There are few finer bands to celebrate Thanksgiving’s ode to excess than Colorado’s own “Poly-Ethnic/Cajun/Slamgrass” kings, Leftover Salmon. Over the course of two nights in Denver, CO, the personification of revelry himself, Vince Herman, set spirits soaring and boots scootin’ alongside his band and special guests Los Lobos. The first night was a special tribute at Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox to legend Neil Young, including the entire Harvest album, while the second was a more traditional Leftover show with all the trimmings at the Fillmore Auditorium.
Herman and his brother-in-arms Drew Emmitt have been playing after turkey day shows in the Denver/Boulder area for as long most anyone can remember. Those hazy memories are surely tied to the free flowing food, spirits and song that filled the smiling faces of all in attendance both nights. The old guard of Leftover and the younger generation of players who have joined, lead by all-star banjo player Andy Thorn have the rejuvenated band playing some of their finest music to date and clearly loving it.
The opening serving at Ophelia’s was an intimate affair that featured a pre-show VIP 3-course “Eat & Greet” for those among the fan base who had already had their fill of turkey. Besides the Leftover Salmon on the stage for a soundcheck, there was far fresher salmon on plates, as well as steaks, salads, and appetizers. With free flowing beer from and help from Glen Taylor on the slide guitar and Los Lobos sax man Steve Berlin, Leftover delighted the crowd with some stellar renditions of some of music’s most beloved tunes.
Harvest, the album, has stood the test of time, producing a pair of tunes, “Heart Of Gold” and “Old Man” that are regarded as some of Neil Young’s finest. With the actual feast of harvest behind us, Leftover Salmon felt it was a wise time to reflect on Young’s seminal masterpiece.
The night got off to a fun start as the first feel for their re-imagining of the source material became plain. While retaining the heart of the source material the soul was clearly the always boisterous Salmon. One of the early highlights was a countrified “Cowgirl In The Sand” that saw bassist Greg Garrison take over on vocals for a pleasing uptempo take on the tune. Watch the video, below.
Taking the opportunity presented by the Neil Young theme of the evening to comment on the current, volatile sociopolitical climate, Herman spoke to the tension and unease that has gripped the nation. Touching on the recent election and the issues raised he then dedicated the Buffalo Springfield classic “For What It’s Worth” to fighters for justice, particularly those at Standing Rock, ND currently. Check out the crowd pleasing results, below.
After a short intermission, Salmon came back and dove into the meat of the Harvest album, reeling off a wonderful Emmitt led “Old Man.” Both heartfelt and timeless, Leftover Salmon had every voice in the room lifted in unison.
Young’s more rabble rousing work, like “Alabama,” was brought out and given the appropriate amount of space and respect as well. Continuing to note the divisions in our nation Leftover wisely let the song ring out. let it and the message at the song’s core ring out and sink in.
To close out their night of Neil Young tribute covers Leftover Salmon choose a pair of tunes for their guests Glen Taylor and Steve Berlin to let loose on, “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere” and “Down By The River” for a massive chunk roots rock goodness.
Their tribute managed to be a excellent blend of the sounds of the two artists. while the performances wasn’t too reverential to be redundant they weren’t unrecognizable either. The spirit of Leftover infused the material of Neil Young like sonic stuffing in a musical turkey and the result was just as delicious. Live painter Scramble Campbell was on hand Friday and produced another of his amazing art work to help commemorate the evening in a piece entitled “Salmon Younger” by no less than Herman himself.
Setlist: Leftover Salmon at Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox, Denver, CO – 11/25/16
SET 1: Human Highway, Cowgirl In The Sand, Comes A Time, Look Out For My Love, For What its Worth (Buffalo Springfield)*, Out On The Weekend #, Harvest, Man Needs A Maid, Heart Of Gold#
SET 2: Are You Ready For The Country, Old Man, There’s A World*, Alabama, Needle and The Damage Done, Words (Between The Lines of Age)*, Helpless*, Jelly Roll Man*, Everybody Knows this Is Nowhere*, Down by the River*
whole show with Glen Taylor on pedal steel guitar
*Steve Berlin on saxophone
#Dave Emmitt on harmonica
After a great night one, the party moved to the Fillmore Auditorium and the crowd was delighted to learn that the parade of guests was far from over. Besides the expected exchange of sit-ins between long time friends in Leftover and Los Lobos, a few other top shelf additions to the line up like the long running host of eTown, Nick Forster of Hot Rize, made a well received appearance as well.
Herman, Emmitt and Thorn were already limbered up from their sit-ins with openers and were ready to give the packed house exactly what they wanted. The entire house was electrified and united in a singular intent: Dance off the calories off the week of indulging and let the music carry them away. The kick off tune, “A Good Night To Boogie,” was the perfect call to the dance floor and was heard and responded to loud by all within earshot.
The music was willing but unfortunate sound issues forced delays that could damage the carefully built energy at most performances. Luckily the infectious nature of Herman’s larger than life smile made any delay tolerable. A swirling “Down In The Hollow” and it’s double time two-step pace got everything back on track quickly. On a sunflower covered stage that reinforced the fall themes of fading color Leftover Salmon fought to keep the fires burning bright for everyone, with Emmitt’s shredding in “Hollow” a clear signal that the show was still going to rage, despite the difficulties ahead.
The rest of the evening there was never more than a few songs in a row due to stoppages for sound issues. It is a clear testimonial to the limitless goodwill Leftover Salmon has earned and the laid back nature of the Denver audience. Rather than booing and demanding money back they relaxed and chatted. While frustrated, Leftover Salmon stayed all business, maintaining a positive vibe in the face of adversity and showing the presence of true professionals.
Helping to keep the party going were incredible sit ins, particularly the spot on sax work by Steve Berlin. His work the previous night showed how well he could fit himself in and flourish when his number was called, as it was often during the night. His “Wind Cries Mary” work was particularly an insightful and fun, with his breathy style fitting well with the fast paced style the rest of the song was played. Sound difficulties again interrupted the show, but by the time the curfew drew near the band had still turned in a solid show full of fun moments and high energy.
In a way, as Herman noted repeatedly throughout the two evenings, it was just the way the world worked sometimes. As if leading by example, Leftover Salmon faced all their adversities with a positive spin, taking every opportunity to make a positive out of a negative. That spirit, which has marked the 26 years of existence in the band, is clearly being carried forward by the new generation of members. Founding fathers Herman and Emmitt should be proud of their creation, if only for the love they built that had a troubled show being cheered as loud as any perfectly ran production.
Los Lobos was the perfect band to pair with Leftover Salmon for this raucous double header. Though they opened the night there was no doubt in any mind that Lobos was an equal partner in the evening’s festivities. With decades of making a unique and undeniably feel good vibe guitarists Dave Hidalgo, Louie Perez and Cesar Rosas lead the way with a very physical presence that translates into the sound of the band itself. As they lean into their licks and jamming, so to did the energy behind the music, and the rest of the band followed with gusto.
With a set that bounced throughout their entire history delighting casual fans and song seekers alike, whether running through a rollicking “Shakes” or an early, heavy-hitting sit-in from Andy Thorn on “One Time” that took the tune in an even more earthy direction than normal. After a powerful set, Los Lobos invited Leftover’s front line of Thorn, Herman and Emmitt out for a rousing call to arms that reignited the crowd with the beloved Grateful Dead song “Bertha.” The cheers that showered over them as they walked off the stage were well earned over the course of this night and the decades preceding it.
Check out the full setlists from the double header, as well as a full photo gallery from night one featuring images by Rios Photos. All words and videos appear courtesy of Rex Thomson.
Setlist: Los Lobos at The Fillmore Auditorium, Denver, CO – 11/26/16
Set: Emily, Shakin’, Shakin’ Shakes, The Valley (The Town and the City), Chuco’s Cumbia, One Time, One Night ^, La Venganza De Los Pelados, Wicked Rain, Burn It Down, That Train Don’t Stop Here, High Places, Kiko And The Lavender Moon, Runner, Don’t Worry Baby, Bertha (Grateful Dead)^*#
Setlist: Leftover Salmon at The Fillmore Auditorium, Denver, CO – 11/26/16
Set: Good Night to Boogie*, Down in the Hollow, Everything is Round, Flight of the Durban, Rag Mamma Rag, Gulf of Mexico, The Wind Cried Mary, Unplug the Telephone, Troubled Times, Colorado Mountains Evermore, Head Bang, There’s a World
E: Reuben’s Train -> Smoke It
Majority of show with David Hidalgo and Steve Berlin from Los Lobos.