For a band that’s been on the road in one form or another for nearly thirty years, the current incarnation of Leftover Salmon feels fired up and fresh as ever. Just a few weeks into its Winter 2017 North American Tour, the band stopped by Chicago’s Park West for the first of two shows in the Windy City. The former vaudeville and movie theater created a smoky and intimate backdrop for a Saturday night Salmon party that rocked into the next morning.
The group kicked things off with its own version of The Band’s “Rag Mama Rag,” which had the eclectic crowd swaying in sync. “We’re going to have a paaaaar-tay,” Vince Herman (guitar/vocals) hollered before letting out the equivalent of a bohemian battlecry and launching into longtime fan favorite “Midnight Run.” The band kept the crowd dancing with the island feel of “Liza” before slowing it down just slightly for the feel-good “Gulf of Mexico.”
Tunes like “Thornpipe” and “Better Day” put Andy Thorn and his banjo in the spotlight, backed by the steady rhythm section of long-time bassist Greg Garrison, Alwyn Robinson on drums, and the band’s newest member, Erik Deutsch, on the keys. Herman shined on a cover of the Grateful Dead’s “New Speedway Boogie” – perhaps feeling inspired by Bill Kreutzmann’s recent sit-in in San Francisco on the same tune – while band co-founder Drew Emmitt took the reigns for “Bend in the River.” “I think Punxsutawney Phil got it wrong this year. I can feel spring coming on!” Herman proclaimed.
Set two brought fast picking and smooth vocals in the form of “Down in the Hollow,” while the fiddle stole the show on “Tu N’as Pas Aller.” “We’re going to do an old tune for you by an old little boy named Jimi…Jimi Hendrix,” Herman said before a tasty bluegrass rendition of the guitar legend’s “Wind Cries Mary.” Full-bodied tune “Two Highways” got the best of Herman, who broke a string – much to his bandmates’ delight. “Vince popped a G string again!” Emmitt laughed, before the band launched into the country equivalent of the Jeopardy waiting music so that Emmitt could fix his string.
Midway through the second set, the band plugged the next morning’s performance – a Sunday brunch show at Chicago’s City Winery that was billed to be a calm complement to the evening’s escapades. Then, still feeling giddy from last month’s Kreutzmann sit-in, the group covered the Grateful Dead’s “Playing in the Band” before inciting a conga line with Island Cruise Steel Band’s “Who Put Pepper in the Vaseline?”
The band left the stage before reappearing quickly and eagerly for the encore. “This is just too much fun,” Herman admitted. “Music makes you feel alright with all the crazy shit going on.” With the crowd eating out of the palm of its hand, the band broke into the rockin’ “Up on the Hill Where We Do the Boogie.” Although they easily could have kept the crowd going into the wee hours of the morning, the group ended the encore after just five minutes. As the music faded away, the audience kept the chorus going a cappella-style as the band walked out, arms draped over one another’s shoulders.