Blues Traveler and Lake Trout, Northern Lights, Clifton Park, NY- 6/19
Going to see a concert at Northern Lights in Clifton Park N.Y. is always somewhat of a surreal experience since the club is located in the middle of a strip mall in an upper class suburb of Albany. The club happens to be a great live venue, with good sound and sight lines. The club also usually draws a pretty enthusiastic crowd. This was the case on Wednesday June 19th, when a packed crowd came out to see Blues Traveler. The show was running late and there was a sizable crowd waiting outside. As I waited outside, I found it interesting talking to some of the people also waiting. The crowd was an extremely mixed bag. There seemed to people of all ages present, some were there to here the radio hits Runaround and Hook, while there were some who had been following the jam-band pioneers for almost ten years as well as some who were coming to see the band for the first time.
Blues Traveler opened their set with the crowd pleasing sing-along Runaround. Anyone who thought that this was going to be an evening of poppy radio ready tunes was in for quite a surprise as the band quickly segued from the middle of Runaround into one of their earliest songs Sweet Talking Hippie, the first time the band had performed the song with their new line up. The song featured a ferocious duel between John Popper on harmonica, and guitarist Chan Kinchla. As the duel spiraled to a crescendo the band quickly segued back into Runaround. Segueing has always been a staple of a live Blues Traveler show, and the evening’s first set saw a great deal of it.
One of the things that separates Blues Traveler from many other jam-bands is that you will not find the type of "noodling" that often predominates during the shows of some other groups. Blues Traveler’s sound comes at you hard and steady like a freight train. This is mainly because guitarist Chan Kinchla has a faster almost heavy metal-like searing sound to his playing. This was quite evident during New York City Prophet. The song is hard and driven with a heavy funk underscore provided by bassist Tad Kinchla and Organ player Ben Wilson. The first set also saw two new songs in the Traveler repertoire. First was the organ driven Sweet and Broken which was sandwiched in between the beginning and the end of the crowd pleasing Gina. The second was a melodic ode to lost love titled This Ache. After This Ache, Popper told the packed house that the band would be doing one more song then take a short break. The band then proceeded to go into the bluesy sounding, Slow Change. One song quickly became four, as the band segued into Hang Over, then into a very danceable Felicia, and then finally closing the set with a hard rocking version of Crash Burn.
Most people who have never seen Blues Traveler live, think of John Popper as just the so called "Hendrix of the harmonica", but what they don’t know is that the guy is also a rather decent guitar player. Popper displayed his unique guitar style with the second set opener, the beautiful and philosophic 100 Years. The second set also featured two new songs, If You’re the One and the harder Stumble and Fall. The crowd seemed delighted to hear, The Mountains Win Again, the beautiful song written by the band’s late bassist Bobby Sheehan. Other highlights included Save His Soul, and All Hands. The latter featuring long solos by both members of the rhythm section drummer Brendan Hill, and Bassist Tad Kinchla. The band closed their set with a rousing version of Brother John, featuring a follow the leader type sing a long at the end, that really got the crowd going.
The band came back and encored with a warning. Popper told the crowd that they were going to do a song never performed in front of anybody before, "so excuse us if we fuck it up". They went into a cover of the Beatles, Blackbird. Their version had a country feel to it, and seemed to go over pretty well with the crowd. They followed that with one their most heart rendering songs, Sweet Pain. Popper again got to display his skill on guitar, delivering an emotional and heartbreaking solo.
Baltimore’s Lake Trout opened the show with a unique set. This was my first time seeing the band, and I was impressed with what I saw. They have an electronic sound that resembles that of Sound Tribe Sector Nine, or the New Deal but their music seems to be more British influenced, especially in their vocals. Their hard trance sound can best be described as falling somewhere in between a British Goth and Metal band, and something found on the Snatch soundtrack. Their set flipped flopped between rave-like instrumentals and songs with Morrisey type sounding vocals. Popper sat in with the band for their last song, an instrumental that closely resembled Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song.