Blitzen Trapper finished an epic string of 11 performances at SXSW in memorable fashion Saturday night, performing a cover of Big Star’s “Feel” with members of Big Star and R.E.M. on the second anniversary of singer-guitarist Alex Chilton’s death.
“We’re going to do my personal favorite Big Star song,” Blitzen Trapper singer Eric Earley told the crowd, as Peter Buck, Mike Mills and Ken Stringfellow joined the band on stage at Stubb’s for a spirited version of the tune. Earley sang lead vocals and played electric guitar, with Buck on acoustic guitar and Stringfellow playing bass and singing backing vocals with Mills.
Although Earley looked a little incredulous to see Mills and Stringfellow harmonizing together on one side of him and Buck strumming away on the other, it was drummer Brian Adrian Koch who would voice the feeling when the song was over.
“I can’t believe that really just happened,” Koch said.
“Feel” came in the middle of a rollicking set from the Portland, Oregon band, which mixed songs from last year’s American Goldwing LP with with earlier tunes, including breakthrough single “Furr” and a rugged cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Good Times, Bad Times,” to close the show.
Afterward, Earley told Rolling Stone that Big Star embodies what he loves about Seventies rock & roll.
“That early Big Star stuff is quintessential American 1970s, mustache-wearing, muscle-car-driving music, even if they weren’t coming at it that way,” he said.
The guest spot from Buck, Mills and Stringfellow came after Earley sat in with them on the same song during a Big Star tribute the night before. Also on hand was drummer Jody Stephens, the lone surviving member of the seminal power-pop band’s original lineup. Chilton died of a heart attack in 2010, just days before Big Star was scheduled to perform that year at SXSW. Original bassist Andy Hummel died a few months later after a lengthy battle with cancer. Guitarist Chris Bell was killed in a car accident in 1978. In recent years, Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow of the Posies rounded out the Big Star lineup.
Stringfellow told Rolling Stone that he invited Earley to contribute to the Big Star tribute after hearing that the singer was a fan.
“It’s like the ultimate secret handshake that’s not a secret,” he said, marveling at how Big Star’s influence continues to filter down to subsequent generations of musicians.
That wasn’t the only influence at work on stage Saturday: Earley has a fondness for R.E.M., too.
“They were my favorite band in high school,” he said.