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Traveler's Good Trip
by Dan Aquilante
New York Post, New York, NY
Nov 9th, 2002



To jam or not to jam isn't a question for New York homeboys Blues Traveler. The quintet, which opened a cozy four-night engagement Thursday at Irving Plaza, harnessed the power of musical noodling and made the club bounce to the dervish dance steps of the fans working shimmy-shimmy shakes.

There's little room for waffling when it comes to this kind of music - you either dig it or think it's the most boring, suckaphonic slop ever presented as entertainment.

As you'd expect, there were few in the latter category at the I-Plaza opener, which was a genuine love-fest between the band and its fans.

The line blurred: Was Blues Traveler so good because the fans were so giving - or were the fans so giving because Blues Traveler was so good?

Frontman John Popper blew a fantastic harp, transforming the compact, 10-holed instrument into a pocket symphony.

In song after song, he was able to articulate individual notes with the speed and clarity of a violin but also deliver chord-like blasts when needed to propel the rhythms.

Despite dropping what seems like a hundred pounds, Popper is still a man of large carriage. Yet when he clamps his eyes shut, with his flat brimmed hat pulled low, he floats, losing himself in the music.

He isn't much to look at, with his hands all bunched up around his mouth and his face in a cabbage patch scrunch, but when you close your eyes and open your ears, he is literally breathing the music.

Though incredible as a harmonica player, Popper is much less successful as a singer. He's often flat or off-key, but the soundman wisely kept his vocal amplification cranked down.

This performance was played in two hour-long sets which concluded after 1 a.m. While the 30-minute rest in between may have worked nicely for the band, that break also killed the momentum they built.

Still, the second set was the one to see Thursday. By then, the kinks were worked out and the band was lubricated.

The highlight of that late-show set was a cover of Steve Miller's "The Joker," which spurred a "Pompatus of Love" argument nearby, and the band's big, bouncy signature song, "Let It Ride."

A few of the fans talked about attending all four concerts. While it was fun to hear the Blues Traveler boys once, four nights are way too much noodling for even a die-hard BT cruiser.

Performances today and tomorrow at 8 p.m. Irving Plaza, 17 Irving Place, near 15th Street.