As Trampled by Turtles eased into its set, each song was met with resounding cheers, clumsy dancing and raised beers and joints. An enthusiastic crowd, to say the least, greeted the ensemble at the Fox Theater on Friday. Though it was well into the night by the time the group took the stage, once the band launched into its fast-paced opener “Kelly’s Bar,” the song’s energy was brought to life both onstage and off.
Fiddle player Ryan Young spoke to The Daily Californian about the loud, in-your-face sound for which the band is known. This sound was only amplified in a live setting, largely sustained by Young’s frenzied, unwavering playing. This was the height of the performance: the band’s ability to maintain a steady emotional experience, though its set lasted more than an hour.
The band’s straightforward approach left little room for stage banter. Beyond brief pauses for expressions of thanks and other time-filling small talk, little conversation happened onstage. When the encore saw one of the members pausing to direct a shoutout to somebody in the crowd, it was the first time that the audience was given any insight as to who, if anyone, these songs were meant for. It was not that the group was stoic. Rather, there was a conscious choice by the bandmates to not extrapolate beyond the songs themselves.
Such an approach makes sense, however, for the live makeup and dynamic of the ensemble. While Young had described the collaborative, egalitarian approach of the band’s creative process, it was another thing entirely to see this manifested onstage. The six-person ensemble stretched across the stage, in line with one another, each in front of their own mics. Though Dave Simonett is decidedly the lead vocalist, he was not in the spotlight for the entirety of the night. Rather, this central focus was repeatedly shared among the six musicians.
Every few songs leaned into Young’s fiddle playing, and the night also saw the inclusion of a purely instrumental piece. However, the strength of the ensemble was best demonstrated by the tight, lush vocal harmonies that are so characteristic of Trampled by Turtles’ sound. Having that many voices singing such closely layered harmonies creates a depth and richness of sound that makes the group stand out.
While this simple setup had its strengths, it also yielded an undynamic visual performance. Rather than completely committing to the stripped-down, low-effect vibe of its music, the group paired its performance with a host of stage lights. The lighting, in turn, changed color, swelled with crescendos and even broke into an out-of-place pulsing strobe routine.
The strobe effect paired well with Young’s rhythmic, percussive playing — but the instrumental component was far more nuanced and complex than the visual effects accompanying it. Meant to accent the sound, the stage design wound up detracting from it. The lighting could have accented the performance, but because it added very little creatively, it felt uninspired.
Folk music can often blur together into one monolith of a man quickly strumming a guitar and loudly singing about some heartache — and Friday’s show was no exception to this pattern. The group took few risks, hesitating to divert from the pattern of alternating up-tempo songs with slower, more contemplative tracks. The steps that were taken to add variety did not ultimately rescue the show from its predictability.
Despite this, the group succeeded in what it set out to do, providing a night of music that prompted clapping and foot-stomping from its audience. Though Trampled by Turtles never strayed from its niche, its approach was still successful in creating an experience that did not shy from presenting all of the emotions conveyed by its music.