“The older the song, the harder they slam” –Vince Herman
Leftover Salmon celebrated 25 years of playing together on New Years Eve 2014 with Keller Williams opening at the Vic Theatre Chicago. If you want to see a band with deep roots and branches that are rapidly growing towards the sun, catch Leftover as soon as possible. You won’t regret it. The old saying, “it’s not the years it’s the miles” is ever so true as they seem 25 years young and ready to do another 25.
Keller Williams opened the show like Bill Nye the Science Guy of the jam scene. He was a one man show, looping and grooving his spin of sax and bass. His set seemed rather quick although it included his fine booty shaking to rally the curly keen crowd that was warming up to his bluesy low tempo. Keller occupied himself on stage, happy as a clam. When he faced the crowd to make eye contact and started dancing, it really set the crowd off. His set started off the Best Feeling. Apparition had a jazz classic feeling that enabled folks to listen and ogle while getting comfortable with the folks around them.
“Trying to communicate in hopes that I would translate. Focus on the light” – Apparition
It seemed lyrically fitting for letting go of the year about to end. Plenty of audience interaction was sparking and before you knew it, the show was flowing. He ripped out his cover of Phish’s Birds of a Feather. We were definitely bonding as a crowd by then… into Gate Crashers Suck!
There is nothing to cement that show going buddy bond like shoulder to shoulder screaming, “Fuck You! You cock sucking mutha fuggahs!” That is to say, everyone in Chicago was pretty comfortable with profanity. Perhaps even a more than a lil comfortable with it. It released. It freed. He clipped his set off with a stellar Keller rendition of Shakedown Street. It was fitting for this Chicago cold evening crowd.
“Don’t tell me this town ain’t got no heart, just gotta poke around…”
Enter Leftover Salmon to the New Years Eve fiesta. They opened with Carnival Time. Whatta welcome in kind of tune! Come on down! It was the thing that Salmon does and the thing we all have so many memories to rekindle. This band is personable and filled with the party. The more the merrier on a Salmon train.
When you’ve got New Years Eve parties to choose from like Phish in Miami, SCI in the Denver area, and WSP in North Carolina, the reason to pick this show becomes evident when Bill Payne begins to play. Sure, there was bluegrass happening here in Chicago. The Henhouse Prowlers were playing south of town. Cornmeal was playing over in Iowa. GSBG was raging against the dying of the night up in Detroit. For 2015 however, there was no place I would have rather been than here to see the phoenix of Leftover Salmon with all its rising fiery glory. Mayor Mc Cheese led the carnival but as any good front man does, Vince lets the interaction happen all over the venue.
The interplay between new official member Bill Payne and banjo god Andy Thorne is simply spectacular. Andy’s simple song writing and fresh perspective is very well paired with Bill Payne’s complexity, experience, and grace on stage. Together within the bones of Leftover Salmon, Andy Thorne & Bill Payne achieve total balance.
“How did Leftover Salmon cajole their producer to now be a band member?” I marveled, thinking Joy to the Keys! Payne recreated the perfect zydeco squeeze box voodoo to set the audience under his spell. He has the tickling-the-keys chops of Bruce Hornsby but the energy of young piano man Joe Hettinga. It’s simply perfect. The LoS boys musta wooed him with that good ol Poly Ethnic Cajun Slam Grass. After Way Down Under, the band launched into their new release Two Highways.
When I had first read about the the self titled 1st release High country (written by Andy Thorne) there was mention of Two Highways. I assumed it was a cover of the Larry Cordle classic. Allison Krauss broke me into that version many moons ago. I quickly realized that again, the miles have taken Leftover down the road from that traditional bluegrass music. This is Drew Emmitt’s original progressive song Two Highways. As they played on into their tight set, the tom drum grooved coming from new drummer Alywin and echoed over his jammed out chorus,
“Two highways… one goes on forever. The other one takes me home.”
The jam on this NYE sent Drew to a trampoline style slay on electric guitar. His energy bounded out to the crowd like a T-I-double-GRRRR. It was a fantastic feline of a funk. Holy Emmitt Batman! It was about 10:40 pm and the excitement was mounting fast for midnight.
Vince Herman was gleeful and giddy as he threw his guitar over to the other side of his body and bounced along with his washboard. He wailed on the spoons until he popped the washboard suit off and with the same fervor and passion went back into guitar strumming mode. The bliss was infectious. The band ripped out a Bill Payne showcase tune Cajun Girl. Keller came back out to squawk on his talking drum. The feel good vibes were all around. It was a momentum that seemed unexpectedly interrupted as Keller then launched the crowd into a massive Happy Birthday dear Leftover Salmon…
And out came balloons and a giant cake carried by none other than Sam Bush carrying the giant #2 cake and then Col Bruce Hampton carrying the giant #5 cake!! SURPISE!
You could read the utter shock and disbelief on Drew & Vince’s faces. Again, the feeling was shared on stage and throughout the entire club as we all had a great laugh singing Happy Birthday to the boys. It was a true catharsis to sing to the band that has sang away our sorrows for 25 years. From there they posed for photos on stage, shuffling off stage for a short bit while the crowd enjoyed a 10 minute video montage.
The video montage is available to watch on Leftover’s Facebook page. It included personal video messages from Nashville Sessions collaborators Jeff Coffin, Sally Van Meter, Ronnie McCoury, Col. Bruce Hampton, Sam Bush, Taj Mahal, Jeff Hanna, and Del McCoury. It was so emotional for all who were there as Del said to the camera, “Drew Emmitt and Vince Herman, I’ll go to the ends of the Earth if ya need me to.” Not only did the video montage begin with footage from the Ryman Auditorium anniversary of Nashville Sessions and their well produced and all inclusive rendition of High Country, but also the mulleted Vince Herman singing Pasta on the Mountain.
The sparkle sounds of Telluride’s favorite sons of Salmon sang of simple happiness and they weren’t gonna do much of anything but be themselves at this point. It was just so touching to see pure bluegrass man Del McCoury say something like that. There is nothing more heartfelt than to see the traditional bluegrass guys give love to the rising subculture. As the video came to a close, the tears were quickly dried up by a 2 minute countdown to MIDNIGHT!!
The classic Let’s Give a Party was the 1st song Leftover Salmon played in 2015. Ants were in everybody’s pants as an all star jam ensued for the second set. I am sorry to be so long winded about this one show but there is so much to say about Leftover Salmon these days. Vince Herman, the happy Mayor McCheese, will always amuse my childlike heart while Drew Emmitt is just savory in every way. He & Sam Bush were having an on stage love affair, loving what they do and doing it well. It’s moments like these that can made anyone here feel in love as well, with life. The band raged on with Sam Bush never leaving stage for the entire second set. The midnight balloon drop gave everyone on the floor tons of fun balloon games to play. With that came the intermittent balloon pops that reminded me of indoor fireworks. Sam Bush’s smile was a firework as he peeled his hairs from shredding his fiddle. That smile got Vince to howling and the chain reaction was combustible from that moment on.
Col Bruce Hampton came out to magically transport us to the future. The Hampton scat doing Space is the Place took a simple spotlight into a laser beam of light that took us all into 2015 and beyond! The 25 balloons became 2015 and all eyes were on Hampton doin his thing. This crew was taking us all to the moon and beyond. I, for one, felt like I was in incredibly capable hands to do just that. It was amazing to see 2014 go out the door and bring in this amazing jam band that perhaps I had never truly recognized as the musical force that they have become right now in this moment. Sophisticated? Nah… but capable… hellz yes.
E=MC Keller. This guy constantly astounds me with the fact that of all the instruments he plays… I think my favorite one is his mouth. Plain and simple, when Keller plays from his soul and makes those goofy mouth sax loops, I can’t help but grin like a goofy lil girl. He took his Mac book and Macbeth tamed the shrew inside me. They ripped into Franklin’s Tower and then Spanish Moon, bringing me back to the Phases of the Moon Festival this past summer. All these memories and hopes for the future really knocked me down. It was a grounding show that reminded me again why I will always be a music lover and why I continue to spend all my money and time doing this thing we call live music.
The icy twinkles of an almost full moon sparkled as we stepped out the club. It was 2 am on the first day of 2015. The Sears Tower was still standing in the city of Chicago but I’m not sure if it was after the Salmon boys had their afterhours party. The New Years glam and glitz all seemed so romantic. I knew I had seen something special, history in the making.
I made a note so I didn’t forget to tell all you dear readers and when I looked up from that notebook, I swear Bill Payne looked right at me in the audience and made a gesture like hats off to you, then pressed his fist to his heart as if to say, “You are my heart.” I wished I could whisper back to him, “You make my heart beat.” Happy 2015 and Happy Birthday Leftover Salmon! We all look forward to the next 25 J
Whiskey Before Breakfast
Baby Hold On
Way Down Under
Let’s Give a Party
Rag Mama Rag
Space Is The Place*
Born To Be Wild^
Sing Up To the Moon
E: Yield Not To Temptation*