For their first Twin Cities show in four years and debut appearance at Minneapolis' reborn Armory, Trampled by Turtles did a lot on Saturday night to remind Minnesota fans their heart is still up in Duluth.
They played a new song inspired by the harbor town where they formed 19 years ago. They brought along an opening act they met and cut their teeth with there.
And for the night's emotional centerpiece, the six-man acoustic string band brought out one of Duluth's most revered music legends to help pay tribute to his wife, whose funeral was held there three weeks ago while Trampled was still on the road.
All that, and the still-happy-together, hippie-ish strummers didn't even have the courtesy to play "9th and Hennepin" as a nod to Minneapolis when it came time to pull out a Tom Waits cover near the end of the nearly two-hour, sold-out Armory performance.
The Waits tune they did pick, "Old Shoes (& Picture Postcards)" — with the refrain, "Farewell to the girl with the sun in her eyes" — capped off a dramatic trio of songs that included Trampled's biggest and most heartful hit, "Alone," plus one other cover that ruled the night, Low's "When I Go Deaf."
Low's own Alan Sparhawk took the stage and took over lead vocals for the latter song, stoically holding it together while many in the crowd lost it. No one mentioned Sparhawk's wife and bandmate, Mimi Parker — who died of cancer earlier this month at age 55 — until after the song finished with a big chaotic and cathartic crashing of strings.
"We all miss Mim so much," TBT frontman Dave Simonett said, and then matter-of-factly declared, "Low was the coolest band of all time."
While the "was" in that comment unintentionally stung, the rest of Saturday's concert concertedly hit home just how much Simonett's own band remains an evolving, improving, thriving unit as it nears its 20th anniversary.
More than a third of Trampled's setlist comprised mostly well-received songs off the group's month-old album, "Alpenglow," including the first three of the night: "It's So Hard to Hold On," "Starting Over" and the Jeff Tweedy-penned "A Lifetime to Find."
The bandleader of Wilco, Tweedy produced Trampled's new record and helped spark some playfulness in the vocal harmonies and string arrangements, qualities that played out beautifully live in both "On the Highway" and "All the Good Times Are Gone."
Tweedy's influence on Simonett's songwriting also showed up in the lushly painted "Burlesque Desert Window" — a spirited singalong bound to become a new live staple — and in "Central Hillside Blues," a starker new one about the band's hometown and its slow but inevitable changes.
"They ripped up the streets in old Duluth," sang Simonett, who (like two other members) now lives in the Twin Cities. "A violent reminder of an older truth / Nothing's the same, how could it be? / When I'm not the devil that I used to be."
Things still got devilish here and there. The band intermittently dropped in some of its most high-wired, rapidly picked old favorites, such as "Victory," "Wait So Long," "Annihilate" and "Codeine," prompting the nearly 8,000 fans — a remarkable range agewise from teens to seniors — to turn the Armory's sprawling general-admission area into a giant dance floor.
Former Duluthian blues and folk troubadour Charlie Parr — who got his start playing to about 1/200th as many people a mile from the Armory at the Viking Bar — put on his usual devil-may-care, all-acoustic performance in the opening slot to great effect, despite the challenges of playing to thousands in such a vast space. Duluth maybe has changed a lot, but thankfully Parr hasn't.