Theater of the Living Arts | Philadelphia, PA | 11.30.02
Now the thing is, salmon is supposed to taste best when it is fresh. I would know, I'm in the fish business. What's more, I don't even like the taste of salmon; and I've tasted the freshest there is to be had. I never thought to listen to a fresh filet of salmon, but I wish I had heard of Leftover Salmon sooner.
This ain't your daddy's bluegrass band.
In fact, chances are that unless you've heard these guys passing melodies back and forth like so many well-rolled joints, you can't imagine this music played with such virtuosity.
For this band, the transition from banjo to mandolin to guitar becomes the "Tinkers to Evers to Chance" of bluegrass music, while avoiding any of the clichés this might present. Well, perhaps not all of them.
Bluegrass is an inherently limited form, but infinitely nuanced, and Leftover Salmon finds its strength in exploring the outer reaches of these subtleties. At times, it seemed that their numerous descents into traditional rhythms and straightforward country progressions, while featuring the lightning fast head-cutting sessions that have become their trademark, somehow fell short of their full capabilities. I understand that South Street is a far cry from home for these Colorado back-country boys; and their tendency to fall back on reliable, if predictable, formulas can easily be forgiven.
Indeed, even within the bluegrass structure Leftover Salmon stretched the limits of the possible. New banjo plucker Noam Pikelny made effortless rhythms as fast as thought, while Drew Emmitt went from mandolin to electric guitar to flute to fiddle with the fluidity of light. The solid drumming of Jose Martinez underpinned the bass and keyboard, respectively, of Greg Garrison and Bill McKay, who joined Leftover from the Derek Trucks band.
And all the while, singer and guitarist Vince Herman provided the rudder which steered the band from the opening "White Freight Liner" through a three hour-plus storm of a show, to an incandescent encore of "Dead Flowers" into "Rise Up (Wake and Bake)," a staple of Leftover Salmon's diet. This also featured the members of opening act The All Thumbs Trio, which is comprised of Jibb Droll on acoustic guitar, Chuck Garvey of moe. on acoustic guitar and Dobro, and Johnny Hickman from Cracker on acoustic guitar and mandolin.
Leftover featured their outstanding ability to harmonize vocally on songs such as "Midnight Blues," and Noam Pikelny easily filled the hole left by the departure of banjo player Mark Vann. As the show went on, the band got progressively looser and funkier, bringing out members of Cracker to assist on songs like "What The World Needs Now (Is Another Folk Singer)," which they announced as "a folk tune," before bringing out Chuck Garvey to help out as they tore through David Bromberg's "Sharon." Their deconstruction of the "Main Street Moan," to which the song's title character dances, was a highlight of the show. Emmitt and Garvey played catch with sonic texture, while Herman howled and growled his way through the story of a man pining for a carnival belly-dancer.
These guys can truly jam, and if unbelievable speed coupled with light-hearted good times sounds like your kinda party, then this band belongs at the top of a short list of must-see acts this year.
By the way, if you're going to see show at the Theater of the Living Arts, keep a close eye on security. Peace.
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