It didn’t quite turn into a Leftover Salmon show Friday night at the Gothic Theatre, but it wasn’t too far off. With Drew Emmitt on the bill, as well as Vince Herman’s Great American Taxi, it was probably bound to happen, and it was joyous to see Emmitt and Herman lock into a groove during the third set of a nearly four-hour show.
Both Emmitt and Herman were backing up Todd Snider, whose sly vocal delivery and combination of political protest and humor makes you laugh and cry at the same time.
The Drew Emmitt Band, which included guitarist Tyler Grant, banjo player Andy Thorn, and bassist Greg Garrison, kicked off the evening’s festivities, leaning heavily on Emmitt’s love of bluegrass while mixing in some off-the-wall covers. Emmitt’s lineup included two electric guitars, two acoustic-electric mandolins, an electric mandolin and a violin; all of which he adeptly rotated through during the set.
Emmitt touched on his catalog from both Leftover Salmon and the Left Hand String Band, finding a groove early on “Midnight Blues” and shredding his classic “Get Me Out of This City.” All of his songs served as a platform for extended jamming by Emmitt, Grant and Thorn, with each handing off solos to the other. Grant used a wah to great effect on a reggae/bluegrass version of Supertramp’s “Take the Long Way Home.”
Snider, backed by Great American Taxi, took his basic folk songs into a rock direction. Stepping onto the stage backed by a Bo Diddley beat, he turned his spoken word piece of “Is This Thing Working?” into a rock rave-up.
While Snider may like to downplay his abilities, at one even point saying, “It’s because I know three chords and my words rhyme,” he deftly touched on his musical influences, especially Jerry Jeff Walker on “Doublewide Blues.”
Political commentary was served up in spades, particularly on “The Ballad of the Kingsmen,” in which Snider pokes fun at the obsession with whether the Kingsmen’s version of “Louie Louie” was dirty, then turning it around by tracing that fear of lyrics through to Marilyn Manson and Eminem.
Not to be outdone by Emmitt’s cover of “Meet Me in the Morning,” Snider ripped it up on the Dylan classic “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry,” with Great American Taxi guitarist Jim Lewin taking a sweet solo. Snider closed the first set with his brilliant “Conservative Christian, Right Wing, Republican, Straight, White, American Males,” which sends up the divisive politics of extremism.
After a short break, Snider came back out with almost everyone who had been on stage during the night. Lewin and Grant backed up Emmitt on the opening “White Freightliner Blues,” while Herman and Snider, strumming acoustic guitars, sported perma-grins. The combo hit a stride on rocking versions of old Salmon classics “Booboo” and “Pasta on the Mountain,” a ridiculously over-the-top version of “Fire on the Mountain.”
Snider took the lead on sultry, sloppy version of “Dead Flowers,” making the Gothic more like a honky tonk than a theater.