Vince Herman was in a van last week, somewhere in Northern California, on his way to a gig with Great American Taxi at John Lee Hooker’s Boom Boom Room in San Francisco. The gig was near the tail end of a stretch of late-year gigs Taxi had peeled off in support of Paradise Lost, the rumble-seat Americana outfit’s third CD in seven years.
Ever mindful of cheesy metaphors, we noted that Taxi had seemed to gain a lot of traction on the heels of last year’s Reckless Habits tour offers and generous radio spins, and we were surprised to see a follow-up so soon, especially given the ZIP code-blurring tour schedule these guys have kept up the last 18 months or so.
“Yeah,” Herman says, “I never could figure out how bands think that tours begin and end. For us, it’s just been constant. … But yeah, if I had my choice I’d be playing music every night, either on stage or at home. The only difference is, when you do it on stage, they give ya free beer.”
But the fact is, some tours don’t so much end as morph, and much of next year will find Herman fronting his other band, Leftover Salmon. Boulder’s most famous fish had been in a kind of amped-up reunion mode until last year, staging around eight to 10 shows annually. Not really a full-time franchise, not really away long enough or far enough for people to miss them…more like a fit-it-in-everyone’s-schedule project.
But it’s different this time. After a 2011 calendar of about 20 gigs, including technically the band’s first proper touring since 2004, Salmon wraps up a handful of area dates, and heads up to Portland to …
find, makes it feel real good again. And a he’s a ball to hang with, and just a phenomenal player.”
Climbing up onstage to channel the virtuosic madness of their best years from the mid-’90s is one thing, but Salmon as a recording franchise arrives at Steve Berlin’s studio more or less reset make a record. With Los Lobos keyboardist/reedman Steve Berlin in the production chair, Salmon is poised to cut its first recording of new material in almost a decade.
Herman is excited. “I am, definitely. I mean, you can only milk the reunion thing for so long, right?” he laughs. “But no, it was time to either shit or get off the pot with the Salmon thing, and y’know, we put a lot of miles and a lot of years into developing it, and we couldn’t just watch it go away kinda from attrition.
“It’s been great to get back into a big repertoire and those cool tunes and stuff, and just enjoying the hell out of playing together.”
Herman credits the addition of Andy Thorn, who assumed the banjo seat originally held by the late Mark Vann, for reinvigorating the band’s notorious failed-brakes live gig, coming onboard officially at the beginning of 2011 after playing a number of 2010 dates with the band.
“He’s just been a really great boost to the energy and the whole project. We kind of felt like we were missing a leg, once Mark passed. Andy has been a real to day one. Herman says the songwriting process is still deliberate, a few yards short of having a stack here for Taxi, a stack here for Salmon.
“There actually was one tune we were going to put on the Taxi record, but I deferred to Salmon; we didn’t give it quite the bluegrass treatment I thought that Salmon could. But really … there’s not a big batch of tunes layin’ around.
“I have been squeezing out a few more than usual lately,” Herman explains, “getting ready for the Taxi record and preparing for this, I’ve been trying to concentrate on it. And y’know, hanging with [songwriter and Taxi producer/collaborator Todd] Snider, and touring Texas and meeting all these great Texas songwriters, it’s really gotten me fired up to write songs.”
And with a new record (the release date, title and contents are all pretty much unknown), the band climbs back onto the bus for a projected 40 to 50 dates in 2012, double their stage time for 2011 and by far the most tread since they went on hiatus on New Year’s Eve in 2005.
“It’s great,” Herman says. “It feels fresh again.”
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Leftover Salmon plays the Ogden Theatre on Friday, Nov. 25, and Saturday, Nov. 26. Doors open at 7 p.m. Must be 16 to enter. Head For The Hills opens. Tickets are $32.25. 935 E. Colfax Ave., Denver, 303-830-2525.