Sunday, January 20, 2013

Live review: Trampled by Turtles, honeyhoney impress at packed Observatory

My review was originally posted on Soundcheck on Saturday, Jan. 19, 2013. A special "thank you" to Bob Steshetz for the use of his great photos taken at the concert.

Trampled by Turtles' Dave Carroll (left) and Dave Simonett on Jan. 18, 2013 at The Observatory

Live review: Trampled by Turtles and honeyhoney impress at packed Observatory show

Americana music has had such a huge impact in recent years that it has given rise to international stars, from England’s Mumford & Sons to Sweden’s First Aid Kit. But Friday night (Jan. 18, 2013) a capacity crowd filled the Observatory in Santa Ana to celebrate two homegrown champions of the sound, Trampled by Turtles and honeyhoney.
The mighty headliners from Duluth, Minn., brought major-league game to the stage, offering 100 minutes that effortlessly mixed together punk-speed bluegrass, affecting indie folk and alternative country, providing nonstop proof why the quintet has become so popular. Displaying nothing but fun, the group conjured deeply moving songs in one breath (“Midnight on the Interstate,” “The Calm and the Crying Wind,” “New Orleans”) then dashed off hootenanny-ready workouts the next (“Walt Whitman,” “It’s a War”).
Fiddler Ryan Young in action
Few young acts are so capable of dazzling young audiences with virtuoso musicianship the way the Turtles did here. When lead singer/guitarist Dave Simonett, bassist Tim Saxhaug and banjoist Dave Carroll weren’t casting out gleaming three-part harmonies, it was time for mandolin player Erik Berry and fiddler Ryan Young to thrill with lusty solos. Even on relatively quiet folk nuggets like “Widower’s Heart,” their chops astonished.
The crowd went crazy for the fast stuff, but the Turtles were just as effective while mining more emotional terrain. The confessional “Bloodshot Eyes” featured Simonett on guitar and harmonica, his vocals aided by singer Suzanne Santo of honeyhoney. And “Alone” was magic: With a full moon projected behind the quintet as they embarked at gentle ballad pace, rippling banjo and mandolin dancing amid the harmonies, the song suddenly transformed into a roaring, foot-stomping bluegrass rocker that ignited the room.
As perfect as Trampled by Turtles were, discerning listeners might have wished that the audience would had dialed down their chatter a few notches. With a performance this awesome, didn’t they want to hear it?
Opener honeyhoney’ 50-minute set was also a wonder. Led by singer and banjo/fiddle player Santo and guitarist Ben Jaffe, their mix of sterling Americana originals, harmonies comparable to the Civil Wars and an immediate connection with the crowd provided a headlining feel to the performance.
Suzanne Santo of honeyhoney
A clear highlight was the surprise appearance of TBT members on “Angel of Death,” the addition of mandolin, fiddle, banjo and guitar from that group enhancing not diminishing the song’s haunting power. Elsewhere in the set, the newly brandished tune “Yours to Blame,” the confessional country folk ballad “Don’t Know How” and the genre-blasting “Thin Line” (which marshals an Achtung Baby-era U2 groove with the force of Neil Young & Crazy Horse ) reinforced the belief that honeyhoney is bound for future glory.
See them again when they open for another roots star, Ryan Bingham, March 2 at House of Blues Anaheim.

To view the original posting of my article on The Orange County Register Web site, click here.

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