Technically, Live from the Fall isn’t the first in-concert release by Blues Traveler. That would be On Tour Forever, a live bonus disc that was included with limited pressings of the group’s second album, Travelers and Thieves, and whose highlight was a 21-minute version of “Mountain Cry” featuring guitarist Carlos Santana. But where On Tour Forever was a taster, Live From the Fall is the full meal, nearly two and a half hours of songs and soloing by the mother of all H.O.R.D.E. bands. How long you feel like hanging with this program – to wit, whether you find Blues Traveler an organic-rock godsend or a flatulent bore – depends on how and when you first made their acquaintance. You could review Live From the Fall for two very different audiences – so I will.
Review 1: If you’ve been on the bus for a while, you believe that Blues Traveler are at their best when they’re kicking out the jams. Live From the Fall, therefore, is granola from heaven: great sound (better than those pricey CD bootlegs) and mammoth, woolly jams that go on longer than the Freemen standoff. The whole two-disc set has the loose, unbridled feel of a San Francisco ballroom hoedown circa 1967, particularly during a cooking 20-minute stretch like the extended version of “Go Outside and Drive” that interpolates War’s “Low Rider” and Beck’s “Loser” and breaks into a brisk instrumental race between Chan Kinchla’s guitar and John Popper’s harmonica. The band leans heavily on material from its self-titled debut (there’s a dynamite “Gina”) but picks judiciously from the other albums and tosses in a bluesy new rant (“Closing Down the Park”) that’s full of cranky energy and lots of vocal bile from Popper. Like Phish’s ’95 double-CD set, A Live One, Live From the Fall was made with hard-core fans in mind. Four stars.
Review 2: You got on the bus last year with Four, enticed by the succinct, breakthrough single “Run-Around.” Live From the Fall, with all its desultory jamming, may have you thinking about getting off. On the plus side, half the tunes are short and hot. “Love and Greed” and “New York Prophesie” (the twin peaks from Save His Soul) are searing, straight-ahead rockers, and the steamrolling versions of “But Anyway” and “Breakfast” pass party-tape muster. But too much of this album simply meanders. And you thought Canned Heat were long-winded. Two stars.
Summary: Let’s rate Live From the Fall right down the middle – with an extra half star for a strong work ethic and sticking to principles.