Show Review: 2 Nights of Leftover Salmon with Bill Payne in Boulder

DSC08521Leftover Salmon once again treated the Front Range to a pair of post-Thanksgiving shows. This run has become a yearly tradition from Salmonheads across the country. This time around they delighted their fans with the inclusion of Little Feat’s Bill Payne on keys. This was a wise choice. Throughout their storied career Salmon has played with a number of keyboardists including Pete Sears and Bill McKay.  However the addition of Mr. Payne brought something utterly special to the table. McKay supplied a bluesy rowdiness that instantly transformed the group into a bar band on steroids. Payne’s performance throughout both nights was pure class. With his whirling piano solos and delicate keystrokes Payne contributed a versatility and range that raised the bar for all future Salmon shows. I for one would like to start a petition here and now to make Payne a permanent member of the band, but I digress.

Leftover Salmon with Bill Payne – Nov 29, 2013

The cool evening was the perfect backdrop for familiar jaunt to Boulder. The sun was long gone by the time I reached my destination. After a short walk I found myself in front of the historic Boulder Theater. This venue is one of the best the Front Range has to offer and the sound is always top notch. The doors opened promptly at 8:30 PM and the eclectic crowd made their way inside. The band took the stage just after 9:30 PM and it was time. Vince introduced the Little Feat Alumnus and we were quickly underway with a raucous “Voodoo Queen Marie.”

Set 1: Voodoo Queen Marie, Gulf of Mexico, Little Liza, Two Highways, Rag Mama Rag, High Country, The Other Side, Home Cookin’, Whispering Waters

Set 2: Fat Man In The Bathtub, Sometimes A River, Midnight Blues, Morning Sun, Mama Boulet> Drums> Mama Boulet, Get ‘Er Rollin’, The Bird Call, Tu Na Pas Aller, Doin’ My Time

Encore: Alflafa’s, Better

Recording on – Audio by Gerry Gladu

The first set featured several tracks off of Aquatic Hitchhiker including the Thorn infused title track as well as a stellar Drew-led “Gulf of Mexico.” Drew again got to demonstrate the power of his evocative vocals on “Two Highways.” The jovial atmosphere that Leftover Salmon strives to create with each live performance is absolutely contagious. Old Heads danced with young students as Leftover Salmon threw down the gauntlet. Payne’s keys were again the center of attention on the as he added a Stride piano element to “Rag Mama Rag.” Payne alternated between the ivories and the organ throughout the night. The traditional styling’s on “High Country” was a nice breather before the musical explosion that was “The Other Side.” “Home Cookin” took on a boisterous feel, but the massive set closing “Whispering Waters” was the real highlight. This somewhat rare track stretched well past the 15-minute mark.

“After midnight tonight it’s going to be Greg Garrison’s Birthday… You’ all feel like singing one?” – Vince Herman

Did I forget to mention that Vince had already announced that it was their newest member Alwyn Robinson’s birthday during the first set? In all my years of seeing this band it’s been someone in the groups birthday about 90% of the time. Robinson has now permanently replaced long time drummer Jose Martinez. Martinez is sticking to his roots in Seattle and taking a new direction in his musical journey. What Alwyn lacks in flashy fills he more than makes up for with absolute precision. He adds his jazz experience to the percussion and is quickly becoming a focal point for this talented group.

Set two was quickly underway after a brief break. They opened up with the only Little Feat song of the evening, “Fat Man In The Tub.” We were treated to a pair of crowd-pleasers in the form of “Sometimes A River” (not to be confused with the SCI song of the same name) and a smoking “Midnight Blues.” “Morning Sun” featured a fantastic reggae breakdown with Payne going gonzo on the B3. The “Mama Boulet” sandwich gave us a chance to really see Robinson groove with an extended drum solo. Again he really is gelling nicely with the band and he has a new take on percussion that we haven’t seen with Salmon before now. Leftover Salmon just seems much more content all around. They are going with the flow and not letting things like cross country moves and changes in their lineup slow them down. They persist in writing new material and expanding their catalog while continuing to bring a fresh feel to their classic tracks. “Get ‘Er Rollin’” was all rockabilly while “The Bird Call” saw some ridiculous jamming from the entire band. We got our dose of Zydeco with “Tu Na Pas Aller” before they closed with a beautiful “Doin’ My Time.”

Leftover Salmon encored with their homage to Boulder hippie grocer, “Alfalfas.” This silly song featured the crowd-singing meow to the melody of the song, which can only be blamed on Mr. Herman.

“If I don’t see you at church, I guess I’ll see you at the liquor store.” –Vince

They finished the night with a high-speed jam on “Better.” This was an excellent show, and the addition of Bill Payne was historic. Payne performs with an elegance that is just rare these days. Leftover Salmon is quite simply one of the most enjoyable live experiences touring today. They continue to push the envelope of bluegrass, rock, and improvisation. This band is having fun, and that in turn spills onto the audience. Night one was absolutely solid, but Saturday night at the Boulder Theater would prove to be one for the books. Stay tuned.

Leftover Salmon with Bill Payne – Nov 30, 2013

After a solid night in Boulder the fans returned to the historic venue for one more night of Leftover Salmon. This post-Thanksgiving run had already given fans plenty to be thankful for, and there was still one more show to go. Friday had been a 21+ show meaning the crowd was a bit older. When the doors opened on Saturday again around 8:30 PM the younger fans got their chance to hit the rail. About thirty minutes before show time a large ear of corn made it’s way to the microphone. However it didn’t say anything, prompting some fans to accost the poor vegetable. Finally, at the appointed time the spry corn man sprung to life and introduced the band.

DSC09123“Let’s hear it for corn.” -Vince

Salmon took the stage again just after 9:30 PM and there was a distinct electricity in the air. The show that would follow is the type of event that makes people lifelong fans. This one was one for the books. They opened with a massive Drew soaked “Down In A Hollow.”

Set 1: Down In A Hollow, Mountaintop, Steam Powered Aeroplane, Who Put the Pepper In The Vaseline, Breaking Through, Squirrel Heads and Gravy, Last Days of Autumn, Thompipe, Ophelia, Dixie Chicken

Set 2: Rueben’s Train, Here Comes The Night*, Keep Driving*, Walk And Don’t Look Back, Up On The Hill Where They Do The Boogie, Light Behind The Rain, River’s Rising, Willin’, Don’t Think Hank Done This Way> Walk On The Wild Side> Can’t Always Get What You Want> Don’t Think Hank Done It This Way

Encore: Hotcorn Coldcorn, Rock and Roll

Recording on – Audio by Eric Wilkens

“Mountaintop” was a little lull to make sure everyone was inside, before they kicked it into high gear with John Hartford’s “Steam Powered Aeroplane.” Fans were treated to another rare track in the form of the Cajun frolic, “Who Put the Pepper In The Vaseline” which featured a nice breakdown from Robinson on the kit. Drew Emmitt has one of the best voices in bluegrass and to hear him sing is to be impressed. Bill Payne’s Hammond beautifully accented Drew’s vocals on “Breaking Through,” which went well over ten minutes.   The traditional “Squirrel Heads and Gravy” became an all out hoedown before the intricately stunning “Last Days of Autumn.” The packed room swelled as the fans danced feverishly.  The short “Thompipe” featured some amazing banjo action from Mr. Andy Thorn. They broke into a mind-blowing version of The Band’s “Ophelia” where the band took full advantage of Payne’s piano with multiple extensive solos. They closed the first set with the only Payne-sung lyrics of the night on the first verse of “Dixie Chicken.” Drew took over vocals for the rest of the tune. Vince coaxed the audience to bellow out the well-known melody of the refrain, which they eventually did. The band walked off stage to that sound before the room exploded in applause.

Kyle Hollingsworth had been spotted around the Boulder Theater; so, many fans including myself were expecting a sit in. After the traditional “Rueben’s Train” opener we got just that. Vince invited the long time local to join them onstage. I speculate that Kyle came down simply for the opportunity to play with one of his heroes. Who wouldn’t? It took them a minute to find their groove on “Here Comes The Night,” but with Kyle at the organ and Payne on the keys, they eventually found synchronicity. Hollingsworth stuck around for another go around on “Keep Driving” before he disappeared backstage. The remainder of the set was an absolute “Best Of” run from Leftover Salmon.  Vince took the reigns on Peter Tosh’s “Walk and Don’t Look Back” which was a bit like tossing reggae and bluegrass into a centrifuge. “Up On The Hill” featured an incredible solo from Thorn on banjo before he wowed the audience with the brilliantly dramatic “Light Behind The Rain.” With all the recent flooding we’ve had in Colorado, “River’s Rising” took on a new relevance. The Vince sung Little Feat classic “Willin’” was yet another highlight in a show with far too many.  The massive set closing “Don’t Think Hank Done It This Way” sandwich took a stellar show and absolutely launched it over the top.  Featuring a huge shout out to Lou Reed in the form of “Take A Walk On The Wild Side” as well as a tight rendition of the Rolling Stones’ “Can’t Always Get What You Want.” They went back into “Hank” to wrap it all up neatly.

As the band left I literally had to reach down and pick my jaw up off of the floor. They of course returned with a large ear of corn in tow. The punch line came in the form of a “Hotcorn Coldcorn” encore complete with a dancing grain plant. As if that wasn’t enough Salmon finished the night with a rockabilly version of Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll.” The people filtered out into the Boulder streets with wide smiles and stories to tell. Bill Payne was an absolute delight throughout both of his nights with LoS. Payne’s experience and style meshed incredibly well with the entire band, and it’s time for a keyboardist of his caliber to be touring with them full time. It seems that recently Leftover Salmon has been on fire. They are a new band with a new energy, but above all they are having fun. They aren’t afraid to be inventive and continue to hone their craft instead of stagnating. I for one am thankful for Leftover Salmon.