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On Stage - Blues Traveler
by Mike Mettler
Musician, National
Feb 28th, 1993



For Blues Traveler, 1992 was a year to forget. An eager, improv-hungry, neo-retro band that long ago dubbed their endless cross-country trekking "On Tour Forever," BT retreated to their New York homebase following vocalist John Popper's debilitating motorcycle accident late last summer and cheered from the sidelines as road-warrior compatriots, the Spin Doctors, lit up the charts.

Ironically, the layoff has served Blues Traveler well. A few months holed up in the studio producing album number three, Save His Soul (due mid-April), left BT eager to please the hometown crowd that crammed into the Paramount Theatre in Manhattan on New Year's Eve. Popper, confined to a wheelchair and resembling an energized Ironside, rolled out to centerstage and wasted little time in brandishing his trademark harmonica. The band was so into the groove that the official end of the year came and went without notice. Five minutes later, the band paused as their mascot, a leather-clad cool cat, drove a Harley across the stage and "recreated" Popper's crash in the wings. Keeping a promise he made earlier in the day to stand up at midnight (give or take a few clock ticks), Popper grimaced and rose out of his chair, waving to the merrymaking audience as the confetti dropped and the champagne flowed - mostly onto the fans packed tight down front.

BT then charged into the rest of a 16-song, two-and-a-half-hour set that drew heavily on both familiar and new material. The key to the band's onstage magic is the intertwining of Popper's virtuosic harp blasts with guitarist Chan Kinchla's rawhide riffing. Kinchla, whose waist-length hair swayed back and forth like the cleaning flaps in a car wash, wrangled his gleaming red Strat through familiar 10-minutes-and-change marvels like "Mulling It Over" and "Crystal Flame." Other times, as on the ball-busting "Sweet Talking Hippie," he'd fall back in the mix to let Popper scat.

While the band's established repertoire works in the improv groove department, the new material offered much tighter arrangements, ranging from the low-key "Letter From A Friend" and "Defense & Desire" to the half-beat-shy-of-reggae "Go Outside & Drive."

Hours after the 2 a.m. encore - a double-time reading of "Johnny B. Goode" - Kinchla waxed optimistic over BT's first taste of '93. "Thank God the energy level was there, because Lord knows we missed a few cues," he laughed. "Overall, though, the show was loose and dynamic and I'm pumped to hit the road again for a long stretch." Now there's some good new-year's news for fellow Travelers.