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
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
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."