For those who sat in the back confused or annoyed at the living chaos, or passed on the evening's “here and now” exercise, I’d reluctantly describe the music as a sumptuous pie cut into distinct slices of bluegrass, Carnival-style music, and blues tantalizing the taste-buds as they dipped the spoon into different slices—attempting the perfect bite. The guys are all undeniably talented but I’ve never heard such varied musical genres pouring from a stage in one evening. As an added bonus to good energetic music, Leftover Salmon can now promote themselves as a tool to practicing enlightenment in your daily life. They change enough that you can’t comfortably define them in any one category, leaving little choice but to surrender to their ever-changing moments, release and dance.
Whatever it was, I can say it was definitely joyful and whether people were gyrating, stomping, swaying, dipping, tapping, swirling, square-dancing or weaving through the audience in a conga line, they were all smiling. As a hardened journalist observing the scene, I’d have to acknowledge here that some of those smiles may have been prompted by the aforementioned dancing. There is no way to dance gracefully to Leftover Salmon. The best you can hope for is a sturdy ground where your feet will only slip from under you 40% of the time between flailings. It’s a great thing to stand back and watch: a room full of people in some form of distorted competition to shake their flesh and limbs in as many directions as possible at the same time. Enlightenment takes hold again; it’s wonderfully difficult to place judgment on others when everyone looks ridiculous and, not only doesn’t seem to care, but are clearly having a great time. The only thing left to do is join the flailing, adding your own version of controlled spasmodic convulsions to the freak-fest with a sweaty smile. We’d all be in great shape if we did this every day. Or at least more prepared for Vince’s well recognized “Festivaaaaaal” call. I love to see a show where people expel a huge sigh of relief at set break because they can’t leave during the set (too good to miss, too much momentum to stop) and their knees have been giving out since the fourth song and the puddles on the floor need time to dry before it starts all over again.
The second set brought out a bit more of the Salmon I’ve grown to love as they taunted the new guy. This time it was the banjo player, Noam Pikelny, who left himself completely vulnerable to playful abuse by, not only being the new guy, but having the audacity to have a birthday on this fine evening as well. He was berated with stickers and dollar bills from the audience, placed in uncomfortable areas of his body and banjo, while he took off on his solo. I suppose this is how they really choose the new guys: who can play the best through the greatest distractions. Noam proved a valiant addition to the band as he played the rest of the set with a giant plaster head, someone found backstage, of a chubby, rosy-cheeked boy (probably the original poster boy for Hostess cupcakes) on his head. I danced much harder after the Pillsbury Doughboy’s cousin started playing that sweet banjo music to the crowd—he just looked so damn friendly.
I first heard Noam play at the Northwest String Summit this year with Yonder Mountain String Band. He was one of the many guests on stage drinking left turns and helping 2.5 mouths drop every 6 seconds in awe and delight. He blended in amidst the unadulterated talent on stage but, holding your own amongst that caliber of musicians is a great feat. Leftover Salmon gave him room to explode while pillowing the banjo twang with their own unique sound. I’m continually amazed with the versatility and novel voyages the banjo is making on stages across the country.
The music went well into the night and those musical gurus switched styles at perfectly uncalculated times—keeping the audience in the air, on their toes, heels and other various body parts, until the end. And, just in case anyone was planning on leaving the evening tired, worn-out or resembling anything different than the plastic head atop Noam’s shoulders, the band made sure every face was grinning full throttle by chanting “Gonna rise up, wake and bake” to a newly enlightened crowd of glistening, gelatinous people as they made their final exit.
JamBase Oregonian Correspondent
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