Alive at Five has outgrown itself at Albany’s Riverfront Park. That’s for certain, based on Thursday night’s Blues Traveler show. The aisles and walkways were packed solid, foot travelers had to find their own paths through the lawn crowd, and often the traffic stopped cold.
The new drinking rules did little to keep the crowd sober and while beer cans of all brands were probably scarcer than last year, they were persistently visible in hands and on the ground.
Still, the show went off without a hitch, as usual, with Blues Traveler scoring high for those that paid attention to the music.
They opened with Charlie Daniels’ “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” a staple of their shows, and an odd match at first blush. But the song is a good vehicle to show their musical prowess, giving us the first glimpse of John Popper on harmonica. Popper is a freak with that instrument, playing it like no one else I can think of. He’s also fun to watch sing, particularly when he’s going for it, which he invariably was Thursday night.
They hit quickly “Run-Around” only minutes into the show, an odd move since they had nothing as strong after that. (Their promo material boasts that the song is the longest charting song in Billboard history. Hmmm.) It’s a great song and did all it’s supposed to do for an outdoor show.
After that, the biggest responses of the show came from their cover songs, like Cheap Trick’s “I Want You to Want Me,” the second half of the Charlie Daniels song that came around as part of jam, and a speedy version of Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler.”
But their best stuff was their own, of course. “Yours” marked the most intense moments of the show, Chan Kinchla displaying beautiful guitar work in his solo and behind Popper’s vocals. Ben Wilson was given some time on piano, and for the second time of the set, the band seemed tightest when it performed as a trio with Wilson leading the way.
While they are a dance band first, they spent some time soaking themselves in funky, heavy jams that moved from Stevie Ray Vaughn feels to shades of Phish. Popper doesn’t bend his style of harmonica to the tune but blows his unique sound straight through at a thousand notes a minute, and makes perfect sense to the casual listener.
There was much to dance to as well, like the jumpy and happy “Optimistic Thought.”
While they didn’t keep everyone happy — Who can at a free concert jammed with revelers keen on jump-starting their wild night? — they successfully entertained the core inner crowd for 90 minutes.
Jim Weider, who took Robbie Robertson’s role in The Band for a number of years, opened the show with his Project Percolator. They delivered a true jam-band set, the kind their fans drool over in a club; at the outdoor show, the back half of the audience used the time to settle in. A great instrumental version of “The Weight” highlighted their show.
The song strayed into a lengthy jam, riffing on phrases deep inside the classic tune that you never knew existed. They pushed their newest release a little, “Pulse,” with the song “No Exit Strategy.” Everyone in the group was skilled and cool. Weider is an upstate New York guy, so keep an eye out for him around the region. He’s worth seeing.