Sometimes, even in the middle of the week, you can have a perfect evening.
First, your baseball team shuts out the opposing team in a sudden-death playoff. That’s right, the Chicago Cubs defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates 4-0 to advance to the National League Divisional Series. Cubs’ ace pitcher Jake Arrieta shut down the Pirates’ offense, holding them to just four hits and extending his scoreless streak to 31 innings. He is simply the best pitcher in baseball right now. And all those worries about the Cubs’ rookies folding under the pressure of the playoffs? That didn’t happen either. So for the first time since 2003, the Cubs have won a playoff game. For a long-suffering Cubs’ fan like WC, that win alone would have made an excellent evening.
But the evening was just getting started. Next WC and Mrs. WC attended a Blues Traveler concert.
It’s true that there were two opening bands. The first a local Boise band that is an okay-not-great garage band. The second was a promising but still pretty green band called Matt Jaffe and the Distractions that is travelling with and opening for Blues Traveler. When WC calls them “green,” he means that three of the four band members are still too young to legally drink alcohol. Jaffe shows some promise, in a David Byrne sort of way. Both sets ran a couple of songs too long.
And it’s also true the venue was The Knitting Factory, which is a bar that features live music. And the problem with a bar is that there are always clowns in front of you who want to talk – shout, really; this is a rock concert – about their fantasy league football team, or their woman woes, instead of enjoying the music. It’s a mystery to WC how someone can spend serious money for tickets and then ignore the music.
But they were mosquitoes in a beautiful wilderness; annoyances in the face of one of the best live bands on the planet. Blues Traveler, for those who have been living under a rock, was organized in 1987 and tours constantly. They’ve had Top 40 hits, including “The Hook,” but they are best known for their live shows. Guitarist Chan Kinchla, drummer Brendan Hill, bassist Tad Kinchla and keyboardist Ben Wilson back vocalist and harmonica player John Popper, who may be the best living blues harp player. He’s not good; he is astonishing, even more impressive on the band’s signature jams than he sounds on the band’s recordings.
Blues Traveler live does more than play their hits and their new releases. They weave those songs into a kind of acoustic tapestry, segueing between songs, putting parts of a song in the middle of another song, and bracketing one song around others. They all did extended leads, and there were some very impressive chops on display. But as good as they are, they’d just be a rock and roll band without Popper, who is stunningly good as both a vocalist and a harmonica player.
But as utterly amazing as Popper was, and he is a musician you really must see if you ever get the chance, it was the structure of the set list that still amazes WC. As just one example, about a third of the way into the set the band segued into “The Devil Came Down to Georgia,” with very nice solos from Kinchla and Wilson. You knew, just knew, that Popper was going to do Johnny’s response on the mouth harp. But he didn’t; the band moved on instead to other songs, closing the show with “The Hook.” For their encore, they gave us “Mountains Win Again,” and then segued seamlessly back into the close of “Devil.” And Popper did not disappoint.
Also in there were a lovely ballad from Popper, an extended drum solo that scored an 8 or 9 on a 1 to Levon Helm, and some really lovely vocal harmonies. An outstanding show. WC has attended a lot of concerts (and has the hearing loss to prove it) and this show would be on the short list of ten or so best live concerts he has seen.
So that’s all you need for a perfect mid-week evening: have your baseball team advance in the playoffs and see a live Blues Traveler concert.