Lefttover Salmon, Rialto Theater, Tucson, AZ & Nita’s Hideaway, Tempe, AZ- 1/23 & 24
Leftover Salmon Migrates to the Desert
What's better than catching an incredible Leftover Salmon show in your home state? How about catching two incredible Leftover Salmon shows in your home state? The latter happened to me last weekend: Thursday, January 23 the band played at the Rialto Theater in Tucson, and the next tight they graced the stage of the recently relocated Nita's Hideaway in Tempe.
I must admit, my expectations were high for the Tucson show. The last time I'd seen Leftover at the Rialto was Halloween 2001, a night which culminated with Vince and the boys defying curfew by taking the band into the parking lot for an extended encore. Needless to say, it was a tough act to follow. But any doubts I had were quickly dispelled. Afterall, Leftover Salmon hasn't earned its reputation as the leader in Polyethnic Cajun Slamgrass for nothing. They delivered a great first set, highlighted with the soulful "Bend in the River," one of the tracks from Drew Emmit's solo project. The bluegrass numbers were energetic as always, bringing audience members to their feet and sparking several rounds of hand-clapping. I was especially impressed by Noam Pikelny's banjo playing. As the newest, and youngest, member of the band he has enormous shoes to fill. But his poise and musicality would have made the late Mark Vann proud. One of my favorite things about Leftover Salmon is the pure joy they seem to feel while playing their instruments. Everyone on stage looked to be having the time of his life. And the glee seemed to be contagious that night. During one of Drew's lightening mandolin solos, an enthusiastic fan leapt on stage and began dancing furiously. Luckily the Rialto's attentive security guards managed to usher him off stage before he took out someone's eye. The encore brought the show to a satisfying close, with an invigorating performance of "Do You Want to Dance." My only complaint was the absence of the usual departing "Rise Up" chant. I would have to wait for the next night to experience that, however.
The show at Nita's Hideaway began on a surprising note, since the band was midway through the first set at 9:00. It's rare to see a band take the stage on time, let alone early. At first it was a challenge finding a good place to stand, given the venue's awkward L-shaped architecture. I think it's worth mentioning that Nita's Hideaway had recently changed locations. The old building resembled the name more closely, as the small establishment was fairly hidden away, next to an inconspicuous adult shop near the airport. Because the venue's square footage was so limited, bands like Leftover Salmon would perform in the back parking lot, which was easily three times the building's size. There was a certain charm in attending a concert housed in a parking lot, watching the occasional underbelly of a jet slide by overhead. The new location, while much larger, has lost some of the grassroots feel that the old venue had.
My disappointment with the venue soon faded into the background once Leftover Salmon dove into their second set. And what a second set it was. During the set break, my boyfriend and I had taken advantage of the mass exodus for a cigarette break (Tempe has a non-smoking ordinance for all bars and restaurants) to make our way to the edge of the stage. Thus we had a prime view of the musical interaction. I ended up standing directly in front of Drew Emmit, and was able to watch his fingers go to work on his assortment of guitars and mandolins. As an amateur violinist myself, I was inspired by his fiddling talent as well. Another nice thing about my front row view was watching how smoothly the band members communicate with one another, and how each musician plays an important role in every musical creation. The rhythm section provided a rock-solid base: the combination of Jose Martinez's expertise on the drums and Greg Garrison's steadfast bass runs enabled the other members to sail. It was a pleasure to watch Bill McKay's exuberance on the keys, and Noam Pikelny once again turned in some great banjo picking. It was evident how important Vince Herman's role is in anchoring the band. He managed to give solid cues to his band mates, while still feeding off the audience's enthusiasm.
Although I had a perfect view of Drew's setlist, it was more fun to enjoy the show's spontaneity. One memorable section was a haunting undulation in and out of "Doin' My Time." The set gained more and more momentum as it progressed. By the time they had arrived at the closer, it was hard to imagine the crowd's energy being any higher.
Another surprising benefit of my front row view was observing some of the strange interactions that took place between the musicians and select audience members. Right when the band returned on stage for the encore, a fan muscled his way to the front and handed Drew his baseball cap. Unless my eyes deceived me (which is unlikely, since my boyfriend saw it too), there was a hundred dollar bill inside the cap. I guess someone felt that $12 just wasn't enough to cover the wonderful night of entertainment.
After the encore, Vince led the crowd in a sorely missed chant of "Rise up, wake and bake." Oddly enough, it seemed that strange smells began to emanate all around me. And this whole time, I thought they were talking about making blueberry muffins…
If you haven't experienced a Leftover Salmon show yet, you are in for a treat. The next time they migrate to your area, be sure to check it out.