When: Thu., Dec. 11, 8 p.m. 2014
TRAMPLED BY TURTLES | THURSDAY, DEC. 11
MEYMANDI CONCERT HALL, RALEIGH—Listeners often label Trampled by Turtles a bluegrass band, but that tag is a mere convenience that suits their instrumentation better than their music. In the past decade, the prolific Duluth, Minnesota quintet has released seven albums, each pushing at the edges of their sound. That's meant plugging in and cranking Marshall amps for some of 2007's Trouble, covering the Pixies and Arcade Fire on last year's Live at First Avenue and channeling expressive pop for their latest, Wild Animals.
Mandolin player Erik Berry remembers the moment when Trampled by Turtles realized the possibilities of their chosen tools. Another Minnesota band, Monroe Crossing, used mandolin, fiddle and banjo, too. But then Monroe Crossing's strong-voiced leader Lisa Fuglie covered Ella Fitzgerald.
"They did it straight, but her band was a bluegrass band," Berry recalls. "We sat watching it like, 'Oh my god, you can do anything with these instruments."
In 2010, the self-released Palomino topped Billboard's bluegrass chart and cracked the independent albums chart, too. Validation received, Trampled by Turtles downshifted their frantic pace to explore introspection and understated texture for 2012's commercial breakthrough Stars and Satellites.
"When we recorded Stars and Satellites, we had a 'punk rock' band meeting: 'You know, there are people who won't like this. They'll say it's too mellow, too laidback, too depressing,'" he says. "At the end, we were all like, 'Screw 'em. I love this record.'"
Again, they topped bluegrass charts as well as making inroads in the rock, folk and alternative spheres. Wild Animals continues the trend. It's highlighted by the first single, "Are You Behind the Shining Star?," a pretty folk-pop tune that suggests Wilco before Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. The song originally appeared a year earlier on singer and guitarist Dave Simonett's solo album, but Wild Animals producer, Low frontman Alan Sparhawk, urged them to revisit the song.
"We were doing it in a bluegrass way, and Alan said to try it different. He's spelling out Dave's and my parts, and pretty soon, it's clicking," Berry says. "That song is what Alan did, because we probably would've walked away. He wouldn't let us." With Nikki Lane. 8 p.m., $24.50–$30, 2 E South St., Raleigh, 919-996-8700, dukeenergycenterraleigh.com. —Chris Parker