Leftover Salmon, Bowery Ballroom, New York, NY – 10/5
Photo by Vernon Webb
Leftover Salmon has a certain energy that makes you feel as if they always have something up their sleeves. Shouts of “Festival!” can be heard from fans awaiting the band’s arrival on stage. It is the collective feeling of being in a place where you can really let go and have no idea what may happen. No matter when you see Leftover it is always summertime, where you are carefree, booze goes down easy, and the atmosphere around you is pure party.
New York City’s Bowery Ballroom is the most intimate venue I have ever seen Leftover in, for the Colorado natives have played some huge and awe-inspiring stages, from Red Rocks Amphitheater to the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. From the moment the band started, the audience was moving. The effect was immediate; when this band is playing there is nothing one can do but be present and maybe dance. The first set opened with “Carnival Time,” which could not be more exemplary of the bands celebratory vibe. “Sing to the Moon” and “Gulf of Mexico,” two tracks off their newest album, Aquatic Hitchhiker, also made their way into the first set. The latter was one of my favorite tunes of the night, and when I found myself thinking ‘Polyethnic Cajun Slamgrass’ was the perfect descriptor, by the end of the set Drew Emmitt (Vocals, Mandolin, Fiddle, Electric Guitar) was singing Bob Dylan’s “Tangled Up in Blue,” and I was sure that their invented genre was only another way to emphasize that this was a band that could not be defined.
Set two included Aquatic Hitchhiker’s title track, a song that has the effect of making the listener feel as if they are in a pinball machine, bouncing around, catching rides, and ending in a sudden flourish. It is a fantastic instrumental and speaks to the whole album; Aquatic Hitchhiker is the perfect name. Banjoist Andy Thorn sang his only song of the night, also off the new album, “Light Behind the Rain.” He may not be Mark Vann—Leftover’s original banjo player who passed in 2004—but then again who is? Andy Thorn is very much his own thing, exceptionally talented and an invaluable member of the band. The same could be said for Greg Garrison (bass) and Jose Martinez (drums), who form a consistent core that can keep up with, as well as propel the band in new directions. Add Boulder transplant Ross Martin—who sat in with the band on three separate occasions—into the mix, and all of a sudden everybody is having a great time just playing around, all to the benefit of the listener.
By the time the group broke into “Rueben’s Train,” that old American classic, the ballroom was in full swing. Leftover’s version of the tune is the only one that seems to literally “blow a hundred miles.” Sometimes I am amazed how fast this band can play, and at the same time maintain complete control and impeccable timing. If that was not enough, Drew Emmitt took the song right into their own version of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love,” into “Rocky Top,” and back into “Whole Lotta Love.” If I was on a cloud at this point, then what came next propelled me into the ether: “Jokester,” and my favorite New Grass Revival song, “Reach.”
Vince Herman (Vocals, Guitar) is the ultimate jokester, M.C., and storyteller. He is a professional rambler, and has the vibe of a genuine friend. Get him together with Drew Emmitt—who is so talented at such a variety of instruments it seems unfair—and it is pure magic. If Vince’s voice is of a good-time ringmaster (every show is always personalized to where they are playing), then Drew’s is its counterpart, smooth, mellow, slightly sultry, and unlike anyone else’s. Before the encore Vince asked the audience “Who feels more at home now then when they got here?” and I did, thanks in most part to these two.
The encore opened with one of the best—and definitely the most unique—take on the Grateful Dead’s “Fire on the Mountain”: “Pasta on the Mountain.” It flew into “Hot Corn, Cold Corn,” into “Round the World,” and finally “Wake and Bake,” which always leaves the audience chanting as the band humbly walks off stage. The ending is typical, but there is nothing common about a four-song encore that is really only one song. The evening left me feeling I could stand the months until I was lucky enough to see these guys again. After all, “Kraft! Macaroni and Cheese,” Jerry Garcia, and the promise of a wake and bake? “Polyethnic Cajun Slamgrass” may as well mean “God Bless America.”