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Blues Traveler Keeps Fans On Toes
by Mark Bialczak
Syracuse Herald American, Syracuse, NY
Nov 23rd, 1996

Familiarity breeds content fans - at your usual rock concert, anyway.

And that's the way it went Saturday night at the Landmark Theatre, as New York City foursome Blues Traveler hard-worked its way into the hearts of the capacity crowd of 2,992.

The biggest reaction of the night came for the band's hit "Run-Around".

As front man John Popper teased with the cute little lyrics, "I like coffee, I like tea," the fans - a good many of whom stood in front of their chairs the entire two sets - swayed back and forth, singing with all of their lung power.

It was easy to picture summer '95, sand between your toes, sun block on your nose, and the "Rosalita"-conjuring Blues Traveler hit on the radio.

This band's song for the ages is just as much fun in concert, too, with Popper caterwauling his rat-a-tat lyrics as psychedelic shapes and colors go somersaulting on the big screen behind the stage.

A couple other songs from the same album also drew huge and happy cheers. After all, it wasn't until four came out that Blues Traveler made it into the mainstream.

Yes, a sizable portion of the audience, including most of the tapeheads responsible for the array of record-it-yourself equipment welcomed by the band and sprinkled throughout the theater, plugged itself into the material from Blues Traveler's first three discs, the stuff that's made Popper, guitarist Chan Kinchla, bass player Bob Sheehan and drummer Brendan Hill popular mainstays of the summer hippie-fest H.O.R.D.E Tour.

But another segment of the crowd hung on every word of the more recognizable tunes from four.

"Brother John" went over huge, with Popper calling for, and receiving, a big crowd shout-and-respond to his phrase "wait and see," which he sang out in every intonation possible. The fans tried hard but failed miserably to imitate.

"The Mountains Win Again" also was greeted with happy sighs and applause as Popper and mates soothed the crowd with a smooth, nature-prevails ballad.

Yet this was also an unusual rock concert, because the band sprinkled its two sets with a half-dozen new songs - and the crowd loved those, too.

The new material, including a 20-minute sweetheart of an epic called "Traveler Suite," continued where those winners from four left off, bringing the band even further into bright, intoxicating sounds without entirely derailing from the subway-track passion and fury of their earlier days.

"Justify the Thrill" merged Popper's semi-ballistic harp-blowing with Kinchla's steamy guitar hooks; "Battle of Someone" unleashed Popper's reflective lyrics and refreshing scat singing; "Traveler Suite" ended with the pretty words, "Baby, that's what the dawn is for."

"The Gunfighter" and "Last Night I Dreamed" also hopefully will make the next studio disc, too.

Popper showed his soft spot for old friends, too. Opening band The Chrysalids featured guitarist Eric Schenkman, formerly of Blues Traveler-buddy band The Spin Doctors.

The Chrysalids' set showed off Schenkman's power and funk on the strings, and versatile band mate Rene Lopez earned some cheers with his emotional vocals and passionate percussion.