; photos by Katherine Hoffert


The Parson Red Heads


Blitzen Trapper


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