The End of H.O.R.D.E.?

Blues Traveler - Natalie Merchant - Rusted Root

New World Music Theatre - Tinley Park

July 13, 1996

First Appeared in The Music Box, July/August 1996, Volume 3, #5

Written by John Metzger


Supposedly this summer's H.O.R.D.E. tour is Blues Traveler's final visit to the festival circuit. What an odd departure it was. The main stage featured Natalie Merchant, Rusted Root, Lenny Kravitz, and Blues Traveler. The second stage featured lesser known bands such as God Street Wine and Aquarium Rescue Unit. This stage also reflected the weakest music of the show. The third stage, a new addition to this year's tour, was a place for all the musicians to hang out and jam. The performances here varied from inspired percussion-driven numbers to rather boring rap-infused drudgery.

Natalie Merchant kicked off the main stage and put on a good show. The problem here, though, was that the sound sucked. At times, it was nearly impossible to hear her or her band. What sound did escape the walls of the pavilion section at the pitiful World Music Theater, was quite good. Merchant mixed in a few 10,000 Maniacs songs with material from her solo debut. She even tossed out a partial version of David Bowie's Space Oddity although most of the crowd could have cared less.

Rusted Root was up next on the main stage and once again, pulled out all the stops for one inspired performance. There were a number of newer songs that made the their way into the group's repertoire since last year, and the next album should be solid! Martyr and Send Me On My Way kicked off the set and had the audience up and dancing. Cruel Sun traveled to another plane of existence and Laugh as the Sun, Drum Trip, and Ecstasy brought everyone back home again.

Lenny Kravitz was amazing. His recorded material does little to capture the magnificence of his concerts. Kravitz is a masterful guitar player, and he knows how to captivate an audience. At one point, he actually left the stage and wandered through the crowd. The crowd was literally held enthralled with him, and their awe was justified.

Blues Traveler took the stage and boldly launched into a majestic version of Alone. It was long, drawn-out, and each note was deliberately played as the band created a masterpiece. This led nicely into Hook, a slightly different placement for the song which served it nicely. The pairing of Dropping Some NYC and Crash Burn flew past at lightning speed, with both songs getting a shorter treatment, perhaps due to time limitations. Then came But Anyway. The group has really done a lot with this song, and it is now reinvigorated and inspired in its newer arrangement. The middle jam is reminiscent of what the Grateful Dead has done so many times with the segue from Scarlet Begonias into Fire on the Mountain. Whoops followed But Anyway and John Popper delivered the vocals as if he were giving a sermon.

Until the release of its current album Four, Blues Traveler had ventured off into a harder, edgier sound, and often guitarist Chan Kinchla and bassist Bobby Sheehan would plow through one-style a very, hard-edged metal. This new outing, however, has found the band exploring other territories that had been forgotten since its first album.

Unfortunately, the show took a nose-dive into the Blues Traveler shows from the past. The band seemed to be trying to fit as many songs as it could into the little time it had left. Sure, the material was well-played with the exception of the audience-pleasing but incredibly boring Run Around. However, everything sounded the same. Oh, well: Alone, But Anyway, and Whoops made it all worthwhile.

With Blues Traveler departing from the H.O.R.D.E. festival, it will be interesting to see how this festival turns out. Perhaps the band's departure is for the better. There seemed to be 25,000 people there just to hear Run Around and only 5,000 there to hear the music. It might be time to trim down the show's popularity rating and get back to inspired musical performances.

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Copyright 1996 The Music Box