Lake Trout Come Out of Hibernation
It’s been a quiet year for Lake Trout. After more than 10 years of playing live in and out of town on a seemingly tireless schedule, the Baltimore quintet went on hiatus for most of 2007, with three-fifths of the group out on tour as the backing band for British electronic act UNKLE. But Lake Trout finally came out of hiding at the end of the year for three gigs this month, including a hometown date at the Ottobar last Friday, Dec. 21, to prepare for a 2008 that will include a new live album and, hopefully, more shows.
Entering the club about an hour before Lake Trout took the stage, it was disorienting to hear Gunwife Gone playing extremely glitzy piano- and saxophone-driven cabaret pop, and even more so to see most of the crowd completely transfixed on the unlikely opening act’s lead singer, who wore a shiny red outfit and belted out torch songs like a pop star from another era. There’s perhaps no bigger triumph for an unknown band than to play on a bill where it doesn’t seem to fit in at all with the venue or the other acts yet manages to completely win over the audience, and Gunwife Gone can lay claim to that rare achievement.
In the late ’90s, Lake Trout built a fervent live following with long instrumental tangents that were more indebted to the hypnotic rhythms and repetition of dance music than the chops-heavy soloing of the jam bands it frequently found itself playing with. But the band has spent most of this decade tightening up its songwriting, squeezing the improv out of its shows, skewing its sound toward an indie audience, and touring with bands like the Dismemberment Plan, which wrote its “The Other Side” as something of an homage to Lake Trout’s sound. And last week’s Ottobar show pretty much picked up where Lake Trout left off, with a dozen or so mostly vocal songs, drawing mainly from the band’s last two albums, 2002′s Another One Lost and 2005′s Not Them, You.
With no surprises in the set list, Lake Trout’s show on Friday was a comfortingly familiar experience in time for the holidays. It was good to hear James Griffith’s lumbering fuzz bass and frontman Woody Ranere’s floating slide-guitar leads on songs like “Pills” and “III,” and the band seemed genuinely happy to be onstage together again after so long. Still, aside from a couple of songs from Not Them, You, it was more or less the same set they’ve been playing for a good five years now. And for a band that was once prized for its spontaneity and constantly evolving sound, that’s a little disappointing. Perhaps 2008 will bring some new songs from Lake Trout that will make the band seem a little more exciting and unpredictable again, but for the time being hearing the old favorites is enough.