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Blues band in top form at Roseland
by Phil Smith
The Oregonian, Portland, OR
Oct 5th, 1991

The view of the main floor from the balcony, especially during the first half ot the Blues Traveler concert Thursday at the Roseland Theater, resembled a huge school of piranha fish devouring its prey in seconds.

Except the capacity crowd was dancing and carrying on like that for more than an hour. And instead of being devoured, Blues Traveler and its music just got bigger and bigger.

Even up in the horseshoe-shaped balcony, folks bounced the floor-boards so hard it was like riding a flimsy airplane through hurricane-force turbulence.

Much harder-rocking and more improvisational than on Blues Traveler's recordings, Bob Sheehan on bass and Brendan Hill on drums did more than just establish the groove. They jammed against themselves through medleys of two or three songs at a time, with Chan Kinchla on guitar and John Popper on harp pulling and sometimes pushing them on with their own blistering attacks. For such an accessible band, the rhythm change-ups were frequent, but so tightly executed by all four that where they were headed was never in doubt.

Kinchla's guitar-playing was like all four horsemen of the apocalypse, while Popper's piercing, shrieking blues-harp caterwauling spurred the guitarist on.

Even without the harp Popper was awesome, with a vocal range, expressiveness and strength that could woo Roxanne as well as slay a hundred men, like the Cyrano de Bergerac he sang of in "Sweet Pain." ("What better euphemism for the blues?")

That same voice scatted out an electric lead solo in a rousing and lengthy cover-version of "Gloria," the old Them/Van Morrison hit that constituted the band's only cover tune.

But then finally the band, and the audience, settled down somewhat with the poignant "100 Years" and "Whoops" - a new song "about the environment."

Blues Traveler played for more than another hour, until 1 a.m., occasionally approacthing the feverish level of their first hour-plus. And a few people started to leave, maybe 5 percent by the end - perhaps suffering from sensory overload, perhaps disappointed there wouldn't be any traditional, 12-bar blues. "It won't make a difference in a hundred years," a Blues Traveler song goes - but there aren't many bands, or songs, with a better chance of lasting that long.

Widespread Panic, the opening band, was a lot of fun, too, with two guitarists, a drummer, a percussionist, bass and keyboardist - and a third guitarist when Jerry Joseph of Little Women was invited up. Widespread Panic did five or six 20-minute little symphonies mixing Cajun rock, art rock, polyrhythmic Grateful Dead-type jamming and outlaw blues.