Boulder's Leftover Salmon doesn't play together very often these days -- but when they do, Vince Herman, Drew Emmitt, Greg Garrison, Bill McKay and Jeff Sipe are guaranteed to deliver a good time. The guys packed the Fillmore Auditorium on Halloween weekend, paying tribute to several greats of the past in song, but first, Vince Herman's Great American Taxi warmed up the crowd.
We made it there around 9:30 p.m., right when Great American Taxi was finishing up with Bob Dylan's "Rainy Day Woman No. 12 & 35." The stage was adorned with bodies and a backdrop with a disco ball at its center -- a hovering, Mars-like disco ball, with alienesque dancers beneath its glow. I counted at least five Waldos -- he was very easy to find that night -- before Leftover Salmon took the stage. As the DJ spun Michael Jackson's "Thriller," the band members shambled out to the applause, and Herman growled, "Are you zombies ready?" into the microphone. "We're gonna zombie out for a few hours, then head down Colfax."
They broke into a bluegrassy breakdown, with banjo and mandolin supporting one another, before Herman declared, "We gonna bring the funk." The next song, "Fire and Brimstone," opened with a Dead-reminiscent jam and a saxophone added in. "Ragtime Annie" was played with typical Appalachian nasal harmonies, furious mandolin and a zydeco edge.
Bill McKay took over vocalist duties for a spot-on cover of Warren Zevon's "Werewolves of London" before leading into a winning country/bluegrass number that involved Vince Herman donning a washboard over his chest and playing it with spoons. While Herman continued dominating the stage, he had some technical difficulties -- like the bottom of his platform shoe blowing out and requiring an emergency tape-up. Someone passed a giant "Leftover Barbie" pink box -- with a mountain scene painted on the inside -- up toward the stage, and Herman stepped inside the box, somehow strumming his guitar while his shoulders were trapped inside. That's skill.
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We were treated to "Zombie Jamboree" (of course), which led into drums and back into "Zombie Jamboree" before the band took a set break and the costume-contest entrants filled the stage. The second set opened with a cover of Lipps Inc's "Funkytown," played with a zydeco twist, and an almost-tropical number utilizing what sounded like a xylophone and prominent sax.
"You can feel it in the air tonight, can't you?" Herman asked, before Drew Emmitt took over lyrical duties for the next number, which was followed by a real treat -- Bonnie Paine and Bridget Law of Elephant Revival (which was playing the Leftover after-party at Pete's Monkey Bar) joined Salmon on stage for a while. "I love Colorado and the music scene," Herman stated, and they played "We Are Family" with Paine singing vocals and Law playing the fiddle.
This was followed by another cover -- this time, the Neville Brothers' "Voodoo" -- and another, perhaps the most fun of the night: Pink Floyd's "Welcome to the Machine." They played "Lick It" and ended on a bluegrass note, leaving the stage, then coming back for an encore, which included a rockabilly version of Led Zeppelin's "Rock & Roll" leading into a big rock ending and incorporating strains from "The Star Spangled Banner" and "God Save the Queen." True to his word, once the encore was over, Herman led a string of people out the front doors of the Fillmore for a parade down Colfax.
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal Bias: I'm not much of a jam-band fan, but Salmon won me over with technical skill, song variety and sheer good energy. By the Way: Leftover Barbie -- who loaned Vince Herman her box for a little bit in the first act -- was in the costume contest; when everyone else got one set of audience applause to gauge their popularity, she got two. But it still wasn't enough to beat the winner of the contest, a flawless fish -- a salmon, perhaps? Random Detail: Unfortunately, there was some sound difficulty when Bonnie and Bridget joined the boys on stage -- I couldn't hear the Paine's vocals or Law's fiddle until over halfway through the song. It didn't help that one of the fire alarms kept wailing incessantly during this particular stretch of the show.