Words & Images by: Bill Clifford
Blues Traveler :: 10.22.08 :: Toad's Place :: New Haven, CT
With a career that has lasted more than twenty years, Blues Traveler can be named among the founders of the modern jam movement. Over that span, the Brooklyn-based band endured well-documented personal hardships and tragedies that would have, in many cases, ended the tenure of a lesser group. On a Wednesday night in New Haven, however, they showed the tremendous tenacity that has helped the band, now a quintet, outlast many of its contemporaries. In front of a packed and ecstatic crowd at the legendary and original Toad's Place on the Yale University campus, Blues Traveler rocked through fan favorites and road worn classics, along with several new songs from the recently released North Hollywood Shootout.
"This is Connecticut. We love it here. This is the land of my childhood," declared frontman John Popper proudly as the band took the stage. "Believe Me" opened the night and set the tone for a hard rocking, blues drenched performance. Right out of the gate, guitarist Chan Kinchla made his presence felt with scornful, wailing licks. Blues Traveler can play it loud and aggressive or they can be mellow and rootsy. The driving opener made it clear which direction this evening's vibes would take. That atmosphere continued on one of Traveler's oldest songs, "Dropping Some NYC." Popper led the way with thick, bluesy harp playing throughout the song.
Several selections in, the familiar chords of "But Anyway" rang out and the crowd let up an enthusiastic cheer. Though it's not their biggest hit, taken from the eponymous debut, it was the first song to draw significant radio play for the band. It was quite a sight for this longtime fan to see much younger fans with cell phones raised in the air catching this classic all-out jam. Kinchla and Popper matched each other lick for lick, with Kinchla's long mane slashing through the air as his head bobbed back and fourth in rhythm. The tempo of this roots rocker mellowed and Popper, with his back to the crowd, lit a smoke as keyboardist Ben Wilson tickled the ivories. The band has persevered in the wake of losing original bassist Bobby Sheehan, and the two newest members (the other being bassist Tad Kinchla, who stepped in for Sheehan in 1999) have obviously gelled with the original founding trio as evidenced by this vehicle.
On "How You Remember It" from the new CD, Popper demonstrated his vocal dexterity, with a bellowing roar that bounced from wall to wall of the intimate venue. His singing ability often goes unnoticed, hidden behind his extraordinary harp skills. Here, his resonating baritone rang out loud and clear. Later, he dedicated "Forever Owed," also from the new CD, "to anyone who has served or is serving overseas."
Chan Kinchla - Blues Traveler :: 10.22 :: CT|
"Mulling It Over" brought back the improvisational jam session with a blues bent. This song showed Popper's skills on the harp, again matching solos with Chan Kinchla, on another classic Blues Traveler jam vehicle. New pop song "You, Me and Everything" made light of Popper's recent arrest with the playful lyrics - "I get a little wild if it's okay" and "don't you drive too fast 'cause its against the law" - though it seemed most of the crowd didn't seem to catch the irony.
Blues Traveler has always had a knack for choosing a cover and making it their own. "I want you to want me," declared Popper, introducing the Cheap Trick pop nugget. The chemistry of playing together for over twenty years was obvious between Chan Kinchla, Popper and drummer Brendan Hill, who hammered the skins with both precision and power all night. Popper's vocals rang out again and the crowd sang along in unison, familiar with the Cheap Trick tune. Blues Traveler then encored with the hard, driving rock song "The Beacons," from the new CD and the pop hit "Hook."
Still going strong after two decades and several harrowing setbacks, Blues Traveler remains one of the most steadfast, hard touring stalwarts of modern rock. And based on the obvious chemistry amongst this quintet as evidenced by this Toad's performance, there is no slowing down this jam powerhouse.
10.22.08 :: Toad's Place :: New Haven, CT
Believe Me > Dropping Some NYC > Can't See Why > But Anyway, How You Remember It > NY Prophesie, Forever Owed > Mulling It Over, Trina Magna > Freedom > Trina Magna, Alone > Save His Soul > This Ache, You, Me & Everything > Run-Around, The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly > I Want You To Want Me > Crash Burn
Encore: The Beacons > Hook
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