July 5 - MORRISON - Memo to the many people who left Friday's Blues
Traveler concert early: It's still going on.
Well, not quite. But it was well after the stroke of 12 - and after 38
bajillion John Popper harmonica solos, by unofficial count - that Popper
and the boys finally called a halt to the first of their two annual
Independence Day weekend shows at Red Rocks. At that was after two
longer-than-usual opening sets by Agents of Good Roots and Gov't Mule.
Some 6 1/2 hours from start to stop - that's good value at a non-festival
concert these days.
It was also, by and large, good music, of the summertime,
Clearly, Blues Traveler loves Red Rocks - "This is without a doubt my
favorite place to play," Popper said as the band came back from an
intermission - and its usually receptive crowds. This year, the New
Yorkers said thank you for years of warm welcomes by performing several
freshly penned tunes, "never played anywhere on earth," Popper
Happily, the new music showed the band continuing the trend of its last
two albums toward concise, well-crafted songs.
And - hold on to your hats, Popper fans - not one of the new tunes
featured harmonica. (Popper has advised subscribers to the band's
newsletter that he plans to cut back on the harp on Blues Traveler's next
There was the pleasant, poppy "The Light In Her Eyes". There was "Decision
of the Skies", a snaky, mid-tempo rocker that reminded me of the Beatles'
"Dear Prudence". And there was a funk-scat workout with a working title
not suited for a family newspaper.
With all the new material, even a three-hour-10-minute double-set (not
counting intermission) didn't leave enough room for some of Blues
Traveler's biggest hits, like "Run-Around" and "Most Precarious". (They
did, however, include their frenetic show-stopper "But Anyway", augmented
by a tasty Bobby Sheehan bass solo.)
Instead, they set aside lots of room for the trademark jams that most of
their fans love - and this time, Popper didn't spare the harp-power.
The new songs, and Popper's decision to lay off the harmonica, show a
group looking for ways to get tighter and brighter. Let's hope all those
other jam bands out there follow Blues Traveler's lead.
The Richmond, Va., group Agents of Good Roots opened the show with 40
minutes of appealing sax-driven jazz-rock, highlighted by their sultry
radio hit "Smiling Up the Frown".
And Gov't Mule, a swampy power trio featuring inventive ex-Allman Brother
Warren Haynes on guitar, entertained for 65 minutes, offering its new
single, a slow, sludgy version of the Beatles' "She Said, She Said".
Haynes later jammed with Blues Traveler, trading licks with Popper and
guitarist Chan Kinchla, as midnight tolled.