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Blues Traveler tired of moving
UW performance nothing short of the ordinary
by Eric Rohr
University of Wyoming Branding Iron, Laramie, WY
Nov 3rd, 1998

"We don't want to start any shit, but we want to dedicate this one to Matthew and all of our friends we miss," John Popper said of slain UW student Matt Shepard, before launching into a rousing and lengthy performance of "Sweet Pain" during last Saturday's concert at UW's A&S auditorium.

For the much appreciated dedication, Blues Traveler played the power ballad from their Travelers and Thieves, with a full heart, while Popper grimaced and swayed, it seemed as though he actually cared to be playing the gig.

It only took him half the show to do it.

Though guitarist Chan Kinchla did his animated best to bounce most everywhere on the stage, his blond-dyed locks whizzing through the air, the beginnings of Blues Traveler's show were the blues. Popper hunched close to his mic, motionless, as the band made mediocre of the radio-friendly "But Anyway."

Kinchla continued to raise his fire throughout the show, rocking away a distorted solo on the Blues Traveler gem, "Gina," though he saw little interaction from Popper. Only during a spirited cover of the Rolling Stones' "Miss You" did Popper even take note of Kinchla, finally allowing the hyperactive guitarist's energy to channel into the stout lead vocalist's performance, just in time for the sweet up-tempo balladry of "Lucky Lack."

It's been over a year since the group put out a record, their last being the dull Straight On Till Morning, and it was curious if the band had been up to any new writing. A college tour like the one Blues Traveler has included UW in is a good chance for the band to test some new material. They did that with "Her and Me," a typical Blues Traveler tune, boasting nothing more than Popper taking a break from his harp to show his chops on guitar, which, surprisingly, wasn't half bad. It seems Blues Traveler could very well be stuck in that Morning rut, "Her and Me" revealing such square lyrics as, "She believes she'll do anything, but she won't follow me."

Blues Traveler knows their latest songwriting doesn't amount to the past hits, but they're smarter than to simply rely on the golden oldies to keep their careers in motion. That's why they skipped a performance of their popularity-gaining "Run-Around." For better or worse, they've got to keep the ball rolling, and that may be a good reason why they've ventured out on this low-key, low-publicity tour, to gain new interests of an audience that not so long ago had put them on top of the radio charts.

They couldn't avoid all of their successful material, and they couldn't avoid making those tunes the highlights of the evening. "The Mountains Win Again" was easily one of the better performances - Popper and Kinchla meeting again, this time instrumentally, on a climactic solo - as well as "Sweet Pain."

As the band finished the show with an encore performance of John Lennon's "Imagine," Popper finished his harp solo and tossed it out to the audience.

But he should be careful where he throws his harp.

Right now, it's hard to tell if that harp will land at the Hall of Fame or the pawn shop counter.