On Friday, January 18th Trampled by Turtles blew through Orange County on the tail end of their national tour toting their in-your-face, machine gunning bluegrass sound. They brought along with them, and adding appropriately to the evening in general, Nashville natives Honeyhoney who opened the evening bringing their rich country-meets-rock-meets-folk-meets-blues styling to the stage. Never before has Santa Ana’s Observatory been bombarded with so much energy while showcasing roots music in the form of bluegrass. Further, little did I know that so many banjo loving rednecks found their home in Orange County. I am kidding, and I know this a stereotype. With that said, whether the venue’s sold out crowd was composed of generations of inbreeding, firework accidents and deer hunting is irrelevant because the fact of the matter is, Trampled by Turtles made a lasting impression on an emphatic group of show goers to a point where it might as well have been a Mumford and Sons concert. The fan following filled up every last space of breathing room in the Observatory’s main stage room, and watched in awe and amazement as both bands flawlessly stampeded through their sets. The night was electric, not a single fan was disappointed and, judging by the reception of Honeyhoney, a new beloved act was discovered on this evening dedicated to song writing and musicianship.
Honeyhoney started the evening off right by demolishing any preconceived notions of how the audience might perceive their music. What do I mean by that? Upon first listen of the band’s music (be it on facebook, from itunes or what have you), the main sound that sings true is Country. Granted, not processed, corporate, pop country for the masses, but rather real country with seeded folk roots and a strong emphasis on lyrical composition. This duo fronted, and operated, four piece couldn’t be further from just another country act. Lead Singer/multi instrumentalist Suzanne Santo brings the country flare that rings so true and loud on the album. However, it is with the refreshment of Guitarist/backing vocalist Ben Jaffe, who brings the edge of rock, blues, folk, and southern influences to the table that significantly enhances the group’s live performance bringing Honeyhoney from a type casted country act, to a multi faceted, dynamic force to be taken seriously.
They were the perfect opening act for the steam engine also known as Trampled by Turtles. They made a lasting impression on the crowd as Santo sang her soul out on stage while maintaining the highest energy. She was a master, whether she realized it or not, at controlling the audience and dictated the motion of the crowd. She set the rhythm at which the audience moved to with a forceful stomp of her boot or bob of her head. The reaction of her stage presence produced an adamantly focused audience who were seemingly hypnotized by the sounds of the band. Santo’s voice was spot on with fresh folk-rock tones with country honesty and flow. She was well rehearsed, never pitchy, full of life and downright genuine and human.
My favorite line Suzanne Santo sang in the evening went something like, “When I’m sick I want whiskey, and when I’m well I want a man.” This line alone revealed honesty, rebellion, truth and humanity… either that, or it just turned everyone on in the audience (which, mind you, was composed of about 65% male) which was apparent from the, “Ow!”s and “YEAH!”s being shouted from the pit. However, whether it was from substantial artistry or the predictive nature of the male libido, the fact of the matter is, she worked. She worked in a way that the she became instantly relatable and was easy to fall for. She provided the groundwork for instant fan connection but what made them a classic hit and rise to greater levels was due to guitarist, Ben Jaffe.
For the sake of attempting to come to the point quickly and spare the reader an entire 2 more paragraphs about the opening band before I even touch on the behemoth of a headliner, I will keep my portion on Jaffe brief. His blues derived styling’s were the perfect fit to compliment Santo’s country swag. He brought an aggressive flare with his approach on guitar be it a necessary dirty rockin’ riff, or a tooth grinding, blood sweating solo thrown into the music like a swift kick to the nads by a Kangaroo on steroids. He brought it, and brought it hard to the stage; and when he wasn’t melting the faces of every human in the audience, he decided to sing back up, providing the perfect application of highlights and complexity to the overall sound. To sum up, the two complimented each other perfectly. It was like peanut butter and oreos (don’t hate it until you try it) as the two, backed by well placed bass and drums, instantly won over the audience. Finally, if the 4 piece doing what they do on stage wasn’t enough to win over the audience, which it was, the entire clan of Trampled by Turtles joined the gang on stage in the middle of their set. They performed a song that took an extended bridge to allow the gentlemen from the Turtles to solo one by one. It was awesome. There were nine brilliant musicians on stage, playing beautiful original music and the most endearing thing of it all was that the crowd was digging it. They loved it. They ate it up and wanted seconds. The tip of the hat from TbT, sent Honeyhoney from being excellent to legendary and on behalf of this show goer; (and I’m sure everyone else in the room that night) I feel I am a better man having heard their music and I thank them for an excellent performance.
Now… Let’s not forget about why these thousands of fans were gathered here at Santa Ana’s Observatory. Trampled by Turtles. These guys are bringing attitude, talent and humanity back into roots music, specifically folk and country. Surfacely they don’t do anything THAT out of the box. They write straightforward country songs, with 3 part harmonies, made up of a 5 piece band composed of a fiddle, a mandolin, a banjo, a guitar, and an acoustic bass. It most certainly has been done before. But what TbT does that sets them apart from others and is bringing the genre to new heights as well is, simply put, play it faster and meaner. Technically there is a lot more going on here, but on the surface, that is it. It’s as if the gang from deliverance, the natives not the vacationers, got together and decided, “lets listen to speed metal.” They listen to it, do a bunch of cocaine, and the output results as what you hear on a Trampled by Turtles album.
Trampled by Turtles straight up destroyed the Observatory. The amount of energy they gave to the stage that night was enough to start a fire that would burn a hole so deep into the remnants of Orange County that Satan himself could look up at us surface dwellers from the other side and say, “Keep it down up there!” All because of some damned bluegrass music. These guys killed it, and I COULD go into detail about each individual’s contribution to the greatness of what they do, but this reveals their biggest attribute. Their greatness is a result of the coordination of the five men on stage giving their all to each and every song. There is no drums or percussion, so getting on point with timing takes a lot of band cohesion that is sure to fall apart if even one member makes a mistake. The way the Turtles play is in a way where there is NO room for error, and not so surprisingly enough, there were no errors to be seen at their concert last Friday.
The last thing I will touch on about the Turtles’ live set is their impeccable use of solos, specifically the solo masters, Ryan Young on the Fiddle and Erik Berry on Mandolin. The two Michael Moore look a likes bring the added intensity to the music when either one of them decides to take a solo. Young has the fiddle begging for mercy for the entire set while ravaging its strings and Berry had to pick up a new mandolin regularly because the damn things kept on lighting on fire (not true). The already unbelievable songs were taken to new heights when these two decided to step up and take lead. Further, in these moments the two had decisive coordination which separated their parts from the other members. Parked next to each other at stage right, when one of them took a solo, the other three band members (we will call them rhythm) would remain constant to the song’s original refrains. Meanwhile, Berry and Young create a new section complimented through one of them introducing new rhythmic parts underneath which one of them took the solo. It was honestly a sight to behold and these two added some extra spice to an already winning formula of musical mastery.
The evening was truly unforgettable. The show went down to be among the best live performances I have seen in a very long time. The opener was phenomenal and the headlining act blew everyone away like a hurricane with an agenda. Finally, I can’t emphasize this point enough: The show was SOLD OUT. The fact of the matter is, their music is extremely substantial and highly relevant, especially considering its context in today’s pop culture. True, Trampled by Turtles is no first string act who can compete with the likes of Mumford or the Lumineers, but the fact that they exist and, more importantly, the fact they can sell out shows ALL across the country, is what is most important about their place in the music culture. It is nice to know that people are recognizing talent in a time of over processed cookie cutter songs, and I frankly don’t want to live in a world where bands like Trampled by Turtles don’t get their deserved accolades. I thank both bands for sharing their music and chatting a little bit after the show. These are some enormously strong acts that deserve the time and attention of anyone with ears and even a lick of musical taste.
On behalf of The Hub, we look forward to seeing both of you when you come through our humble OC scene again. Until then, thanks for the excellent music and good luck.