A band with eight studio albums and 10 years of touring on its résumé, Blitzen Trapper wanted to be challenged beyond the arduous songwriting and recording and countless days on the road.
So, it's going to be the local version of The Who, inspired by "Jesus Christ Superstar" and some "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" as Blitzen Trapper, an indie/roots band that calls Portland home, will be starring in its own theater concert production, "Wild and Reckless," March 16-April 30 at The Armory.
The idea came from frontman and guitarist Eric Earley, who'll serve as The Narrator for the story, which tells the tale of two kids on the run in a futuristic vision of Portland's past — a sci-fi dystopian love story. It's a new experience for band members, except for drummer Brian Adrian Koch, who has long acted on the side, appearing in "Grimm," "Portlandia," "The Librarians" and more (although there won't be as much acting as playing songs and singing).
Blitzen Trapper wrote and produced a 10-song LP for "Wild and Reckless," and it'll be released exclusively during the show — the song "Long Live On" has already received some acclaim — and it'll also mine its extensive catalog for tunes such as "Black River Killer" and "Astronaut."
Koch says it's a challenge for the band, which, of course, plans to tour later this year.
"It's the excitement of getting to see our music be treated with lighting design, costumes and stage set," he says. "These are things that we've wanted to do in life, as a touring rock band, but it's expensive. To have an elaborate production here and have us fold into it has been cool."
Indeed, they sort of feel like, ahem, rock stars — with the logistical help from Portland Center Stage, guidance from co-directors Rose Riordan and Liam Kaas-Lentz, and everything set up for them to perform.
"It's typical to get up and drive all day and get to a venue and work for 8-10 hours, get home and sleep and do it again," Koch says. "This feels more cushy. We have people helping us. We get to focus on music and performing. We're being spoiled, not forced to eat crappy gas station food in the middle of nowhere. We get to eat at home. Most of the guys are married and have kids, and they get to enjoy families and get to play rock 'n' roll every night. It's a rare treat."
Earley as The Narrator will tell the story, and songs — some of them played in their entirety, some cut up and spread out — serve as transition and featured elements.
"It's an enigmatic in-between genre kind of show," Koch says. "I like to think of it as a theatrical rock concert, not like with choreographed dancing, but just us on stage and two other actors (Laura Carbonell, Leif Norby). There isn't a lot of interactive singing and dancing, it's like a rock concert plus. It's a lot of songs; the monologue from The Narrator and other characters take us from one section to another."
The other characters: Koch, The Scientist; Marty Marquis, The Professor, vocals and keyboard; Erik Menteer, Joey, vocals and guitar; Michael Van Pelt, bass and percussion; Carbonell, The Girl; Norby, The Dealer.
Other than Koch asking band members to "ham it up" for the camera regularly, Blitzen Trapper has only one theater production to its credit, playing the band in "Manos: The Hands of Fate" at a couple venues several years ago.
"They don't have formal training like I do," Koch says of his bandmates, "but they've also been touring like I have — they're comfortable up there, they don't seem to be nervous."
Koch appeared in the first-ever episode of "Portlandia" as an extra, played a computer gaming nerd interrogated by detectives in "Grimm" and enjoyed a guest-starring role as a Scottish military officer in Canada in the current season of "The Librarians." He has known Kaas-Lentz for about 15 years; they went to school together at Portland State. Kaas-Lentz has directed Koch in three productions, including two plays by Wallace Shawn (from "The Princess Bride" fame).
"I'm trying to lobby hard for him to continue and direct me in a third (Shawn play)," Koch adds, "and then someday all of them. (Shawn) is brilliant playwright."
After the staging of "Wild and Reckless," Blitzen Trapper, a band with indie, folk/rock, roots, art rock, alt country, psychedelia and pop leanings, will play some shows in Canada and the Northwest and then take off on a tour later in the year. After success with Vagrant and Sub Pop record companies, the band is without a label. So, it was a good time to do something different.
"Right now," Koch says, "we're floating free."
"Wild and Reckless" is part of Portland Center Stage's Northwest Series, which develops and produces stories, or highlights artists, from the Northwest. It'll run on the U.S. Bank Stage at The Armory, 128 N.W. 11th Ave., in conjuction with another music-based world premiere, the country music-infused "Lauren Weedman Doesn't Live Here Anymore." Tickets for "Wild and Reckless" start at $25, and are available at www.pcs.org. Previews start March 16. Opening night is 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 24.