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Brandeis concert proves to be a lackluster event
by Vivien Valenzuela
Tufts Daily, Medford, MA
Nov 30th, 1998

Two years ago, Blues Traveler was sitting on top of the world. With the breakout success of their album four, the foursome from Princeton, NJ, spent their New Year's Eve playing to a sold-out crowd at Madison Square Garden.

Gone is the mainstream success they once knew. Recently named one of the "bands that used to be famous" by Entertainment Weekly, the group spent their summer overshadowed by their co-headliner on the HORDE tour, the Barenaked Ladies. In the wake of the abysmal failure of their last album, Straight On Till Morning, Blues Traveler has filled its fall tour schedule with dates at colleges across the country. In an attempt to return to its roots and test out new material on some of its younger (and therefore more forgiving) fans, this "Schoolhouse Rocks" tour is somewhat of a success.

The tour made a stop at Brandeis University on Nov. 16. Plagued by horrible acoustics (they played in a large gymnasium) and a dwindling crowd, Blues Traveler managed to deliver a shaky performance. Although the band's new songs sounded great, the group had to rely heavily on its "hits" and cover songs to keep the audience happy.

Opening the set with three songs from the unsuccessful album Straight On Till Morning seemed to confuse the sparse crowd of 400. As they jammed to "Justify the Thrill," "Business as Usual," and "Felicia," the Brandeis audience was content to simply nod their heads back and forth to the rhythm. A handful of hardcore fans near the back of the gym were the few who were actually dancing. It was not until the fifth song, "Hook," that the showgoers actually started moving their feet and singing along.

Two new songs from the forthcoming album (the band plans to go back into the studio this spring) drew mixed reactions. "Chan's Groove," an instrumental piece that features the funky stylings of the guitarist, Chan Kinchla, earned much applause from a very appreciative audience. The short song also has another name, "Baked Alaskan Jam," something that the fans at the group's annual Fourth of July Red Rocks concert came up with.

The next new song the band played is called "Decision of the Skies." It's a slow, meditative piece with very deep lyrics: "Your best discovery will always be/Simply what you see/And there's something to look at everywhere/Devoid of any destination." John Popper sang this one gracefully and beautifully, but the audience had little patience for his balladeering.

Two cover songs brought the crowd back to its feet - one of the Rolling Stones' "Miss You" and the other a cover of the Clash's "Should I Stay or Should I Go." After rousing cheers garnered from their cover of the Clash's punk song, Blues Traveler followed up with a new song, "The Light In Her Eyes." There's talk that this song will be the first single off the band's new album, and it's easy to see why. It's very upbeat, almost country-sounding, really - very romantic lyrics combined with radio-friendly music.

Blues Traveler closed its set with two of their hit songs - "Run-Around" and "But Anyway." But the group chose to play a new version of "Run-Around" they've written, officially called "Fucked Run." In this version, the famous song is slower and played in a minor key, with Popper singing with a very angry look on his face. The song is so telling of the predicament the band is currently in - conflicted between its desire for continued commercial success while also trying to remain a "jam band."

They did get called back for an encore, but relied yet again on a cover song to keep the crowd happy. This time they covered Charlie Daniels Band's classic hit "The Devil Went Down to Georgia."

Opening Band Agents of Good Roots gave a much more solid performance. Mixing up the set with both new and old songs, these guys did a great job. Their released single "Smiling Up the Frown" is bound for radio success, while a great new song called "Shot Down" got the crowd really moving. The group ended their set with a wonderful cover of Paul Simon's "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover."