Leftover Salmon, The Showbox, Seattle- 1/31
The mid-winter festival is in full swing, and last Thursday night it arrived in Seattle. Leftover Salmon, those masters of the Polyenthnic Cajun Slamgrass have been working their way up the coast over the last couple of weeks. Our cold, rainy northwest winters can get a bit dreary at this time of the year, but somehow always seem to become a little warmer, and a bit drier, when the Salmon migration comes through town. Even if it is just for an evening or two, this band throws down their own unique brand of party and their presence always reminds me that festivals are a state of mind and can happen anytime and anywhere. Leftover Salmon has been honing their craft over the last 12 years and have been a catalyst for the revival of bluegrass that has become so big over the last year or so. Band members have changed over the years, new songs get written, and cover tunes come and go through the song rotation but one thing is for certain. The fun never ends.
The Showbox was pretty full on this night, considering that Robert Walter was playing across town, yet not sold out. This posed an unusual dilemma for the jamband community as to what show they should attend. It’s not often that we get two great bands in town on the same night. This fact probably impacted the attendance to some degree.
I arrived at around 9:00pm and the opener had already started their set. Usually people just kind of stand around enjoying a beverage and taking in the scene. It was still early, but what struck me was how many people were already dancing HARD. The band is Porterhouse and these guys really funked it out. Keep an eye out for this 4 piece from Portland OR. This night they had veteran bassist Tye North (Leftover Salmon, Comotion and The Motet) sitting in. The lineup is subject to change in the near future but should only get better as time goes on. This is a band on the rise.
Leftover Salmon took the stage at around 10:30 and opened with “99 years”. They sounded good, as they were warming up and getting started for a night of good time party music. This was followed by the calypso infused “Boo Boo”, a jamming “Shenandoah Breakdown”, the classic “Big River” and then “Midnite Blues”. As the show wore on I noticed everyone dancing real hard and having a great time, however as a person who has seen countless shows in general and more than a few Leftover shows, I began to get a delayed reactionary feeling that something was missing. By now the band should have really been cooking but Vince Herman seemed especially subdued. I couldn’t put my finger on it right away. In fact it wasn’t until the next day that it hit me as to just what WAS missing. The band for some time now has been missing a key member. You see, as some of you may or may not know, their Banjo player and an integral part of the Leftover family, Mark Vann, is battling cancer. He is in a real dire situation and needs all the love and good vibes that we can send him. As I looked retrospectively at the energy that was missing from this show I have come to the conclusion that it was the bands concern and love for the man who has been with them all these years and his well being. A brother is down, and like all of us, these musicians we often expect to deliver night in and night out, are human just like the rest of us. It must be really hard to perform sometimes under certain conditions. Mark’s replacement for this show was Matt Flinner a Nashville based, Rocky Mountain raised, mandolin player of late who has been playing Bluegrass festivals since before he was in his teens. He began playing the Banjo at an early age and has won numerous awards in flatpicking competitions over the years. When not touring with the Salmon he is playing in his own quartet as well as with Daily Planet, an amazing bluegrass group from the UK. His picking was great and is a nice addition to the lineup. “Gold Hill Line” and “Thinkin & Drinkin” came next with some beautiful mandolin from Leftover regular, Drew Emmitt. “Ridin’ on the L&N” brought the first set to a close with a promise of more fun to come.
During set break I caught up with some old friends and talked with members of Porterhouse with regards the future of their band. The break lasted about 40 minutes and at midnite the Salmon returned to the stage. A high energy “Reuben’s Train” opened what was looking to be a great set. This song was really stretched out with a long middle jam and Vince teasing with a few lines of the Beatles, “Dear Prudence”, and then they brought it back into “Reuben’s”. Drew Emmitt broke out his gold Gibson for “Out in the Woods” and some great fluid guitar work. More beautiful slide guitar from Drew opened the intro for the high energy, speed-rasta tune, “Dance on your Head” and led into Keyboardist Bill McKay singing and banging the ivories on “Junko Partner”. One of my favorites and a Leftover standard “Bend in the River”, with some mad fiddle playing by Drew was followed by “Breakin Through”. I am not sure of the next song as the set list on the stage was deviated from all night. Leftover Salmon has a tendency to play with a “fly by the seat of your pants” approach but that only makes me like them even more. Spontaneity is usually best as it allows for more variation and longer drawn out shows.
“Telephone”, and “Better” closed the set with everyone groovin’ to the sick tradeoffs between Matt, Drew and Bill, each taking their turn with solos. As I turned around to check out the crowd there were smiles everywhere and bodies dripping with perspiration from everybody getting their dance groove on. After a quickie break the band returned once more and gave us a 10+ minute encore of “The Whispering Waters”, with great interplay between all of the band members and some serious jamming.
All told it was a good show. However difficult it must be to carry on an entity such as a band while one of the members is going through troubled times bears testament to the fact that these are professionals and the show does go on. I think that Mark would want things to continue but at times it must be hard just the same. Again send those healing vibes Mark’s way and to Mark Vann.We miss you brother, get well soon!
Leftover Salmon kick off their “Mardi Gras Mountain Parade” on February 5th in Boise ID and then wind through the Rocky Mountains with selected dates through the rest of the month. I even hear there are going to be some really intimate acoustic shows as well as some special guests to be announced along the way. So if your in the mood to dance and get down with the fish, then hop on in the river and start swimming because the Leftover Salmon migration could be headed to a town near you.