Blues Traveler brought their 30 Year Anniversary Tour to Portland, Oregon’s Crystal Ballroom on Saturday, November 11th for a blues-rock blowout celebrating the band’s three decades of hard-charging creativity.
Los Colognes was enlisted to open the show, and proved to be a solid choice for revving up the jam-packed crowd. The Nashville quintet, consisting of Jay Rutherford (vocals, guitar), Aaron Mortenson (drums, vocals), Gordon Persha (bass), Micah Hulscher (keys), and Chuck Foster (keys), make no apologies for drawing forth the sounds of late 70s and 80s radio jams to serve as the foundations for their musical adventures.
“Backseat Driver” from 2015’s Dos had an undercurrent of Dire Straits and Brent Mydland-era Grateful Dead, while “Man Over Bored” from latest release The Wave, was held together with a brooding Pink Floyd style groove. While Los Colognes’ compositions are imbued with some of the sounds of decades past, they aren’t a throwback band. They are just very adept at drawing listeners into their own musical aura through songs underpinned with something that’s vaguely familiar. They closed the set with a powerful version of Bob Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.”
Taking the stage to the Team America: World Police anthem “America, Fuck Yeah!”, Blues Traveler got down to business amid cheers from the sold-out crowd. Early in the set, a “NY Prophesie” from 1993 album Save His Soul really got things moving and set the pace for the rest of the evening. Three decades deep, John Popper and band – Chan Kinchla (guitar), Tad Kinchla (bass), Brendan Hill (drums) and Ben Wilson (keys) – sounded as cohesive and powerful as ever as they worked through songs spanning their storied career.
John Popper’s iconic on-stage stance — head leaned back, eyes closed, belting out lyrics aimed toward the heavens — was a welcome sight for longtime fans. Of course, those lyrics mostly led into ripping, intricate harmonica solos. The other members of the band each had some time in the spotlight, given time to solo and show off their instrumental chops. These short solos inevitably led into a full-band jam. A bass solo, for instance led into a cover of the Charlie Daniels Band’s “The Devil Went Down To Georgia,” with Popper wielding his harp as replacement for Daniels’ fiddle. Los Colognes’ Jay Rutherford came out and played guitar for a song, trading head-to-head licks with Popper’s harmonica.
In all, Blues Traveler celebrated 30 years as a band by doing what they do best. They played a solid show that focused on their songs, but they weren’t afraid to go out on a limb and improvise, seeming to enjoy it as much as the crowd did. Whether playing a new song or keeping fans on their toes with an expansive “But Anyway” jam, Blues Traveler proved that they are still worthy of bearing the torch for jamming rock ‘n blues artists.