Leftover Salmon once again treated the Front Range to a pair of post-Thanksgiving shows. This run has become a yearly tradition from Salmonheads across the country. This time around they delighted their fans with the inclusion of Little Feat’s Bill Payne on keys, which proved to be a wise choice. Throughout their storied career Salmon has played with a number of keyboardists including Pete Sears and Bill McKay. However Payne’s performance throughout both nights was pure class. With his whirling piano solos and delicate keystrokes Payne contributed a versatility and range that raised the bar for all future Salmon shows. I for one would like to start a petition here and now to make Payne a permanent member of the band, but I digress.
The cool evening was the perfect backdrop for familiar jaunt to Boulder. The sun was long gone by the time I reached my destination. After a short walk I found myself in front of the historic Boulder Theater. This venue is one of the best the Front Range has to offer and the sound is always top notch. The doors opened promptly at 8:30 PM and the eclectic crowd made their way inside. The band took the stage just after 9:30 PM and it was time. Vince introduced the Little Feat Alumnus and we were quickly underway with a raucous “Voodoo Queen Marie.”
The first set featured several tracks off of Aquatic Hitchhiker including the Thorn-infused title track as well as a stellar Drew-led “Gulf of Mexico.” Drew again got to demonstrate the power of his evocative vocals on “Two Highways.” The jovial atmosphere that Leftover Salmon strives to create with each live performance is absolutely contagious. Old Heads danced with young students as Leftover Salmon threw down the gauntlet. Payne’s keys were again the center of attention on the as he added a Stride piano element to “Rag Mama Rag.” Payne alternated between the ivories and the organ throughout the night. The traditional stylings on “High Country” was a nice breather before the musical explosion that was “The Other Side.” “Home Cookin” took on a boisterous feel, but the massive set closing “Whispering Waters” was the real highlight. This somewhat rare track stretched well past the 15-minute mark.
“After midnight tonight it’s going to be Greg Garrison’s Birthday… You’ all feel like singing one?” – Vince Herman
Did I forget to mention that Vince had already announced that it was their newest member Alwyn Robinson’s birthday during the first set? In all my years of seeing this band it’s been someone in the groups birthday about 90% of the time. Robinson has now permanently replaced long time drummer Jose Martinez, who is sticking to his roots in Seattle and taking a new direction in his musical journey. What Alwyn lacks in flashy fills he more than makes up for with absolute precision. He adds his jazz experience to the percussion and is quickly becoming a focal point for this talented group.
Set two was quickly underway after a brief break. They opened up with the only Little Feat song of the evening, “Fat Man In The Tub.” We were treated to a pair of crowd-pleasers in the form of “Sometimes A River” (not to be confused with the SCI song of the same name) and a smoking “Midnight Blues.” “Morning Sun” featured a fantastic reggae breakdown with Payne going gonzo on the B3. The “Mama Boulet” sandwich gave us a chance to really see Robinson groove with an extended drum solo. Again he really is gelling nicely with the band and he has a new take on percussion that we haven’t seen with Salmon before now. Leftover Salmon just seems much more content all around. They are going with the flow and not letting things like cross country moves and changes in their lineup slow them down. They persist in writing new material and expanding their catalog while continuing to bring a fresh feel to their classic tracks. “Get ‘Er Rollin’” was all rockabilly while “The Bird Call” saw some ridiculous jamming from the entire band. We got our dose of Zydeco with “Tu Na Pas Aller” before they closed with a beautiful “Doin’ My Time.”
Leftover Salmon encored with their homage to Boulder hippie grocer, “Alfalfas.” This silly song featured the crowd-singing meow to the melody of the song, which can only be blamed on Mr. Herman.
“If I don’t see you at church, I guess I’ll see you at the liquor store.” –Vince
They finished the night with a high-speed jam on “Better.” This was an excellent show, and the addition of Bill Payne was historic. Payne performs with an elegance that is just rare these days. Leftover Salmon is quite simply one of the most enjoyable live experiences touring today. They continue to push the envelope of bluegrass, rock, and improvisation. This band is having fun, and that in turn spills onto the audience.
Night one was absolutely solid, but Saturday night at the Boulder Theater would prove to be one for the books.
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