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Duluth’s Finest: the Infamous Stringdusters and Trampled By Turtles at the 8X10, Nov. 13

November 19, 2010
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Infamous Stringdusters

Infamous Stringdusters

By the time Trampled by Turtles played “Wait So Long,” the first song on its breakthrough album Palomino, and the final song of its set Saturday night, the wooden floorboards of the 8×10 were reverberating from the stomping, clogging, pogo-dancing sold-out crowd. And the youthful quintet from Duluth, Minn., had sparked this reaction with nothing but mandolin, fiddle, banjo, acoustic guitar, acoustic bass, and voice. It was the clearest evidence yet that the new-wave string-band movement has won a devoted audience in Maryland.

Trampled By Turtles may have been playing bluegrass instruments, but this wasn’t a bluegrass band. This was a bunch of punk-rockers who had swapped the cumbersome baggage of amplifiers and drum kits for the portability and intimacy of hollow, wooden instruments, easy to play on a street corner or in a friend’s living room. Erik Berry, though, was still playing choppy power chords, even if he’s playing them on a mandolin, and Dave Carroll was banging on his banjo as if it were a snare drum. No wonder they sent an adrenaline rush through the room.

Dave Simonett brought a handsome tenor to the music, but his lyrics were a bit generic, and this band was all about the rhythm section. When fiddler Ryan Young and strap-on bassist Tim Saxhaug jumped on the train that Berry and Carroll were driving through songs such as “Stranger” or “Help You,” there was no resisting their momentum.

After an intermission, the Infamous Stringdusters came out to play the headlining set. If Trampled by Turtles is a punk band that’s picked up bluegrass instruments, the Infamous Stringdusters are actual bluegrass musicians with jazz ambitions. The headliners were actually much better musicians than the opening act—able to improvise inventively on tricky chord changes—but they never developed the same rhythmic charge and thus never sparked the same reaction.

Instead the music was more subtle. Though the Stringdusters occasionally returned to their sources with a song like Flatt and Scruggs’ “I’ll Stay Around,” the set was dominated by tunes such as “No More To Leave You Behind” and “Starry Night,” which ran through a couple of verses and choruses and then let the pickers go to jam on the changes. Instead of showing off how fast they could play, the musicians took their time to twist the melodies into something new and fascinating.

Especially impressive were acoustic guitarist Andy Falco and banjoist Chris Pandolfi. The band also boasted three lead singers—fiddler Jeremy Garrett, bassist Travis Book and dobroist Andy Hall—but, unfortunately, the weakest of the three, Garrett, sang the bulk of the leads.

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