Leftover Salmon, The Aggie Theater, Fort Collins, CO – 4/13
Living in Colorado with so much amazing music that both calls this great state home and passes through here on a nightly basis, it’s easy to be blasé about seeing live shows. One band I have never been blasé about seeing is Leftover Salmon. The group is an institution here, and they are the source from which so much jam and bluegrass flows. String Cheese Incident, Yonder Mountain String Band, and so many others would not be what they are today if it wasn’t for the trail blazed by Salmon on a cold night in Crested Butte over twenty years ago. Leftover has gone through some transitions through the decades, but their current lineup with Andy Thorn on banjo shows a concise focus on the music that made them a jamgrass tradition.
Their show at The Aggie Theater in Fort Collins was completely sold out, so I arrived early to stake my spot Vince side on the rail. They took the stage just before 10 PM with a quick but spectacular version of “Liza.” The show that followed was a non-stop shredfest that showcased the new era of Leftover Salmon. The setlist was a mix of new and classic with a few surprises thrown in for good measure. Jose Martinez pounded out the beat on “Gulf Of Mexico,” which is basically an indictment of BP and the devastation they caused to the coastal waters. Their Zydeco was showing with “Voodoo Queen Marie,” but it was “Aquatic Hitchhiker” that made jaws drop. This instrumental song built so beautifully, relying heavily on Andy Thorn’s banjo. Andy really has revitalized this band and he seems to have singlehandedly engaged there rest of the players in a way that is truly compelling to watch. “Gold Hill Line” was a quick, but passionate version with Drew Emmitt on vocals.
They invited a few friends to help with percussion on “BooBoo,” which culminated with an all-out drum jam to close the song. “You Can Find Some Other Man” kept up their breakneck pace before they invited their old friend Johnny Hickman to the stage. Hickman is from the alternative rock group Cracker and he along with David Lowery recorded bluegrass versions of their songs with Leftover Salmon performing as the backing band. The result was an album entitled O Cracker Where Art Thou?. Hickman is an accomplished guitarist with a rowdy, bluesy feel to his style. Much like what Bill McKay brought to the table, Hickman transformed Leftover Salmon into a rocking bar band. They blasted through two Cracker tunes, “Lonesome Johnny Blues” and “Danger Man” before taking a short set break.
Thirty minutes later the band was back on stage and woke everyone up from the lull with their anthem “Gonna Have A Party.” They let the crowd simmer with a stunning “Here Comes The Night,” before coming back to one of their new songs, “Walking Shoes.” There seems to be a more tuned in consciousness in their lyrics than some of their early work. There is a maturity that only comes with being on the road for two decades and it is seeping into everything they do. Drew busted out his fiddle for “Bend In The River,” which is always a treat, but the highlight of the show was the Andy Thorn sung “Light Behind The Rain.” They slamgrassed us with “Riding On The L & N,” before Drew’ mandolin took the driver’s seat with the Salmon classic “The Other Side.” They invited Hickman back to the stage for a four-song run of both Cracker and Salmon tunes that left fans happy. The version of “Out In The Woods” was yet another highlight in show filled to the brim with high points. They closed the set with an absolute barnburner rendition of “River’s Rising” that showcased the evocative vocals of Mr. Emmitt. There is something about his voice that stays with you long after the amps have been put away for the night.
Leftover Salmon came back to the stage with a quick “Euphoria” and as quickly as it started it was over. This is the type of show that leaves you all bubbles and sunshine. The rain had begun to drizzle as the capacity crowd filtered out into the night. Exhausted smiles dotted the faces of the people as they wiped the sweat from their brows. It was a good night of Salmon and an energizing way to spend a Saturday evening in Fort Collins. For a band that has been on the road for so long it would be easy for them to become blasé as well. However LoS is always innovating, inviting guests, and generally leaving it all out on every stage they play. This a new dawn for this band and I for one am happy to be witnessing their rebirth.