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Blues Traveler
by Mark Harden
Denver Post, Denver, CO
Jul 5th, 1998

July 5 - MORRISON - Memo to the many people who left Friday's Blues Traveler concert early: It's still going on.

Well, not quite. But it was well after the stroke of 12 - and after 38 bajillion John Popper harmonica solos, by unofficial count - that Popper and the boys finally called a halt to the first of their two annual Independence Day weekend shows at Red Rocks. At that was after two longer-than-usual opening sets by Agents of Good Roots and Gov't Mule.

Some 6 1/2 hours from start to stop - that's good value at a non-festival concert these days.

It was also, by and large, good music, of the summertime, stretch-out-and-jam variety.

Clearly, Blues Traveler loves Red Rocks - "This is without a doubt my favorite place to play," Popper said as the band came back from an intermission - and its usually receptive crowds. This year, the New Yorkers said thank you for years of warm welcomes by performing several freshly penned tunes, "never played anywhere on earth," Popper said.

Happily, the new music showed the band continuing the trend of its last two albums toward concise, well-crafted songs.

And - hold on to your hats, Popper fans - not one of the new tunes featured harmonica. (Popper has advised subscribers to the band's newsletter that he plans to cut back on the harp on Blues Traveler's next album.)

There was the pleasant, poppy "The Light In Her Eyes". There was "Decision of the Skies", a snaky, mid-tempo rocker that reminded me of the Beatles' "Dear Prudence". And there was a funk-scat workout with a working title not suited for a family newspaper.

With all the new material, even a three-hour-10-minute double-set (not counting intermission) didn't leave enough room for some of Blues Traveler's biggest hits, like "Run-Around" and "Most Precarious". (They did, however, include their frenetic show-stopper "But Anyway", augmented by a tasty Bobby Sheehan bass solo.)

Instead, they set aside lots of room for the trademark jams that most of their fans love - and this time, Popper didn't spare the harp-power.

The new songs, and Popper's decision to lay off the harmonica, show a group looking for ways to get tighter and brighter. Let's hope all those other jam bands out there follow Blues Traveler's lead.

The Richmond, Va., group Agents of Good Roots opened the show with 40 minutes of appealing sax-driven jazz-rock, highlighted by their sultry radio hit "Smiling Up the Frown".

And Gov't Mule, a swampy power trio featuring inventive ex-Allman Brother Warren Haynes on guitar, entertained for 65 minutes, offering its new single, a slow, sludgy version of the Beatles' "She Said, She Said".

Haynes later jammed with Blues Traveler, trading licks with Popper and guitarist Chan Kinchla, as midnight tolled.