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Blues Traveler's long journeys could be better shorter
by Scott Woolridge
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Milwaukee, WI
Nov 20th, 1997



The theory that the journey is more important than the destination is one that seems near and dear to the collective heart of Blues Traveler.

One of the many bands today that follow the Grateful Dead school of "more is more" when it comes to live shows, Blues Traveler can be counted on to fill out their concerts with long jams that often wander pretty far afield.

Still, for the nearly sold-out crowd at the Modjeska Theatre on Wednesday night, if the trip couldn't be both long and strange, long was plenty good enough.

To be fair, Blues Traveler has a lot more going for it than some bands in the genre.

Lead singer and harmonica player John Popper is a prodigious talent, with a snake-charmer style of harp playing that is perhaps the best thing to happen to that instrument since Bob Dylan first strapped one on.

And the band's songs can be fairly catchy, especially when they stick to more melodic numbers such as "Hook" or "Run-Around."

Not surprisingly, it was those more pop-oriented numbers that the band relied on to provide some variety to a show that clocked in at well over two hours.

Though songs with more traditional blues and funk grooves were handled adeptly, the lack of, well, hooks kept them from being really memorable.

Two moments were in striking contrast.

When opener Jonny Lang jammed with the band at the end of the first set, their combined playing achieved an electricity that was lacking in other songs.

Though going toe to toe with Popper was a bit of a cliche, Land provided an amazing, ferocious solo that threatened to melt the chrome off Popper's harp.

After a short break, Blues Traveler returned with an acoustic set; again, not a new idea, but one they were well-suited for.

Freed of trying to blast over an electric wall of sound, Popper's playing and singing reached high points, and guitarist Chan Kinchla demonstrated why his agile rhythm guitar playing is just as vital to the band's sound as any blues riff.

Though deadlines prevented a review of the entire show, Blues Traveler's second set seemed to get tighter and more focused as the night went on.

Maybe they do know the value of arriving somewhere after all.