For a long time, my notion of a one-man band was embodied by Dick Van Dyke’s turn as Bert in Mary Poppins—talented sure, but more gimmick than genuine. That image was dashed in the best way when when I first saw The Suitcase Junket back in 2016.
One-man tour de force Matt Lorenz has been recording and touring as The Suitcase Junket for well over a decade now, banging out lively sets on a motley collection of pots, pans, silverware, suitcases, gas cans, and bones. Crowning the kit with a dumpster-salvaged guitar, he vacillates between fuzzed-out gritty blues and melodic roots hooks.
Beyond the eclectic kit, overtone singing is one of The Suitcase Junket’s most obvious points of distinction. It’s a curious sound—somewhere between a droning bass kazoo and a melodic whistle—that leaves you wondering what exactly you’re hearing and how Lorenz is pulling it off. As Matt puts it, “It’s the sonic equivalent of light passing through a prism, producing these harmonizing tones.”
With his newest album Mean Dog, Trampoline hot off the presses, The Suitcase Junket takes a bold step beyond the lo-fi, self-produced approach of his previous releases. Working with producer Steve Berlin (Los Lobos, Deer Tick, Greensky Bluegrass), Lorenz has crafted a bigger, lusher sound that strengthens and expands on his carefully built foundation.
Far from his primary stomping grounds in the northeast and mid-Atlantic US, this was The Suitcase Junket’s first show in Raleigh-Durham in several years. But even with a lighter crowd, there was a palpable fervor building from the first pulsing beats of “On Our Own” to the final whispered notes of “Old Machine.” A few people were established fans, but most were experiencing Lorenz’s performance for the first time—they were not disappointed.
I made some moonshine– “Old Machine”
So I could put it in a song and not feel the frost
But I still don’t have a song about knowing God
Or God knowing me
I made moonshine
And it’s just as clear and cold as a mountain stream
And it tastes like a solvent that could clean
This old machine
The Suitcase Junket may have welcomed more people into the studio, but live it’s still a solo affair—which isn’t to say he doesn’t get a little help. With a quick wit and wry smile, Lorenz pulls the crowd in and makes them as much a part of the performance as himself. From joke-filled explanations of his technique to his theories on cultivating creativity in the future generations and the socioeconomic role of dogs, the set was peppered with a lively back-and-forth, drawing people ever closer to the stage.
Highlights included the rousing album opener “High Beams,” a galloping ode to unrequited love and a unplugged version of “Old Machine” with Lorenz balanced at the edge of the stage leading the crowd like a choir.
The encore was also a standout—a rollicking cover of Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)” requested by a fan. It was a barn burner, with many in the crowd dancing enthusiastically along for the whole song:
Check out the full setlist and catch The Suitcase Junket on the road in support of Mean Dog, Trampoline with a string of West Coast dates through early June before heading back East through the summer.