How Blitzen Trapper Builds Powerhouse Indie Rock Live Sets

Frontman Eric Earley shares the method behind his live shows.

By Jason Cohen October 19, 2015 Published in the November 2015 issue of Portland Monthly

All Across This Land is Blitzen Trapper’s eighth album since 2004—meaning lead singer Eric Earley has a lot of material.

“I have this system I developed,” says the 38-year-old leader of the Portland band about how he chooses which songs to play live. “It’s basically three columns. The first column is all the songs we have to play or people get mad. The second column is songs that fans like to hear. And the third column is songs that we just like to play.”

As Blitzen Trapper wraps up its fall tour on November 28 at Revolution Hall, Earley will dip into those three columns once again. We took a look at his handwritten set list from the band’s last tour to see how it comes together. 

1)  “Fletcher”
The band often opens with the second track on 2011’s American Goldwing: a choogling, semiautobiographical mountain story-song. “It was like, oh, this just feels good!”

2)  “Rock & Roll”
“Rock and Roll Was Made for You,” from All Across This Land, has been in the set since spring. “Crowds love that song,” Earley says. “And then the very last song on the record, ‘Cross the River,’ I’ve been doing that one too and people love it, even though it’s kind of a long, rambling story. I guess they expect that from me.”

3)  “BRK”
“Black River Killer,” a.k.a. the song where a few fans invariably cheer after “Well, the sheriff let me go with a knife and a song / So I took the first train up to Oregon.”

4)  “Furr” 
Earley never expected the melodic, vaguely Dylanesque title track from Blitzen Trapper’s 2008 Sub Pop debut to become indelible. (Spotify plays: 7.3 million.) “I wrote it in 30 minutes. Just a folk song, right?” he says. “I didn’t realize that people would connect with it the way that they did, and still do.”

5)  “Big Black”
“Big Black Bird” is a B-side (on 2009’s Black River Killer EP) that became a stalwart. “Yeah, that’s in the first column,” Earley says. “Just one of those literal, kind of Southern-rocky deals. It’s basically our ‘Free Bird.’”

6)  “Lady”
The truth is, Earley doesn’t really need his system. “All you gotta do is go on Spotify,” he says. “‘Lady on the Water’ is no. 1 now. It overtook ‘Furr’ and ‘Black River Killer.’”

7)  “Zep”
Both “Ramble On” and “Good Times Bad Times” have often served as the band’s final encore. “Because what do you do after Zeppelin?” Earley asks. “It’s like, OK, we’re done.”

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