[H O M E]
[Side Projects]
[Tour Dates]

Jam Bands Burst Into Bloom
by Matt Weitz
Dallas Observer, Dallas, TX
Nov 18th, 1997

Of course the magic of pulling off improvisation - what really makes those successful moments sing - is that 90 percent of the time it's aimless bullshit. The mirror in which every other jam band looks good and the Q.E.D. proof of exposition's tendency toward mediocrity is Blues Traveler, the luckiest band in the world. Frontman John Popper cuts an odd, disturbing figure. His habit of wearing a World War II-vintage infantryman's cartridge belt around his neck in order to house his harmonicas was at first an interesting trademark. Now that he's graduated to black leather replicas of that system - and festooned them with samurai swords, flashlights, and what looks like all manner of camping gear - his harp harness merely seems a creepy manifestation of rock star fetishism and indulgence. This impression does not go well with the band's very public infatuation with firearms, particularly pistols (handguns are like drugs and/or hot coffee enemas: if people know you like them, they probably know too much). Popper's "harness" is not only creepy, but hard on the ears: along with its other accoutrements it still keeps a wide array of mouth organs handy, and Popper's aggressive, tootling ineptitude on the harmonica is one of the few things more annoying than his contrived, Cat Stevens-like vocal delivery.

Live, the band cops bland boogie-riffs, a study in the kind of turgid churn you'd expect from a washing machine. Chan Kinchla is a member - if not the president-for-life - of the hair-whipping, pose-copping, face-making school of guitar; if he didn't play so long, his histrionics might distract the listener from the fact that he's an utterly average player. Still, in this era of limited resources, you have to admire the mileage Kinchla seems determined to wring from the three or four ideas that he has. Like many improvisational acts, BT's fans all agree that the band's albums don't do their concerts justice, which in this instance is a truly terrifying concept. Although the band's latest release - this year's Straight On Till Morning - shows improvement, the same might be said for an abscess; you still wouldn't want it in your ear.