The Wallflowers / Trapper Schoepp & The Shades, First Avenue, Minneapolis, MN, 10/27/12


[Top: Trapper Schoepp & The Shades, with Rami Jaffee of The Wallflowers sitting in on keys;
Bottom: The Wallflowers, with Gina Romantini, returning the favor, on violin]

It’s standard operating procedure for a reviewer to ignore the opening act, or, at best, to make casual mention of them in the closing paragraph. But this is, not The New York Times, so screw that noise! Trapper Schoepp (pronounced “Shep”) and The Shades made enough of an impression that they’ve earned a fuller exposition.

If the Americana Music Association is taking nominations for showcase openings for the annual Americana Music Festival, here’s a vote for Trapper Schoepp and the Shades. TS & TS are a young, guitar-heavy, roots rock sextet from Milwaukee. They recently released their second album, “Run, Engine, Run,” a solid sophomore offering of catchy Americana tunes, all written by Trapper Schoepp, and showcased in the band’s opening set. Full of youthful energy and enthusiasm, the band tore through eight songs in 35 minutes and left the audience clamoring for more. Tatted, dreadlocked fiddle player Gina Romantini was a stunning focal point in her short, ruffled black skirt, sawing away furiously at her violin while pogoing like it was 1978. Rami Jaffee of The Wallflowers joined the band for the final two songs: “Pins and Needles,” which Trapper said he wrote while he was recovering from back surgery, and “Tracks,” a rollicking song about leaving, with the refrain, “Can we go and never come back / Let the dust rise up and cover our tracks.” Fortunately for us, Trapper & Co. will be back in Minneapolis at the 7th Street Entry on November 30, opening for Cory Chisel & The Wandering Sons. If you’re interested in seeing a band on the rise, this is a show not to be missed.

If absence is supposed to make the heart grow fonder, you couldn’t prove it by the turnout for The Wallflowers’ First Avenue concert. Despite a mid-week “buy one/get one” ticket offer sent out to First Avenue members, the club was only at about two-thirds of its 1,400-person capacity when the band took to the stage on Friday night. The band’s entrance music was the Dave Clark Five’s “Glad All Over,” a nod to the fact that The Wallflowers chose that as the title to their first album in seven years. Opening with “The Devil’s Waltz,” from the new album, Jakob Dylan & Co. quickly ventured back into more familiar territory, with “Three Marlenas,” from the breakout 1996 release, “Bringing Down The Horse.” The band was confident and self-assured, including new members Stuart Mathis on lead guitar and vocals, and Jack Irons on drums. Rami Jaffee was particularly impressive on the Hammond B-3 organ. Jakob Dylan, alas, suffers a similar lack of vocal depth and color as his famous father. His singing is earnest and effective, well enough suited to the mid-tempo rockers and slower ballads that form The Wallflowers’ signature sound, but not particularly distinctive.

The band really hit its stride about 5 songs into its set, when Gina Romantini was brought onstage to join them for “Reboot The Mission,” one of two songs on the new album featuring a guest appearance by Mick Jones of The Clash. “Reboot” has a vintage Clash sound, dark, brooding and ominous – the best song Joe Strummer never wrote. Romantini’s soaring, insistent violin work seemed to inspire the band, and she stayed on for the following number, “6th Avenue Heartache.” “Heartache” was the high point of the set, featuring terrific solos by Jaffee on piano, Romantini on fiddle, and Mathis on slide, as well as Dylan’s best vocal all night.

Unfortunately, the peak occurred about one-third of the way through the show. The remainder of the set list, drawn heavily from the new album, was well-played but did not resonate emotionally with the crowd. Dylan was talkative and engaging (unlike his old man), which kept the audience involved and interested. “One Headlight,” near the end of the set, drew the loudest post-“Heartache” applause, with Dylan toying with the song’s phrasing and Jaffee and Mathis trading licks. When the band finished its set, one song later, waving and walking off the stage, it was questionable whether they’d muster up enough applause to coax them back for an encore. Many folks were simply standing around chatting with one another, hands in pockets or wrapped around drinks, not sufficiently inspired to clap, stomp or whistle the band back onstage. Fortunately, they did return and, equally fortunately, they had the good sense to once again bring Gina Romantini onstage for the encore, ending with a rave-up version of “God Don’t Make Lonely Girls.” Once again, she was the catalyst that seemed to bring out the best in the band. So . . . got any openings for a female fiddler, Jakob?

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