Great American Taxi & Poor Man's Whiskey 1.26.13

Cervantes Masterpiece Ballroom
Denver, CO

Words By Brad Yeakel
Photo By Justin Gardner

Last year, my friend Ryan dragged me out to see Poor Man's Whiskey at The Fox Theater in Boulder. Let me take this opportunity to thank him for that. As a huge SCI fan, his mention that Kang would be sitting in for their rendition of "Dark Side of the Moonshine," a bluegrass cover of the iconic Floyd album, helped motivate me. Their lead guitarist at the time was a man by the name of Sean Lehe, and this guy absolutely ripped! Unfortunately he had to take a break from the band due to an inner ear disorder. While everyone hopes to see his return to the stage soon, the band chose to move on for now. Chris Haugen played well with sizzling tone and softened the blow that Lehe would no longer be on stage. The rest of the band seemed to fall into their familiar roles, and got the ballroom heated up like the night's first shot of whiskey. Their bluegrass basics took several turns as they played a number of originals along with covers like Tom Petty's "American Girl" and Stephen Stills' "Love the One Your With." Josh Brough was the architect behind the band, and you could tell that Poor Man's Whiskey was his baby. His smooth vocals, timely banjo, and comfy keys made me feel right at home as he proved his songwriting was worth a listen and told tales of moving to San Francisco, Humboldt Hoedowns, run-ins with the law, and being weekend rock stars. As I contemplated PMW, I was filled with hope to see Sean Lehe again soon, and joy that Poor Man's Whiskey would be able to continue creating beautiful music in his absence. My recommendation, if you like good ol' whiskey drinking music, give Poor Man's Whiskey a shot.

As Great American Taxi pulled up, I expected a show dominated by Vince Herman's absurdly happy newgrass (see Leftover Salmon). While Vince's personality still shined a joyous light on the music, each member of his band contributed to the songwriting, singing, and jovial sound in entertaining and creative ways. The crowd became noticeably rowdy, and the Taxi's funk-grass opener was better than a ride in the Cash Cab. For starters, no one grilled me with trivia, threatening to leave me by the side of the road if I didn't get the questions right. Also, I didn't have one in a million odds of getting in (figure is speculative). That's right... Great American Taxi was a sure thing, it was on time, it took me places, and it required no more of me than the fare known as a ticket. With a driver like Vince Herman, who wouldn't want to go for a ride? The band smiled often as they skillfully ran through songs spanning genres yet maintaining a good-natured vibe throughout. I was reminded of String Cheese Incident before the electronica influence, and smiled at the memories of the organic sound. From bluegrass to funk, rock and roll to reggae, calypso to country they bounced between and blended them all. When I was in college I covered a Leftover Salmon show for my school paper, and had the pleasure of interviewing Vince after their set. I asked him if he had any advice for aspiring musicians. He said, "don't build walls around your music... Play everything at once." Over ten years later, Vince still seemed to feel the same way.

Vince began the show on mandolin, and reminded me of Jeff Austin with his first enthusiastic solo. It was relentless, rapid-fire, speed picking of astonishing energy and vibrancy. His switch to guitar mid show also featured some impressive pick work as he sang anthems like "For Twenty." But what really had the crowd smiling was a brief stint on keys while Poor Man's Whiskey and the Taxi shared the stage for a collaboration/ handoff jam. Vince played a keyboard solo that was better than Jack Black's Tenacious D guitar solos, but had a similar comedy to it. Taxi keyboard player, Chad Staehly jokingly tried to come in and save the solo, but Vince boxed out and laughed as he defended his keyboard throne from it's rightful king. Staehly shared vocal duties and played his keyboards with style and flair. Lead guitarist, Jim Lewin played edgy riffs with a tone that reminded me of Chuck Berry. His leads brought the image of Marty McFly ripping up Johnny B. Goode in Back to the Future to mind. Drummer, Chris Sheldon, kept the kit popping throughout, and bassist Brian Adams laid down lines with a casual, concise vibe that served the music perfectly. The entire show was reason to smile, and I hadn't seen a band enjoy their work so much in quite some time. That is what made it even more exciting to hear that they planned to use the show for a live album. I had an incredibly fun night at the Masterpiece Ballroom, and look forward to hearing the eventual release. Can't wait to catch this cab the next time it rolls through town.

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