Some nights the elements just fall into place and a live show turns out far greater than the sum of its parts.
When Blues Traveler brought its tour to Cargo Concert Hall – occurring on the heels of a two-week string of canceled dates due to singer John Popper’s emergency spinal surgery – it was just such a night when the bands, the crowd and the venue hit just the right alchemy for the crescendo to reach a nearly palpable point inside the nearly-packed house.
Blues Traveler took the stage with frontman John Popper situated in front of a harmonica microphone, flanked by guitars, drums and keyboards. It opened with “The Devil Went Down To Georgia,” transitioning from the halfway point of the Charlie Daniels song and igniting what would be a mix of old and new Blues Traveler material with virtually not so much as even a break for air between them. Instead, what would otherwise be moments between songs were filled with drum or harmonica solos, which kept a resonant dance beat consistently through the performance, and the crowd pressed near the front of the floor took full advantage.
Mixing 1990s radio hit audience call-backs with Popper’s virtuosic and sometimes noodly harmonica sound, Blues Traveler’s musicians showed that, above all else, they were showmen, and Cargo’s mid-sized hall was the perfect venue for the diverse crowd that spanned the age spectrum, not to mention seeing suburbanites mix with the Street Vibrations motorcycle festival crowd. It’s worth noting that I’ve never seen a show where so many strangers would throw their arms around those next to them on the dancefloor, and while those in front of the stage danced and cheered wildly, there were couples engaged in a more ballroom-esque shuffle across the more-open space toward the back of the floor.
In another moment, in lieu of silence between songs, the band’s keyboard and guitar players graced the front of the stage joining keytar and cowbell solos, respectively, before a drum beat and bass hook summoned back Popper and one final push. After one of the few breaks in the momentum, and lots of thanking the crowd, the band resumed playing “The Devil Went Down To Georgia” from where it left off nearly an hour and a half earlier, replacing the song’s customary climax with Popper’s harmonica played with bleeding ferocity nearly note-for-note for that well-known guitar solo, all bringing on the roar of appreciative applause, before the house lights turned back on and the room was left to catch its breath after a great performance.
Openers, the Los Angeles-based four-piece Kat Myers and the Buzzards, wasted no time in winning over the crowd, with its starry-eyed twang performed through pirouetting guitars and smiles flashed across the stage at one another throughout the set.
The Buzzards, named after Myers’ hometown classic rock radio station, played with an energy that was fun to watch, while songs about insomnia and adolescent hedonism were delivered with a sun-touched glow and a catchy hook. While the band collectively had enough hair and 1970s influence to make the Cargo stage look like Topanga Canyon bathed in stage-lighting, the Buzzards ended their first Reno foray to raucous applause from the crowd.