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Trampled By Turtles @ The Mint, 4/22/10

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The depressing joint on Pico and La Cienega Blvd known as The Mint rarely books bands that will rock your socks off. I blame the chairs. Any place that calls itself a music venue and has chairs and tables on the dance floor, is sure to be a subdued affair. Not to mention an establishment that makes you buy a drink for the privilege of sitting down even though you just paid a cover to get in there. Add those elements together and you've got a pretty stale atmosphere most nights. Unless! Every once and awhile, if you're really really lucky, you get a traveling band coming through town who doesn't know any better and books a gig there. On those very rare occasions, the Mint shakes off its cobwebs and people actually get to dance.

Last Thursday was just such an occasion. The bluegrass outfit Trampled By Turtles from Duluth, MN decided to play their Los Angeles debut at this dreary little club and transformed the whole building. It was almost as if folk fairies came down and blessed the place before they went on because the change was nothing short of miraculous. By nine o'clock on Thursday night, the place was packed with people. It was a bizarre crowd full of middle aged bluegrass fanatics, who probably thought that they were in for a subdued evening, and half naked hippies, who jumped around like mad things in a semi-mosh fashion, whose spinning dreadlocks threatened to remove the eyeballs of anyone who came near them.

The five lads from Minnesota took the stage and started the set at a blistering speed. Trampled By Turtles have earned a reputation for playing the fastest bluegrass around. Critics have even started battering around new titles in honor of their velocity including: new-grass, thrash-grass, slam-grass, punk grass, and my personal favorite, speed-grass. It is no accident that a number of the members played in punk bands before joining this group. In short witnessing them live is like having your face melted off with a mandolin.

The crowd that night was out for blood too. If the band was foolish enough to play something at a normal tempo, they got downright grumpy almost like sulky children and bopped around waiting for the next tune. When the tempo picked up, however, the whirling dervishes on the left side of the stage began jumping up and down yelling "Faster! Faster!" with yelps of happiness when the Turtles obliged. We watched on as the group would play faster and faster until it got to the point where I was sure they would come away with bleeding stumps of fingers. Not that any of the guys seemed to mind. I got the feeling that they wouldn't be happy until they passed out with a fiddle in one hand and foaming dripping from their lips.

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Fortunately it didn't come to that, but the harder the Turtles played, the more the crowd would reward them with cheers and clapping. No one was sitting down at the Mint that night, and I witnessed the first encore I've ever seen given by an opening band. The place was whipped up in such a frenzy that when the Turtles tried to leave the stage,and the house music came on, there was nearly a riot. The band had no choice but to get back up there and play one more song otherwise they might have carried away the sound man and eaten him.

Missed the show? It sounded something like this.