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Published: 2014/01/09
by Jed Nussbaum

Leftover Salmon with Bill Payne, Fruition, Neptune Theater, Seattle WA- 12/30-31

Photo by Renee Disney

New Year’s Eve always gives rise to some of the most monumental sets the jam band community has to offer, all across the country. The date has particular significance in Leftover Salmon’s history, as it was this date in 1989 that saw the debut of the band’s “Polyethnic Cajun Slamgrass” in Crested Butte. Colo. This year, the band took the party to the appropriately aquatic Neptune Theater in Seattle for two nights, bringing guest keys player Bill Payne from Little Feat and Portland’s soulful folk-rockers Fruition along for the ride.

Fruition’s opening sets had a solid fan showing both nights, and they demonstrated a creative progression far evolved from the beer-stained string band they once were to a fleshed out ensemble that can rock with the best of them. Bassist Keith Simon stuck entirely to electric bass and rhythm guitarist Kellen Asebroek spent a good portion of time sitting behind his keyboard, while lead guitarist Jay Cobb Anderson put down his six-string for a wailing harmonica solo on David Rawlings’ “It’s Too Easy.” The second night, mandolin player Mimi Naja celebrated her birthday in a cowboy hat, aviators and starry onesie pajama outfit that played well to the crowd’s “space cowboy” costume theme. While she led the gospel number “Up Above My Head,” Vince Herman joined her on her microphone. Herman remained onstage and banjo player Andy Thorn joined in for Fruition’s final two songs, including a nod to Lou Reed with a cover of his “Walk and Talk It.”

Leftover Salmon hit the ground running on the first night, burning through favorites like “Euphoria” and “Voodoo Queen Marie,” and Thorn’s epic rock ballad “Light Behind the Rain.” An early highlight came with the sixteen minute jamathon “Bird Call,” running the gamut from syrupy funk grooves to Drew Emmitt’s signature slide electric mandolin licks, and dipping into a brief technical display from the band’s newest member, drummer Alwyn Robinson. Even bassist Greg Garrison took a rare, tasteful solo break during second set’s “Walking Shoes.”

Everyone onstage seemed thrilled to have the legendary Payne filling the keys role left vacant since the end of Bill McKay’s tenure in 2011, none more so than Payne himself. His transitions from organ to piano seemed effortless, and the man seems to know no wrong notes. The biggest treat often came when Salmon dipped in to Little Feat’s catalog for numbers like “Dixie Chicken” and the Payne-sung “Atlanta.” With dates like the Telluride Bluegrass Festival already scheduled for 2014, many longtime Salmon fans have hopes that he may become a more permanent fixture in the lineup.

The perpetually exuberant Herman started the second night’s show with “Carnival Time” before Emmitt took the lead for John Hartford’s “Steam Powered Aeroplane.” While the audience was still small enough to leave most of the balcony vacant, the ground floor became a sea of swirling bodies as the band churned through the tunes. Near the end of the first set Herman invited Seattle busking legend Jim Page on stage, who led the band through his song “Stranger In Me” and a wry take on Woodie Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land.”

As the clock turned one year into the next during second set, the band ran through the holiday staple “Auld Lang Syne” before Emmitt’s ethereal fiddle lines in “Ask the Fish” led the band into delay-soaked space. Payne’s piano solo on Little Feat’s “Willin‘” was as flawless and poignant as ever, and the set-closing “Boogie” nearly reached punk rock fervor. After a moment off stage Salmon returned with an “Ain’t Gonna Work” encore, and Herman’s New Orleans-style refrain of “Rise up, regulate, early in the morning” carried the crowd out the doors and into the new year.

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