Leftover Salmon & Head For The Hills 11.26.11

Words & Photos By Nicholas Stock (phatphlogblog.blogspot.com)
Audio By Corey Sandoval (Kind Recordings)

I’ve been touting the reemergence and reinvigoration of Leftover Salmon for months. It was obvious after seeing them on their River Run this summer that any sign of burning out or winding down was a distant memory for the members of LoS. I was again reminded of how far they’ve come at their show on Saturday at The Ogden.

I headed down early to get a good spot for some shots and ended up hanging out on the rail for most of the show. Head For The Hills opened up the night with a string filled bang. I want to start off by saying that Matt Lowen is the Bassnectar of bluegrass, holding down the rhythm with his thick licks and nasty bass bombs. He was most definitely driving the bus. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing H4TH a few times but when they arrived onstage adorned in their tracksuits and screaming out, “Turkey Sweat” to the rapidly growing crowd I knew we were in for a treat. They took this run seriously, which is evident in the tape from Kind Recordings.

Head For The Hills Live at Ogden Theatre on November 26, 2011.

It is shows like this that just fill my heart with so much goodness. It is simply impossible to wipe the smile from my face. As I was snapping pictures I found myself pausing just to soak up all the righteousness oozing out of the band in front of me. They had this indescribable mix of being both current and yet old-timey. Their contemporary take on the classics and ability to harmonize so well is what sets them apart from other bluegrass acts touring today. They opened with a beautiful "One Foot In The Grave" that reflected the vocal possibilities of Head For The Hills. They performed massive version of "My Angelie," which has to be my favorite jamming vehicle of theirs. Beautiful and musically perfect versions of Peter Gabriel’s "Solsbury Hill" and Pink Floyd’s "Fearless" were highlights from their set as well.

Joe Lessard’s fiddle was both powerful and subtle as he traded main vocal duties with Adam Kinghorn. They each took turns with hand-blurring solos as they ripped through their repertoire. By the end of the set my head was spinning from what I was witnessing. Mike Chappell on mandolin was the glued that held it all together as he at times held back and at other times literally made the earth move. They closed their set with Ray Charles’ "Unchain My Heart," which took on a tone that was both unexpected and crispy. Once again Head For The Hills showed why they are Colorado’s best bluegrass band two years running (as decided by the Westword) and why they are not to miss show. This Thanksgiving I was thankful that they were on this run with Salmon.

It was time for the main event, which as a two set extravaganza from the one and only Poly Ethnic Cajun Slamgrass outfit from the mountains of Colorado, Leftover Salmon! They opened with a rowdy Carnival Time that just set the mood for what was about to go down. Here is the rest of the setlist from Kind Recordings.

SET I: Carnival Time, Gold Hill Line, Gonna Have A Party, Shenandoah Valley Breakdown, 44 Blues, The Highway Song, Danger Man*, She Caught The Kay*, RIP Michigan Mike, Down In The Hollow

SET II: All Night Ride, I’m Gonna Live High Till I Die, High On A Mountain Top, Almost Cut My Hair, Troubled Times> Ask The Fish, Last Days of Autumn, Jokester, Bill’s Boogie, Out In The Woods, Whipping Post> God Save The Queen

ENCORE: Nobody’s Fault But Mine**

*Silas Herman on mandolin
**Silas Herman on acoustic guitar, Joe Lessard on fiddle

Leftover Salmon Live at Ogden Theatre on November 26, 2011.

Let me start by personally appologizing to Jose Martinez. I’ve been giving him guff mainly because I felt he has had a few weak outings with the band in the last couple years, and when Wally Ingram sat in with the band for the River Run I honestly felt like they were making a transition. That being said he was on point the entire evening and really showed me what he is capable of with Salmon. So from me to you Jose, nice work, keep it up sir.

Going on I really do feel that Andy has just kicked this band into high gear. I don’t know that if in my twenty or so Salmon shows I’ve ever seen Vince and Drew so happy and obviously energized. They are always fun but there was something different this time, I kept catching Vince smiling as he watched Andy play and the energy between Drew and Vince was electric all night long. "The Shenandoah Valley Breakdown" showed some seriously fast picking and the "44 Blues," lead by Bill McKay gave everyone a chance to catch their breath as we grooved away to his crunchy vocals.

Vince likes to tell stories while he is performing; he is very much a bard in that way. He informed the crowd that since the band was now 21 and of age following last year’s 20th anniversary celebrations that they would be doing some extended touring and start work on a new album.

“See if we can get some more Salmon running around the country all over the place. Both in the water and on the highway.” –Vince Herman

Drew belted it out beautifully on Highway Song again demonstrating why he is so important to the Salmon sound. Few people give me chills when they sing live like Drew consistently does whenever I see him play. Vince’s son, Silas, came onstage for "Danger Man" and "She Caught The Katy," which were huge highlights of the first set. After dedicating the show to Michigan Mike the previous night, Vince took a moment to honor him and announced a show at The Stage Stop the next night. His hope was that the music would help the start to heal the community of Nederland after this tragic loss. They finished the first set with another Drew tune, "Down In The Hollow."

They started the set teasing "Louie Louie" before ripping into "All Night Ride", reflecting the playfulness of the band. Bill McKay again took vocals on David Crosby’s "Almost Cut My Hair." I’ve seen them cover this track but this version just blasted off. A couple times it almost felt like they were teasing "Whipping Post" before it broke down into a reggae-infused Vince-led pick off. The "Troubled Times" was stunning but things got weird during "Ask The Fish." With the band taking on an ethereal Doors-esque jam, Vince gave us a soliloquy about how he was face to face with a fish that was roughly the size of the room. The crowd became the amebas on the mouth of this giant fish asking them to act it out for him. Using a round glow stick that had been tossed onstage earlier as a prop to signify a bubble. It was a fun moment to say the least.

“How many of you feel more like you now than you did yesterday? That’s progress.” –Vince Herman

Bill’s Boogie was fun, but the highlight of the show was the set-closing "Whipping Post" into "God Save The Queen." They encored with a huge "Nobody’s Fault But Mine" inviting Joe Lessard from H4TH and Silas back out for an extended picking session. This show again reaffirmed my belief that Leftover is back to their old self. After the loss of Mark Vann they had some growing pains and it took years for them to get back to this place. I can safely say that they are ready for the road ahead and I look forward to swimming upstream with them for years to come.

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