Leftover Salmon is one of my favorite bands. Period. They’re a (maybe the?) major influence on the creation of this site. You’ve probably heard Daniel Tosh ask, “have you ever seen anyone unhappy on a wave runner?” Well, I’d ask, “have you ever seen someone unhappy on Leftover Salmon?”
That being said, I always approach the traditional “jamband” holiday show skeptically. Whether New Years Eve, 420, or Halloween, the expectations for the evening rarely set the evening up for success. As someone that typically goes to shows alone and sober, I find myself wishing there was more music than party.
And man, was there ever a party at Eucilid Avenue on Halloween night. Before the show kicked off, I couldn’t help but notice the mix of fans. Salmon in Atlanta has a tendency to attract everything from high school kids looking to party to the mid-50’s, holding-on-to-their-hippy-roots guys… well, looking to party. The only difference on Halloween? About half of the freaks are dressed in costumes more elaborate than is available at your typical Party City. Among my favorites? Santa Clause and a dude in a full-on squirrel costume.
Due to trick-or-treating responsibilities – my girls dressed up as Strawberry Shortcake and a character from Candy Land – I wasn’t able to catch the opening act, Athens , Georgia’s own Packway Handle Band. I’ve heard good things and look forward to checking them out soon.
I arrived about 15-minutes before Leftover took the stage and had a chance to walk around and check out the aforementioned freaks. The venue was probably forty percent at this point, though it is always hard to estimate a Variety Playhouse crowd as a thousand folks are usually crammed into a one hundred square foot, fenced-off smoking area just outside the venue. I settled in on the floor on Drew Emmitt’s side and made note of the effects. The theme for the show is based on Sun Ra’s 1973 album and movie, “Space is the Place.” Appropriately, there were stars displayed on the wall and trippy space scenes from popular culture and home video played on the wall throughout the show.
The band came out to the closing track off 2012’s Aquatic Hitchhiker, the Emmitt penned “Here Comes the Night,” an appropriate reference to the good things to come. Band favorite “Mama Boulet” followed, wore a bit of rust, and was one of the lone weak spots of the night. Things really picked up four songs in when banjoist Andy Thorn got the crowd jacked during a scorching “Bird Call.” Emmitt didn’t miss a beat with some stunning mandolin work before an extended jam that eventually ended in an entertaining banjo-bass duel, with Thorn and bassist Greg Garrison literally going note for note before the band joined back in to finish “Bird Call.”
It was during this part of the show when I overheard some guys chatting about how lucky we were to get to see Leftover Salmon, “in this venue with this many people” on Halloween. The other guy agreed, saying “they’re basically the Widespread Panic of Colorado.” I include this anecdote hesitantly as I know that no artist wants to be compared to another. On the other hand, that is probably one of the highest compliments someone that went to college in Georgia over the last twenty years could pay anyone. The crowd obviously agreed. A quick scan revealed a packed house by this point in the night.
The first set started to drive to a close with the new stand-out track “High Country,” quintessential Leftover Salmon released as the first of four songs promoted in partnership with Breckenridge Brewery. This was followed by the emergence of special guest Col. Bruce Hampton for his mainstays “Basically Frightened” and “Time is Free.” You never know what you’re going to get when the colonel gets on stage. My initial thought was that things were about to get weird. In the end, though, the band presented the material pretty straight-up and I think positively exposed some folks to some of Mr. Hampton’s catalog. Of note, Bruce had some amplification problems when starting his first few solos so the crowd was treated to some of guitarist Vince Herman’s best work of the evening while filling in.
Salmon returned to the stage with guests in tow for the second set, leading off with the evening’s title track, “Space is the Place.” Another Hampton tune preceded the blues and his standout, “Fixin’ to Die.” Guest Count M’Butu emerged from his drums to lend some vocals to the next song but Bruce excused himself midway through (apparently unexpectedly) to allow the band to finish up the show without him.
No offensive to the retired colonel, but the second set really took off from this point on. An explosive “Up on the Hill Where They Do The Boogie” earned Vince’s first “festival” call, his acknowledgement of the energy in the room. I’ve seen Salmon two other times in the previous 12-months or so and must say he was looking his best on this night, happy and healthy. His energy drove the band home.
“Gulf of Mexico” came before the standout of the night, the Thorn authored “Aquatic Hitchhiker.”
The closing stretch was highlighted by “Zombie Jamboree” and the brand-new “Two Highways”. “Zombie Jamboree” included a fantastic drum solo from brand-new member Alwyn Robinson. Even Count M’Butu took a break to enjoy the young man (he was born the year Salmon started), his talents, and energy. A friend leaned over during the solo and bemused, “well, I guess this answeres the question as to whether the new drummer is any good.”
Vince teased the crowd saying the set’s next-to-last song was motivated by a grave stone from a Georgia cemetery, but even Mrs. Reed would have considered the Rose Hill Cemetery inspired “Maud Only Knows” written by Ralph Roddenbery and Scott Mecredy a treat. Jam-vessel “Ask the Fish” closed the second set.
Always sweet-talking the crowd, Mr. Herman started the encore praising the evening’s fans and dedicating the encore, appropriately stating it couldn’t be “Better.” This version was enjoyable in spite of itself as the playing was loose and Vince’s trademark mumble let the crowd know he knew he’d lapsed some of the lyrics.
Click “here” to download the show from LiveSalmon.com.
Despite two small blips, the material throughout the night was pretty spot-on. Drew Emmitt’s talents are legendary, Vince Herman is the perfect front-man, Greg Garrison holds the distinction of being the only man cited in the first two JamGrass.net show reviews, and Andy Thorn and Alwyn Robinson are prodigal on the level Drew and Vince were 20-years ago. As the recent material suggests, Thorn is really starting to hit his stride as a song writer. He looks as confident and happy on stage with Salmon as the late, great Mark Vann. He’s just a great fit.
All in all, this was probably my favorite Leftover Salmon show seen in person. It was a good mix of defining Salmon tunes, good time moments, chances a lot of bands just won’t take, a couple of well timed flubs, and legendary special guests. Leftover Salmon without guests is just dinner, not the banquet it should be.
Drew Emmitt told Star News Online that this will be the bands “last hard bus tour for a while.” He continued, “we’re pulling back to do more strategic type runs, still getting out there, but we’re kind of celebrating this as our last big tour for some time.” I read this quote the day of the show and was selfishly a bit disappointed at first. The more I’ve reflected upon it though its made me realize this is probably what the band needs. Personally, I feel like they’re putting out some of their finest material ever. I’d like to see that continue, so if shifting to a strategic tour schedule helps, well… I think that “couldn’t be better.”
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