The Scene: The crowd at the Fox filled in later than I expected as the opener, Natalie Walker, didn’t really draw in a following for her short set. Once news of her departure from the stage spread across the hill, the room began to fill up with a typical crowd of former Phish Heads from Boulder, Denver and beyond, and a healthy dose of CU Boulder students who were staying on campus for the summer.
By the time McConnell took the stage with his band the room was all but packed and it erupted with cheering and applause for the former Phish keyboard player. The inevitable super fan was front and center and dancing his ass off arms in the air and hair flailing. It was distracting from where I was standing more than 25 feet from him, I can’t imagine how the people immediately around him felt.
As I was leaving toward the end of the night I practically ran into Vince Herman of Leftover Salmon & Great American Taxi who was relaxing in the Lobby enjoying a beer and conversation. It is always nice to see local musicians supporting others as they tour through the area.
Opener: Natalie Walker. Walker has a beautiful voice but unfortunately each song that she sang sounded all but the same. Her ethereal folky sound was in the vein of Tori Amos or possibly Beth Orton but it didn’t live up to the grandeur of either one. Perhaps it was because she was playing with a stripped down version of her band (only guitar and keys) or perhaps her music just didn’t connect with me. Either way it did seem to be an odd choice to open for McConnell.
Page McConnell: McConnell and his band took the stage at nearly 10:30 to the delight of the packed house and launched right into the second track from his recent eponymous solo album, “Heavy Rotation.” The crowd was immediately into it, singing along with McConnell’s trademark sing-song style.
Over the course of the 2 hour set McConnell showcased every song from the recent album and served up a heaping plateful of well executed covers as well. He touched on 80’s avant garde rock with early in the set when he broke into The Talking Heads “Memories Can’t Wait” and then later in the set hit us with the 1-2-3 punch of a rocked out version of Bunny Wailer’s “Walk The Proud Land,” The Commodores instrumental funk gem “Machine Gun,” and the Elvis Costello classic “Pump It Up.” It was a great way to the rev up the crowd after a slower middle to the show.
Thoughout the night McConnell seemed to be thoroughly enjoying himself. It was the last night of a six week coast to coast tour and the band was in great form. They were trading solos around the stage all night and though McConnell was obviously the leader of the band it was clear he was careful to select a group of musicians that complemented his style very well.
The band closed out the main set with “Beauty of a Broken Heart,” the opening track on the album and song that no doubt reflects on the feelings surrounding his recent divorce. It was a bittersweet ending to a strong set but it brought the crowd back to earth and reminded them that the man they were there to see has a tender and emotional side that is apparent on the new album.
Unfortunately I didn’t stick around for the extended encore as it was already well past midnight and I had to make the drive back down to Denver, but from all reports the three songs were crowd pleasers and ended with a rousing version of The Rolling Stones “Monkey Man,” to bid the crowd, and the tour, farewell.
Setlist: Heavy Rotation, Close to Home, Memories Can’t Wait, Back in the Basement, Complex Wind, Runaway Bride, Final Flight, Everyone But Me, Maid Marian, Walk the Proud Land, Machine Gun, Pump it Up, Beauty of a Broken Heart
Encore: Crew Introductions, Strange Design*, Rules I Don’t Know, Monkey Man
* Page Solo
Stage Presence: A-
Set/Light Show: A-