Returning for its 21st July 4 show at Red Rocks, Blues Traveler certainly showed some signs of age on Saturday. Gone are the marathon two-set performances that defined the band’s Red Rocks’ runs in the mid-’90s. Popper’s voice, abused by years of smoking, probably couldn’t handle two 90-minute sets anymore — in fact, Popper’s voice gave out late in the band’s 110-minute set Saturday.
Those aren’t the only changes. Blues Traveler used to jam a lot more back in its early days, and many people probably forget that the H.O.R.D.E. tour, organized by Popper, had a lot to do with breaking Phish and Widespread Panic to national audiences.
While jamming was mostly absent, Saturday’s set had plenty of highlights. The segue from “Dropping Some NYC” into “Crash Burn” sounded very tight. “But Anyway” had a loose, slightly jammy intro before Popper’s famous harmonic riff launched its first hit.
Blues Traveler released a new CD earlier this year, “Blow Up the Moon.” Unlike 2012, when the band played its then-new CD “Suzie Cracks the Whip” in track order (and fell flat), Saturday’s show was mostly light on new songs. The compilation includes numerous guest appearances, and several of those performers joined the band Saturday, including opening act Hanson.
First up was Sublime with Rome guitarist Rome Ramirez, who added vocals and guitar on an excellent “Vagabond Blues.” After keyboardist Ben Wilson stepped to the front with a quick solo on a keytar, the members of Hanson joined the band for the upbeat “Top of the World.” Ramirez returned to the stage to add vocals on a cover of the Sublime hit “What I Got.”
Traveler returned to the vault for a performance of “Slow Change” from its first album. A quick harmonica-feedback jam led into Popper’s rendition of the Jimi Hendrix cover of “The Star Spangled Banner” before rocketing back into the close of “Slow Change.”
The energy the band had built was abruptly sucked back out with “Cara Let the Moon,” a piano-only ballad from “Suzie Cracks the Whip” that many in the audience didn’t seem to know what to make of. However, guitarist Chan Kinchla then launched into a feedback-heavy solo that led into “Carolina Blues.” While the band riffed on that song, fireworks could be seen close by, and many in the crowd moved to a higher spot to get a better vantage.
JC Chasez of NSYNC and Sean Foreman and Nathaniel Motte of Colorado-based3OH!3 then guested on a couple of songs from “Blow Up the Moon,” including the title track. Foreman actually went out into the crowd and started high-fiving audience members while singing, something Popper, whose voice had gotten very hoarse and was cracking even while talking between songs, seemed happy to let someone else do. In fact, Popper joked about having a singer of Chasez’s caliber on stage and how it made him look in comparison.
After a first encore of “The Mountains Win Again,” which Popper said was “for and by Mr. ‘Brooklyn’ Bob Sheehan,” the band’s original bass player who died in 1999, all the guests returned for a cover of Steve Miller’s “The Joker.” Popper once again passed on most of the vocal duties, preferring to let his lightning-quick harmonic riffs do the talking while Chasez, Foreman, Ramirez and Taylor Hanson handled most of the vocal duties.
Two openers got the crowd warmed up. First up was Hanson, which showed it aged well past its original bumble-gum pop hit “MmmBop,” melding excellent harmonies on “Penny & Me” and getting Popper out to jam on the closing “In the City.” Guster followed, and after a shaky start with “Long Night,” whose slow and moody pace put everyone back down in their seats, got the crowd going on “Barrel of a Gun.” Popper added some excellent harmonica fills and a solo on the hit “Satellite,” prompting singer Ryan Miller to say, “That’s like a Blues Traveler plug-in.”
Things Are Looking Up, Dropping Some NYC -> Crash Burn -> Dropping Some NYC, But Anyway, Castaway*, Vagabond Blues*, Run-Around, Top of the World^, What I Got*, Slow Change -> The Star Spangled Banner -> Slow Change, Cara Let the Moon, Carolina Blues, Hurricane#, Blow Up the Moon#, The Devil Went Down to Georgia, Hook, E: The Mountains Win Again, The Joker*^# -> Bye Bye Bye*^#
* with Rome Ramirez of Sublime
^ with Hanson
# with JC Chasez of NSYNC and Sean Foreman and Nathaniel Motte of 3OH!3
Long Night, Careful, The Captain, Doin It By Myself, Barrel of a Gun, Hang On, Come Downstairs and Say Hello, Do You Love Me, One Man Wrecking Machine, Never Coming Down, Manifest Destiny, Simple Machine, Demons, Satellite^, This Could Be All Yours
^ with John Popper on harmonica
I’ve Got Soul, Where’s the Love, Waiting for This, Been There Before, Penny & Me, This Time Around, Get the Girl Back, And I Waited, Minute Without You, MmmBop, In the City^,
^ with John Popper on harmonica