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Blues Traveler Reach NY
by Kristin Roth
RollingStone.com, National
May 9th, 2001

Blues Traveler celebrated the release of their new album Bridge with a jubilant two-hour set at New York's legendary swing joint the Supper Club on Tuesday night. The album - which honors former bassist Bob Sheehan, who died of a drug overdose two years ago at age thirty-one - draws its title from an analogy linking Sheehan with twenty-seven of an estimated 3,813 workers that died before seeing the completion of the Brooklyn Bridge. The album, which is sometimes somber, sometimes angry, and sometimes blithe, is an eclectic composite of feelings and moods. But, for Bridge's coming-out party, the band chose to stick close to one unadulterated emotion: pure, electrifying joy. Traveler and fans sang, joked, laughed and made good use of the dance floor for the duration of the night.

Frontman John Popper, guitarist Chan Kinchla, drummer Brendan Hill, and more recent additions bassist Tad Kinchla (younger brother of Chan) and keyboard player Ben Wilson swaggered onto the intimate venue's elegant stage to the theme of Mission Impossible. Then, the newly slimmed-down Popper, decked out in a black cowboy hat and a matching button-down shirt, launched into the first song on the new album and of the night, the nostalgic daydream "Back in the Day." The next few tunes followed suit - also sunny selections from Bridge. The group's current single "Girl Inside My Head," a cheerful melody about infatuation from afar, proved an early, head-bobbing standout.

However, Popper let the crowd know that they were only getting started with the funk-driven and bass-heavy "Rage." Under the glow of red lights, each member was given the chance to showcase his abilities and sharply rose to the challenge. Popper and Wilson teamed up for a back-and-forth duet, answering each other with their harmonica and keyboard, respectively, in an instrumental conversation. Then, Popper strapped on a guitar and broke out the big guns. He elevated the crowd into an ecstatic frenzy by playing a complex riff behind his head and then, as if that weren't enough, with his teeth. When finished, he tipped his hat to the crowd with dramatic, winking flair in gratitude for their screaming and whistling praise.

After a stellar execution of the upbeat musical love letter "You Reach Me" and the imperious rock number "All Hands," Traveler put Bridge to rest for a bit. With an extended jam, featuring Popper's signature Olympic swimmer-lunged harmonica-playing, the group segued into its 1994 hit "Run-Around," which roused the crowd to sing along and excited it into a bubbling wave of motion. Wilson's keyboard beautifully yet subtly embellished the band's classic.

Then, Wilson jumped tracks and spilled the audience into laughter with his keyboard renditions of Vince Guaraldi's "Linus and Lucy" (known to some as the Charlie Brown theme song) and the Champs' "Tequila" (known to some as the Pee Wee Herman song). Just as the fans' clapping along became uniform, Traveler threw them another comic curveball with surprise covers of Beck's "Loser" and the Violent Femme's "Blister in the Sun." Both songs were more than well-received by the audience, who sang along note-for-note.

When the band began "Hook," however, it became clear that the crowd was really there to hear Blues Traveler favorites. Erupting into song when Popper cupped his hand to his ear, the audience raised their hands into the air as if they were at a church revival and Popper was their preacher.

Then, evoking the spirit of reggae deity Bob Marley, Popper sang his final cover "No Woman, No Cry." The singer issued an uplifting performance, chanting "Everything's gonna be all right" with a sincere and expressive vocal delivery that gave the mantra believability.

At the end of the show, when the crowd's cheering begged for an encore, Popper announced, "Incidentally, if you want some more, we're gonna' go over to CBGB and start all over again." Then, the group brought things full-circle with another tune from Bridge, the contemplative ballad "Decision of the Skies." A soothing end to a night of nonstop elation, the song had the effect of a lullaby on the crowd. When finished, Popper threw several harmonicas into the audience and then joined by his band members shook hands with the front row. With their performance at the Supper Club, Blues Traveler reminded fans, that despite a recently painful past, they still have their heart, their sense of humor, and their capacity for delivering a helluva show.