Leftover Salmon – Review

Newport Music Hall – Columbus, OH – 10/17/12

by Ryan Neeley exclusively for Appalachian Jamwich

Photos by Ryan Neeley and Tom Wickstrom

The beauty of seeing a live show is that it allows you to escape reality for just a little bit and live in a fantasy.   For those in attendance at the Newport Music Hall on this Wednesday night, Leftover Salmon was the vehicle of choice for the evening, permitting the audience to escape to a  fantasy world ruled by Vince Herman and fueled by the intense meshing of string instruments.   Regardless of the topic or tempo, Herman has a stage presence not matched by many in the industry, engaging the crowd with a shout out or two, all the while grinning behind his shaggy white beard.  And the musicians that surround him – co-founder and mandolin/electric guitar/fiddle player  Drew Emmitt, fresh-faced banjo master Andy Thorn, drummer Jose Martinez and bassist Greg Garrison – are no slouch either.   Thorn, who turned 29 on this day, reminds you of a young Mark Vann, the original banjoist who passed away from cancer in 2002, which is a superb compliment, as replacing Vann has been a challenge to say the least.   Emmitt is an accomplished musician that can play just about anything, and the percussion team of Martinez and Garrison, though most times in the shadows, lay down solid bass lines and fills that allow Herman, Thorn and Emmitt to shine.  And shine they did on this night.

The quintet came out to a fiery Boo Boo, then kicked it up a notch with Wild Bill Jones.  Bird Call had incredible chord progressions, with Thorn and Emmitt jazzing it up and stealing the show.     The band settled in and took the crowd on a journey with a stellar Up on the Hill Boogie, and by this time Herman had the room eating out of his hand and boogieing like no tomorrow.   The selection Another way to Turn slowed it down a bit, but had distinct fretwork by Emmitt on the electric guitar. Other highlights of the first set included a bouncy Liza, a selection of their new album and fan-favorite Rodeo Geek, with exploratory solos by Thorn and Emmitt that overflowed with polyethnic cajun slamgrass goodness.

et Two began shortly after 11pm, and after a high energy first set, the crows was ready to burst with anticipation as to what Herman and the boys had in store for the rest of their phenomenal fantasy journey.  The rejuvinated Salmon, in the midst of it’s first major tour in over 8 years, would not disappoint, laying down a memorable set with a guest star that Columbus, OH would defintiely approve of.   Midnight Blues highlighted Emmitt once again, and he delivered with ease.  Salmon launched into a number of choices off their new album Aquatic Hitchhiker, with Sing Up to the Moon –  an incredible masterpiece, building it up from the ground up then proceeding to shred it down with his ferocious picking.  Garrisson finally got his turn with a funky bass solo during the swinging Walking Shoes, and Light Behind the Rain, though seemingly a little out of place at first, ended up fitting in quite well,  complete with heavenly harmonies and impressive emotional vocal work by Emmitt.

But the highlight of the entire night was yet to come.   After the song Doin My Time, Herman announced that we have a guest star, and yelled out “SSSWWWEEEENNNNNEEEEYYYYY”, calling one of Ohio’s favorite guitar prodigies Steve Sweeney of Ekoostik Hookah, now also playing with his new band The Spikedrivers.   Sweeney, decked out in a Disc-O Pizza shirt and hat, jumped right in and traded licks with the band on the Grateful Dead favorite Big Railroad Blues, and the energy inside the Newport was stifling, the crowd crooning along “Well my momma told me, my poppa told me too.” Sweeney, more of a rock/blues type guitarist than a bluegrass man, is known for his shredding abilities, extended psychedlic solos, and bluesy style, but he fit right in with the boys.   Salmon kept Sweeney on stage for the remainder of the evening, doing a funk-filled Gulf of Mexico, a song written by Emmitt about the gulf oil spill, “Things a little different round here these days, Since the storm and the spill drove everybody away.”  They continued with Whatcha Gonna Do and a rocking River Rising that blew the roof off the place, and Salmon and Sweeney took a bow closing out set 2.   After clamoring for more, they came back out and floored the crowd with Thorn playing the Guns-N-Roses song Sweet Child O Mine, and Sweeney offering his capabilties to the mix.  Most people I spoke to were simply held speechless by the occurences and events of the evening.   In speaking with Sweeney briefly after the show, he stated, “Wow, that was fun!”, and you could see it in the eyes of everyone on stage.

Just as quickly as it began, throngs of Salmon lovers disbursed quickly into the night, coming back to reality after their memorable trek with Salmon to fantasy land, where the grass is blue, every day’s a party, and polyethnic Cajun slamgrass lives on forever.