Reviews > Shows
Blues Traveler in Bridgeport
Photo by Chad Anderson
Klein Memorial Auditorium
25 years is a long time to be doing anything. Playing together since 1987, New York’s Blues Traveler has endured hardship and personal demons to establish itself as one of rock music’s legacy acts. While the band hasn’t completely abandoned it’s gritty, blues rock roots, today it comes across with more of a radio friendly, catchy, pop band sheen.
That gleam was fully visible – in both the band and the audience – in a performance at the elegant and historic Klein Theater in Bridgeport, CT. As the lights dimed, the band took the stage and with a simple wave, began a muddled, erratic musical excursion, eventually moving into the classic jam vehicle “Sweet Talking Hippie,” with front man John Popper, clearly experiencing technical issues with his harp in-ear monitor. A song that dates back to its eponymous 1990 debut, it’s a safe choice as an opener, having been played numerous times. But sans the preceding painful tearjerker “Alone,” it lacks the sexual innuendo of the song’s initial writing. As such, the crowd of middle aged adults (kudos to those in front row who brought their teen-aged children) enjoyed the first few songs from the comfort of the plush theater seats.
With their musical wits about them, the five-piece band moved from the classic tune into the business at hand of promoting its new recording, Suzie Cracks The Whip. “Devil In the Details” was a guitar driven, hard rocker, while “Nobody Fall In love With Me” was played with a fast, upbeat tempo. And then back to the debut for the fan favorite “But Anyway,” which finally, four (pun not intended) songs in got the crowd off their behinds and dancing.
Taking the stage at roughly 9:30 p.m., the band played one long set on this particular Friday night, closing out shortly before midnight. Halfway through the set, the song choices seemed to epitomize all that Blues Traveler has become. “Things Are Looking Up” featured guitarist Chan Kinchla stepping out to the front of the stage and wailing on the electric, followed by their choice cover of Sublime’s “What I Got” that had the crowd clapping and singing along in unison with the band. And, “NY Prophesie” was heavy and hard rocking, before it segued into the radio hit “Run Around,” which again got the crowd up off their bottoms singing and clapping in unison.
Popper took a moment to regale the audience; “I discovered I have an allergy to ginger today.” Apparently some ginger tea consumed earlier in the afternoon had caused his through to swell up. “The cure all for everything, Whiskey!” he joked, raising his red solo cup in a toast and to a big cheer.
With just Popper and keyboardist Ben Wilson remaining stage, he informed the audience about the new album. “Cara Let The Moon” was an aching piano ballad that put the focus on Popper’s honeyed vocals, drawing generous applause. “I want to dedicate this one to you four right there,” he said, singling out four ladies in the front row, as the band returned to the stage and played “You Don’t Have To Love Me,” a upbeat and fast tempoed song with a catchy chorus of “do do do, do. Do do do do dooos.” “This should be the radio hit,” said the lady to my left.
Their cover of Radiohead’s “Creep,” performed with a hard edge and featuring Popper bellowing out the chorus, “…you’re so fucking special,” seemed to float just above the crowd’s head, barely recognized. Set closer “What’s For Breakfast” was another fast tempoed, playful hit, with Kinchla again bounding around the front of the stage and enticing the front rows to sing-a-long.
The band returned for a two-song encore, which began with the mellow, county swing of “Love Is Everything (That I Described).” Lastly, they really brought some country swing to Bridgeport, covering Charlie Daniels Band’s’ “Devil Went Down To Georgia,” replacing Georgia with Bridgeport in the lyrics, and drawing a rush down to the front of the stage.
25 years on, Blues Traveler is a finely tuned, professionally entertaining touring band that knows darn well how to entertain a crowd, mixing upbeat fun hits, hard driving rock songs and mellow ballads throughout the set list. And all five members of the band are without question, some of the most talented musicians performing together. Suzie Cracks The Whip is the best studio recording the band has made since at least 2003’s Truth Be Told; in a just world, several songs would be, could be, should be, radio hits. Friday night’s show was a reflection of all that the band has become. And that’s meant as a compliment. Yet something yearns in this long, long, long time fan, for the band to return to its raw, youthful barroom roots and bring back the soulful, blues drenched rock on which it established its career.
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