Coming off the Philly show, which was an absolute HEATER, I thought I was prepared for DC. I was wrong. I am not sure what, if anything, could have prepared me for the energy and intensity that was about to unfold.
The 9:30 Club has a rich history within our community and this being my first visit, I was impressed. The layout of the club is comfortable for its size and the sound quality was very good. I could see right away why it is considered DC’s go-to venue for both artists and fans alike. There is plenty of floor space and a very spacious balcony. I am usually a Red side floor guy (about 20 feet back so that I can take in the lights), but my show buddy, Amanda, convinced me that this would be a balcony worthy performance and she was correct! We settled in on the balcony rail, Red side, ready to take flight.
The opening band, Of Tomorrow, attracted an early crowd with their high-energy funk-driven set which turned out to be a great warm up as the crowd filled in. I spoke to the head of security 15 minutes before Spafford took the stage about the club’s capacity and he told me that they were close to their limit of 1200 and that he expected that they would have to stop selling tickets before too long. I’m not sure that Spafford’s rise within the scene can be described as meteoric, and I am not sure that I want it to be (selfishly), but I do know that this is BIG. In less than a year the band has doubled the size of their venue in a city known for appreciation of good jams and it was a PACKED HOUSE!
Double Time opened the show and it was a BIG hitter out of the gates. True to its name, this tune sped up and I found myself squinting to make sure that Spafford hadn’t added a drummer or two since I last saw them perform the night before in Philly….Cam was destroying that kit and Brian’s playing was reflecting all of that percussive energy while building into a heated rage.
Lovesick Melody was up next and Jordan took the mic ready to impress. It was fun to watch the crowd join in on the sing a long “whoa oh oh”. Red and Brian played off of one another perfectly as Jordan stretched his pipes in a direction that made it clear that he was ready to have fun. It was in the slow jam two thirds of the way into the song that the lights hit me for the first time that night. This club was built for sick-ass lighting design and this tour is bringing lighting production to a new level.
The transition into Soil was smooth and funky and the beginning minutes of the jam were placed on a silver platter for Red to really open up for the first time in the show. As the momentum built the lights went white (and who doesn’t LOVE it when the lights go white?!?) for the first time and not only was the size of the crowd made cleared, but it’s energy as well. The final minutes of Soil were home to some blistering guitar playing and the fans ate it up!
One of the prettiest songs that Red sings (in my humble opinion) was up to set a new groove. I am so glad that they brought Too Close back. This right here is baby making music folks and I felt justified in my opinion that you’d be hard-pressed to find a prettier voice in our scene than that of Andrew “Red” Johnson. Soulful and patient, the overall vibe of this one fit perfectly. It isn’t often that a down tempo song hits the highlight reel on the first set for me but this thing melted me!
What happened next can only be described as defying written description (but I’ll try). Debuts are fun. I love debuts. Hell, I got one of the hottest debuts I’ve ever heard in Philly with Comfortable. What came to be was a debut for the ages. Dirt Bath is the reason I have attached myself to this approach to live music for the decades that I have. With about 37 separate and distinct parts as near as I could tell (if that is an exaggeration, it’s not a big one), this thing took on a life of its own with all 4 members of the band shining brightly throughout. Dirt Bath has a very bright future and is a very worthy way to spend about 25 minutes of your life. Your future self will thank you.
Set break was full of chatter about that closer and genuine attempts at figuring out what the hell had just happened in Washington DC. As we poured ourselves out into the chill air to try and catch our breaths there were high fives, hugs, and smiles abound. THAT was a good time! Hineys were shakin’ and we were ready to be pushed harder still before night's end.
Jordan jumped to the lead for Lonely. I love a good dancer to open the second set and this is a fun one to dance to. I love the breakdowns in this song. Lights were getting even better as though the plan was to create total visual intensity and the plan was working! The 9:30 Club was breathing and it felt GOOD! From my balcony position that place was moving and the energy, both on stage and off, was amazing.
Second set staple All My Friends took off strong and….
Turned into Bee Jam. Even a small dose of AMF is better than no dose at all and the transition into Bee Jam was so good! Red got extra weird in the final moments and it went so hard! As it built and built until it could be taken no further safely...
WEASEL!!!!! One of my favorite second set Spafford songs and this thing definitely had the attention of the crowd. Brian’s playing was exceptional and he and Red were playing off each other perfectly. Two thirds into the song, when it really starts to rage again the lights went a step further with the background lighting going crazy!
At the first notes from Red on Longview, I looked to my right and told my friend that as soon as the place realizes what’s happening, its gonna take off! And it did….BIG TIME. Familiarity often brings another level to a crowd and this crowd went nutty. They kill this song and tonight was no exception…110% rocker dissected and reassembled into pure Spaffy goodness. It got weird and rocked out all at the same time…A thing this band does VERY well.
Home (One Place I’ll Never be) was a brave call after a face melter like they just played. It was unique and I’d only ever heard the 12/30/18 version a couple of times but I had a lot of fun with it. And it made the shift in energy right away into Salamander Song that much more exciting…I will NEVER EVER complain about seeing this song live. I get DOWN with my sick-ass dance moves to Salamander every time I hear it…and it always inspires singing and dancing the whole way home. The DC crowd was clearly matching the energy from the stage as Brian got deep into rock star mode. The entire band was having a great time and it translated right out into that massive dance party of an audience.
What a way to end that second set. Massive energy had that club anxious for just a little bit more. It was getting late but I was hoping for a heater of an encore. I was expecting maybe a little 6 minute ditty.
What Spafford delivered was a 25 minute one-two punch of It’s A Bunch>Mind’s Unchained. There was so much going on during this amazing take on these two songs. This beast ROCKED and I loved seeing and hearing it in that kick ass venue. They RAGED that encore with total abandon. There was big space in this and some of the finest improvisation and musical communication I’ve heard and seen these guys play.
There are amazing musical adventures yet to come on this tour but I hope this early stand out doesn’t get lost as these guys continue to get better and better. One thing is for sure…Washington DC got an honest taste of what Spafford is all about. You can always turn people on to a highlight real if that’s your thing… but if you want to share what we love about this band on a stronger level than that, share this show!!! The Aud recordings of this show are excellent in addition to its availability on Nugs.net. It is well worth a serious listen.
Thank you all who were there and those that weren’t for sharing in this incredible band with me! It’s always a hoot!
P.S. I’d like to formally apologize for fan-boying all over Brian’s face as he slipped into the back stage area just before the show. Containing my excitement about the previous nights show was not an option. Do yourself a favor and go listen to the debut original Red song Comfortable as soon as possible. Thanks for being cool to a total NERD.
Photo Credits: Philip Nohe & Amanda Anderson
Your trip starts with a drive down the interminally long-feeling Turnpike with sunset in the direction of Philly toward which you cruise under high cirrostratus canvases splashed with quiet flames of exquisite light that must be either magical or chemical in nature. It is a homecoming of sorts to a place of vivid remembered experiences rather than a residence of past inhabitance. Long ago nights cruising into the lights and shadows of the colonial capital in chiaroscuro to visit friend (RIP) and ex-girlfriend (LIP), your side-panel speakers shaking with the hot hot music the hot music.
The bar around the corner according to @dontjudgedave is a proximal, commendable dive. You sit there and drink with Todd who sythesizes music as Great Fox - check out Roll Up A Tract for some funky apostasy. The fine folks from Trestle Inn flip egg whites in their sours, line whiskies along their mirrors, and dim lights for happy hours.
Roll out down dark block. Enter the chamber and Transfer into Union with other nerds for Out of the Beardspace. Seven pieces of awesome. Big prog-fusion sounds. Two drums, one percussion, two six-strings, bass, eighty-eight keys and then some. Check them out and their South Jersey Beardfest. Along the rail line up Cam side slam side with the NE Crew, NY crew to exchange tales of recent days and nights of flame from Spafford. Get warm to Headhunters as anticipation rides the crest of energy awakening in bodies. Here come four illustrious shapes onto the stage and a change in house music. Yesssss!
To rock the mic
My only show of winter tour, I was hoping for things I hadn’t heard and hard jams. Philly did not disappoint from the get-go.
My first live Memphis In the Meantime was a 20-minute slow cook. Jordan owns the Tennessee vocals. It was a strong even jam backed by Cam. Brian does some shredding, of course, but Jordan leads on bass most of the way allowing Brian and Red to play around him. 8-9 minutes on becomes one of the highlight sequences of the show with the boys digging into a deep groove. Cam wins MVP when he drops the tempo and then switches on the “SLOW UNNNNNNTZ” as @crappygeorge announces with his face all twisted up like he just smelled some filthy doodoo. Red starts to lick People (so to speak) with some six minutes to go before the fadeout is complete and it’s
People time! Red drops the vocals and everyone is dancing and looking around at their friends and feeling freaky good. I receive a wave of Nerd love from @603Brett then Red takes an early solo. When the band steps back in the Ben Factor is in full infrared effect as Brian hits the first peak before Spafford brings the song to its romping terminus.
With scarcely a second to catch your breath, the boys launch into Virtual Bean… oh, wait a minute, that’s not what actually happened. Up next is Fuel. While there is a precipitous drop in the room’s physical energy with the opening notes, Brian is greeted with enthusiastic cheers of love and appreciation from the crowd as he hits the first chorus of a clean, crisp, uplifting, three-minute palette cleanser. (Folks, you’re going to need to save some energy for later. Trust the Spafford.)
Photo Credit: Ron Adelberg
The opening keys of thieves begin to jingle. The room responds to Red in kind and gets ready to rock. The band brings a tight In the Eyes of Thieves jam, as usual, and Jordan and Cam (more cowbell!) really start to pick it up about 7 minutes in. Brian responds the only way he knows how by slowly steadily building tensions upon tensions on his fret board like the world is about to end. Then the boys settle back into the song for a bit and follow Jordan into another jam before a sweet little untz-lite ending.
I am thrilled to hear the opening notes of the third-ever Settled In. I love this Radiohead-esque song that blossoms from a breathtakingly beautiful love poem into a nasty hellfire jam with a guitar peak that would make David Gilmour weep. If this song was a tattoo I would get it on my face in an impulse move right now. Big ups to Chris Imburgia for taping this show and capturing the berserk hornmad crowd at the end.
Pretty awesome first set. Perfect time for a little break.
With masterful set-list wizardry, Spafford opens set deux with The Reprise, completing the legendary second-set-opening America from the last time they were in Philly some 18 moons ago. This long-awaited fin delivers mightily. I occasionally look over my shoulder from Cam side slam side to watch the entire hall of nerds go crazy. Let me put on my Captain Obvious pants for just a moment here and say that all these tapes and soundboards are amazing, but there is just no comparison to the boys turned up to 11. Brian is wearing a Dead Skull shirt and the first 20 minutes of this jam have that kind of a feel to me. Red wins MVP for the last eight minutes or so as he colors over Cam riding the high-hat hard. Then the jam slows and fades into...
Photo Credit: Ron Adelberg
Hard Way. Debuted just a few days prior, this song has easy-swaying reggae and lyrical verses punctuated by heavy latin-flecked instrumental breaks. I liked it more in person than I did listening to the debut recording. Everybody sounded good on it. Feels, perhaps, a bit unfinished at this point but plenty of potential.
Spafford is King of the Cover, IMHO, and I was thrilled to catch the second-ever Dirty Laundry. When they take a break from jamming (as earlier with Fuel) to play a song cleanly, I am struck by their poise and virtuosity. This song kicks ass and even when he fumbled the lyrics for a measure, Red unified the party with his brilliant vocals on this one.
Already 45 minutes into the set, I had no idea there was another 45 minutes ahead before the boys’ first bow.
Leave The Light On was up next. While this was a song I had burned out on a little bit, Jordan has brought some incredible new energy to it and his early bass solos the last two performances have been insane. Out of that solo Red brings a big Feeling into the room and the first jam soars to great heights. Jam #2 after the happy doot-doots follows its normal wavelengths and caps off in a blistering Brian solo and final chorus with the entire crowd leaping 10 feet in the air and singing along.
Photo Credit: Ron Adelberg
I love when I hear that opening train beat and know I’m heading to Hollywood. This song is another prime example of Spafford’s uncanny ability to write catchy, deeply moving songs, hitch an audience up, and take everyone to unknown jammy places. Probably my jam of the night, this one flowers euphorically for a while before lacing across the sky like electrical current and whipping up a frenzied storm as Brian and Cam egg each other on. At some point I’m pretty sure I caught Brian mouth to Cam “faster” and Cam rages the jam right into the segue of the night >
Ain’t That Wrong. Cam explodes us into the song, which is fitting because I remember thinking during his first few months in the line-up that this was his go-to song. Between the 4-5min mark Brian starts playing with an effect that I’ve been hearing more of during this run… another time I recall is during Buffalo Tots (around the 11min mark.) I wish he had explored the theme a little longer here because it is a cool-ass sound, but no complaints as Cam and Jordan speed it up and turn the place into a full-on dance party to ride the rest of the set out.
The crowd is all growls and applause and the attempt to articulate the preceding 90minutes to one’s show neighbors is nigh impossible.
OOOOoooooooeeeeeeEEEEEE! For encore, I witness my first-ever Spafford debut with a 6-minute Comfortable. This feel-good song is the opposite of Numb with Red warmly delivering the keys and vocals as the boys lay rim shots and rhythm guitar and a gripping bass hook to keep it moving along the whole time.
Many of us were waiting and calling for more debuts and more varied setlists... we must have been good little Nerds in 2018 cuz we've hit pay dirt so far in 2019. Thank you Spafford. Thank you Nerds. See you soon.
Photo Credit: Ron Adelberg
What a show. Perfect way to start the Winter Tour.
I've been a nerd for a short time now, but ever since I saw the boys at the House of Blues in Chicago this past year I can't stop listening to these guys jam.
I'm from the Chicagoland area so I was not familiar with the venue in Indy. However, some of my best friends live in downtown Indy and they are nerds as well... shoutout to @TrippinTerrapin and @SleepyGary. I met up with these dudes a few hours before the show and, trust me, we prepared accordingly ;)
The pre-show jitters were in full effect as we arrived at The Vogue and made our way to the third or fourth row just as the second opener The Twin Cats was finishing their set. These dudes were actually pretty good and had a real crisp galactic sound as they tuned up our ears and got us ready for the main event.
The volume goes up on the rap hype music, i'm pretty sure the boys like to pump themselves up before heading out there because this music had my head boppin, and then the band came out to a thunderous applause that shook the venue...
It started as a beautify melody that had me swaying from side to side with the rest of the crowd and really eased the soul as the crowd and the band began to get Settled In. The song would slowly pick up and before you knew it Brian was full out shredding on his guitar, Jordan was destroying his bass, Red was hammering the keys like a madman, and Cameron was keepin it moving on the drums. Once the song ended a wave of excitement swept the crowd as many had never heard the song before, including myself. I learned after the show that the only time they played it before was this past year on Halloween.
Right into Plans. This is where my mind really began to take flight as this song is always super intense and a load of fun. Brian wasted no time belting out some gut-wrenching guitar licks and the band really got into a nice groove that got the whole crowd movin' to the beat.
FUCK YES!!!! If you were there you probably heard me shout this as soon as the unmistakable melody of It's A Bunch rang from Brian's guitar. In my opinion, one of their best songs. I absolutely love this song, I heard it once before as the first song of the night for the second day at House of Blues. It just makes you feel so good inside. I could tell everyone around me was having a great time and had that same feeling of excitement and happiness inside of them as we all looked like a flock of head-boppin Joe Darts (Vulfpeck reference).
After IAB they went right into On Fire. I love when they cover this song, it is always a good time and was a good way to catch a breath and enjoy some much needed funky grooves after some hardcore jamming. I think it was around this time when we met some other nerds in the audience shoutout to @murphnerd27 and his buddy who is also a nerd but I didn't get his username. They gave us some awesome "I'm Killing It" stickers with Hulk Hogan on them that I added to my collection on my dart board at home, we stuck with these nerds for the rest of the show. While I was trying to find other nerds in the audience I was handed a plastic Bee that looked like it was made out of glued beads or something haha. I was so lost in the music at this point I don't even remember who handed it to me, but I rocked out with that Bee in my hands for the rest of the show and still have it at home.
Shake You Loose was the final song of the first set and everyone was really movin' to this tune. I love the heavy blues feel and singing along with the crowd. Once the song was over we were on a quest for water in preparation of what was to come in set 2.
The second set kicked off with In The Eyes Of Thieves and I was sucked right back in to where I left off. Things really got started though when they went into covering Catfish John. All the heads in the audience went absolutely nuts when they started playing this folk classic. One of the heads was a older Native American looking guy with a GD tee on. We started talking to this guy after the song and found out he was going to be in the Pit with us at Alpine Valley for Phish this summer. We told him to party on and hoped to see him and his buddies in the trenches this summer at Phish.
No one in our group had heard them play Electric Taco Stand before and as it should be it has always been one of our all time favorites. Once they started groovin' to this song everyone was singing along and the energy was at an all time high for the night. What was even better is that it ended up being a tasty sandwich with Dis Go In 5? as the juicy center. The funky hippie dance party as I like to call it was an all out banger from now until the end of the night. The set ended with a first-time played which I was super hyped to be a part of. The song is called Hard Way. It had a really funky beat and a relaxing reggae feel to it that was coupled with Red jamming away with a sexy organ sound.
I was telling my friends before the show started that my favorite Spafford song at the time is Slip and Squander. I was so pumped when they came back on stage and Red began to play and sing the beautiful tune. I love how it starts soft and slow and melodic and builds to a dramatic and heartfelt jam. I was really getting into this song and never wanted it to end.
A couple weeks ago Spafford sent out an IG post about Brian playing Salamander Song. I left a comment asking them to please play this song in Indy. Either it was a super coincidence or Spafford really cares about and listens to their fans. I would like to think the latter. But they ended the night with this song and it was perfect. Everyone was dancing on the water, listening to the beat drop, and flopping their feet to their favorite song.
It truly was a fantastic tour opener. Everyone we met was so nice and there were a lot of real fans that brought it to Indy. Can't wait to see these guys again.
I was dancing the whole way home.
Obligatory, I was there but no one wrote a review, so I will comment. I am writing this 2.5 months removed from the show so if I embellish or forget, oops. Also I am writing this 2 days removed from a major birthday and am looking forward to the tour opener in Minneapolis so to quote Minnesota’s favorite son: “I was dreaming when I wrote this, forgive me if I go astray…”. I may or may not be in full control of all my memory of this show.
Saturday November 10th found us waking up groggy after having just seen the best performance that Spafford has offered to date. It’s hard to argue with the openers Midnight North, but the sit-in Karl Denson, you have to be kidding me! I was still sort of elated that we got treated to that!
A short drive up from Solana we hit Los Angeles and I was told it was a pretty historic piece of road, the Pacific Coast Highway! California is beautiful year round but an easy Sunday stroll up the PCH was almost relaxing and I don’t know if you can say that for any driving in California! We checked into the Mayfair Hotel and then started co-ordinating with all the nerds that we knew that were going to the show. We had stayed here last year and were somewhat disappointed that it was under construction, but the renovations were complete and it was a beautiful art deco hotel with a breathtaking lobby and lobby bar all restored to its 1926 glory! Most importantly, a 2 minute walk to the venue. (pictured is the view from the room and as an inside joke, there is a hair dryer in that bag that has been to 6 cities for Spafford shows in at least as many states and guess how many times it’s been used! Zero.
As a good nerd I had arranged a meet up at a bar down the street so we settled in and got ready for the evening of music and hanging with nerds. Quick pointer, if you plan a meet up, make sure that the bar and or venue you plan on meeting up at will be open. Turns out the bar I had picked doesn’t open until 10p and I was fielding calls from people asking me where we were as they were standing outside the bar only to find out it was closed. Problem solved when we remembered we were staying at the historic Mayfair and they did in fact have a bar, which was soon overtaken with nerds sporting poster tubes.
Now I know I said this last review, it is imperative that you get to the venue early, not only to hear the opener but also to snag a print of the evenings poster. This time around in LA it was another first timer with the print, Joey Feldman. Words don’t do it justice so I will just share an image that I lifted off the Spafford Prints page. I did manage to get some background on the print. Joey is an established artist in the LA area and has done prints for the likes of Pearl Jam and Metallica and had asked about doing a print for the band previously. I think we need to acknowledge Jon Rose as Creative art director at some point. I always enjoy how other artists interpret the band while bringing their signature style to each new print. Not that I need an excuse to buy another print, but it always helps me when I can justify it in some way, in this case a new artist. I know some of you are in the same boat as me so I feel the need to type that.
Travel and meet ups over for the day it was time to get into some Spafford! The Terragram is awesome! I would say capacity of about 500-600 and was at least 2x as packed as the previous year we saw Spafford play there. Boys are getting bigger and everyone says it but I will re-iterate it, soon we will be seeing them at massive venues and these intimate shows will be few and far between.
My Road (My Road) kicked off the evening and it was the perfect opener, clocking in at just under 12 minutes it helps introduce the band to those that might not have heard them before. Lyrically and musically it allows the band to sort of give you a how do you do, this is what you’re in store for. Jams, vocals and everyone sort of takes over for just a second before returning to the collective jam and if you’re playing along on Spaffnerds.com it was the 4th time I’ve heard it live the last being a few weeks prior in Flagstaff. I’m going to mention the site again a few more times through out this review but make sure you are over there, or more rather here tracking your stats. And then just as you thought they were going to play this one quietly and let rob you of a high energy jam sit tight until the 11 min mark of the nugs recording, it evolves, escalates and lets you know what you are in store for! I’m not going to try and write creative reviews of the jams, go listen to it!
When it Falls was next up. A newer song that only saw the light of day this year and always gets me dancing, it almost opens with the crescendo of drums ( think I’m using that term correctly). The lyrics “I will find my purpose once again” leaves me wondering who is talking or why they wrote that. Brian finds a new theme within 2 seconds of that lyric and then the band takes over and it always stands out to me that Cam is hitting the Bass just a little bit harder. I love that particular theme that Brian plays, it even makes multiple appearances in the song front to back, back to front leaving me guessing how I am supposed to be getting down/up during this song.
Electric Taco Stand My most witnessed and my favorite song to turn new people onto. There is a version from 2012 I believe from the Sail Inn that I still love. As the times go by always gives me the goosebumps and while everyone is playing their hearts out on this song red still gets me with the super silky keys. ETS also has some of the most debated lyrics of any Spafford Song. BRRRRRRTTTT is my personal interpretation but I’m not here to tell you what it is, just give you my feelings on this. The jam that follows is epic, while Jordan is keeping the overall theme of the song it seems that everyone else is exploring other jams while keeping it cohesive. I may be wrong but the end part of this song might be some of my favorite keys I heard over the weekend, again go listen to it! Also I need to speak to Brian’s luthier, I don’t think I have ever heard a guitar play notes that high. This is just an epic song and like other ETS’s before it, never played the same 2x. It was at this time in the show I realized I was in a puddle of tears of appreciation. My fav band in LA, a huge contingency of nerds and everyone just getting down. Perfect moments exist and they happen as the times go by.
Made for Wesley followed and I had to look this up has only been played 4 times and as it turns out is a cover of the Jimmy Rosenberg Trio and also my first time hearing it. After listening to the original I am blown away how much better it is with piano. Cold listening one would think that it is made for Red. Nope he made it his own. In the original there are no keys and Spaffords rendition is head and shoulders above the original, just this nerds humble opinion. Have I ever mentioned that I am always blown away by what the band decides to cover? I know they recently did a poll on what they should cover via text, I put in my thoughts but really don’t care if my suggestion of Champage Jam ever gets covered (well I’ll take credit for it if they do). But let them decide what they feel they can cover, I for one am happy to be along for the ride!
Backdoor Funk one of the long time main stays and also one of the most popular songs Spafford does to segue in and out of songs. For me it was a break allowing me to come down from the intensity of the opening songs. For me this song sort of allows you to find yourself again giving you almost 15 minutes to ground yourself in the middle of a show. Take a second to reflect on vitals, heart rate, consumption and head space. Gather yourself during this jam, make sure you are ok before you’re transported away again and embrace the music. If you don’t let me know I will just be on my way!!!!
West L.A. Fadeaway saw the band bringing out Grahm Lesh from the opener. Lesh, I’ve heard that name before. Rings a bell. (I honestly thought I saw his father in the audience and Chuck had to promise me that it wasn’t his dad. I’m still not certain, but I wasn’t able to ask anymore as the person in question disappeared back stage and Chuck walked off). The Dead have been a welcome cover for Sapfford for a long time. I do have to admit at my age I never had the pleasure of seeing the Dead live and was not raised on any Dead. This will get me in trouble but I prefer Spafford’s versions to the originals any day. All that being said I toughly enjoyed this tune. Having another guitar frees up the musicians and they can take the song deeper and jammier than anyone previously had covered it. This was a perfect way to close out the first set.
Red's Jam would be the theme for the second set. One thing that I have never seen a band do it take a theme and bookend it around a set, show or tour. Spafford has done all of these (Ghostbusters, Steak Sauce just to mention a few). I am a huge Spafford fan and sometimes things are lost on me as I am not into other more mainstream bands and their tours. However, for me this was the best segue into a second set that I had ever heard. (fight me in the forums). I was kinda sad that this would be my last 2nd set until New Years Eve run having just come off of shows in Flagstaff, Tucson and Solana. I had always wondered why Red has at least 6 sets of keyboards on stage, well, give this a listen and you won’t wonder anymore. I remember running into Red at show in Phoenix where he wasn’t playing and he told me his wife had told him he was not allowed to buy anymore keyboards, I would bet that if he was allowed a few more we could convince her it is necessary.
Wait what’s that? They are dropping into Weasel? I also thought I heard an on fire tease there as well……Nope its Weasel up next!
Weasel that forgotten space in the back of your mind! I know this isn’t going to be the peak of the evening but they tease it like it is, and then Cam drops the UNZ’s on us. It’s now more of a dance party than Jam band show. I take a small moment to reflect and look around. I can spot new and old, local, traveled and Phoenix Nerds just getting down. It was 6 minutes of pure happiness, and to use the German word; Freude! Weasel is that up beat Jam that just makes you happy you made the trip from Phoenix to hang with friends for the evening listening to your favorite band. Untzes give way to bass to guitar and ultimately to Red laying down synth. Ok I will quote a lyric from another jam band that fits; I was bouncing around the room, literally and physically.
Palisades perfect segue. Now is when Red serenades you while the band tries to over power him. Perfect back and forth into that epic peak. No words needed, during this jam you are where the band wants you, felling just what you expected at a show. The Raven talks to you just to enjoy the experience. Wait, what’s that nope, not again, YES, you’re transported back into Weasel oh, sneaky, I bet you won’t try that again Spafford. I was just jamming to Palisades and telling those around me how much fun it is to just let go and feel the music. As I am writing this months after the fact I am just getting down listening to it on Nugs. Please follow, donate and buy your tickets through this site, Spaffnerds.com I mean Damien makes it so easy. They have been known to do some nugs giveaways in the past.
Just a frame of reference, I stepped away from the computer and just listened to this jam. I don’t think I can stop dancing. I’ve already alienated the dog, neighbors are complaining that their faces are melting, and I’m in a puddle of sweat. Wait what was that Spafford? You jumped back into
Red's Jam. Holy cow, I remember not being able to contain myself before but now, even with a brief time signature change I cannot calm myself. Cam is trying to sound the end of the evening and I’m left with wanting more. The crowd is so loud that the noise is messing with my phone as I was trying to take pictures for the review. I hope that isn’t the end; It might be but the house lights are not on yet…. Lets wait. IS that Brian going back up to the mic?!!! Yes it is
Windmill Oh I always for get how fun this song is. I’m remembering that I had promised you a dance that I had learned at the Mish a few years ago that some new nerds had taught me. Well that will have to wait. Hard intro, driving lyrics and then a mellow jam. You think the evening is over just winding down. In hindsight I know there is about another 12 min of jams ahead but in the moment I never wanted it to end. Simply enjoy the rest of this song, be in the moment don’t chomp and if you have to, let those around you know that you’re glad they are here, give ‘em a hug and let the music wash over you.
I’m looking forward to my fav show, the next one, but am happy to be here practicing my windmill dance, lets get it down together!
Post script; as the show was over, boys took their curtain call there was a contingency of nerds front and center. It dawned on me that we hadn’t gotten a pic pre show so I decided to rectify that. Security was trying to get us to leave and in my loudest voice I got everyone to the front of the stage to take a group pic. Security thought I was important so they let us get some shots with the nerds in front of the stage. Haha. Thanks to everyone who came out, the band for being them and people agreeing to travel with me.
2018…what a year for our favorite band, Spafford!!! If there’s one major takeaway, it’s that this band grew leaps and bounds and is primed for major growth moving forward. With their growing songwriting creativity, a laser-focused, kick-ass crew running on all cylinders, and new management at their side, there’s nothing the band can’t accomplish.
Personally, I had the tremendous privilege of seeing 23 shows this year, spanning every tour, and 31 overall since 2017. I feel so fortunate for not only the music I’ve seen, but the shared passion that I’ve seen Nerds across America (documentary title, maybe??) bring to every Spafford show and, more importantly, to each other. This year, we supported each other in ways that, to some, might defy expectation. We raised money for sick nerds; we honored those whose families have suffered great tragedy, and we celebrated those that have reached new heights in their careers and lives. We’ve lifted those that were down and gifted those who have sought. We justified our Nugs subscriptions and our 14 hour drives and our seemingly endless hours. We left our families behind to feed our souls and, perhaps most importantly, our jones for Jon Rose prints. And hopefully, you brought something back for the kids…and no, a slap doesn’t count!
And after all that…NYE…where surprises abound and resolutions are made through a foggy haze of “party favors” and alcohol with bubbles. There is something about a NYE concert experience that defies explanation. For some, it is a turning of the page, an escape from the year’s trial and tribulations. For others, it is a celebration of the year’s milestones and accomplishments. Having set the precedent years before, bands like the Grateful Dead and, more recently, Phish, made certain the affair was (and is) replete with elevated displays of splendor and pageantry. So it’s no surprise that as rabid jam-band fanbases around the country settled in for their own calendar-turning dance parties, there would be surely be something special in the air at the Van Buren on this glorious Monday night.
Not that it didn’t have its challenges. After a few days of an unusually cold freeze that swept through the city, the sun managed to make it more than tolerable, but the low temperatures combined with rain this Monday afternoon cast a pall over the city. You wouldn’t know it from the Spafford faithful, however, as those in attendance the evening before were treated to an incredible night of bust-outs, new songs, and a sandwich that would make any weasel living in the Palisades extremely proud. (See what I did there? Shhh...I know…I know…)
I was especially nervous this day. My girlfriend, Shirley, was coming to town only for the NYE show and I had just spent the last two nights at The Rodeway Inn, the armpit of Van Buren Street. Shaking off the fleas, I pulled a Jeffersons and moved on up…to the (cough) luxurious 6-month old Hampton Inn, where I now felt like a provider and less like a crack addict and I was ready to roll, adult-style!
We entered the venue around 8:30. The excitement was palpable, as the Nerds swarmed the lobby buzzing about what was the night before and what would be the night to come.
The boys kicked off the historic evening with Stuck in the Middle With You…what a way to open the show for the hometown Nerds who have been hearing the band play the Stealers Wheel classic since 2012…but only 19 times since and twice in the last 12 shows (for those playing the home version of Spaffbase, brought to you by Spaffnerds.com). So although this is considered an anthem of sorts in Nerd-lore, it seems like it might be finally finding its way into the regular rotation, a welcome addition, I’m sure, to those who wondered what ever happened to it.
After Brian kicks off the vocals with his typical non-Gerry Rafferty-esque bite, Red takes the first solo, cascading the keys over Cam’s drum fills as Brian and Jordan lurk underneath, waiting to explode. Right at the 4 minute mark, Brian takes the reigns for a brief moment before the boys settle in for what will be a major blastoff, Spafford style. By the time the band begins to crescendo, Cam leading the way, Jordan and Brian lead the band into what I like to call Spafford’s signature “song within a song,” where the jam takes on its own uniquely lyrical melody, proving once again how much this anthemic powerhouse of yesteryear deserves regular play going forward. What makes this so special is the “Stuck at Van Buren with You” lyric they ride through most of the end while weaving back in the original title lyric to close it out. We Nerds certainly didn’t feel stuck, but if we were, I’m sure all of us would happily be bound and gagged and held hostage for hours…provided, of course, the band was still playing…cuz otherwise, holding several people hostage is a felony and surefire career killer. Stuck finishes and Brian welcomes us with “What’s up Phoenix? It’s good to see you again.” Aaaaaaand we’re off!
Next up…When It Falls, a song which debuted live in studio on April 5th, 2018 (which just happens to be…anyone? Anyone? The anniversary of my Bar Mitzvah in 1986...put it on your calendar now, there WILL be a quiz later!) and which, like all of their new tunes, has seen tremendous growth since its inception. I have now seen 4 of the 9 played and it gets better and better every time. I almost forget everything that is happening in this rare “under 5 (minutes)”, from Cam and Jordan leading the syncopated breaks to Brian’s thunderous intermittent growls and everything in between.
Minds Unchained. Simply, this song never disappoints. One of the ways Spafford hooked me is through their hooks and this one is no exception. There is always a tasty treat waiting for us when Brian slides up the neck to the final refrain and tonight was tasty indeed. As I’ve now seen 10 Minds live and listened to another 30, this may not have been their most exploratory (the Karl Denson appearance notwithstanding), but it certainly hit the spot, with Brian twirling a magic axe full of arpeggios before sliding up the neck and bringing it all back home to a huge crowd-pleasing exhale. Mmmm…yummy.
And now for something…somewhat different. Listening to the opening chords, one might have thought…hell, I don’t know what anyone was thinking, but we would soon enough find out that Leave the Light On was being played in the key of E instead of the typical key of B, forcing Jordan’s vocals to plummet to the lower depths of his vocal register. The haunting sound emanating from Jordan pervaded the entire song and it might have even tripped him up for a moment, as he flubbed some lyrics in the second verse before having a chuckle with the crowd and then confidently regaining his composure with “But I keep you candle burning in the window.” That’s all we can ask for, Jordan…oh and that amazing bass solo that immediately followed to kick off the first jam. As Brian turns it up a notch or 3, everyone joins in on this expansively rich, tight jam, until Jordan re-enters with vocals to lay the foundation for the distinctly different second jam, which had the showed the boys once again strutting their stuff while stretching out in ways that made the LTLO unique different. Hey, it’s NYE, right??
I remember hearing the first Broken Wing at 420 Sweetwater Fest for my birthday weekend and while I wasn’t immediately taken with how the lyrics meshed with the rhythm of the song, I was certainly taken with the melodic structure of the song and how hard the boys jam it! After I saw the Red Rocks show, I was hooked. This is yet another new song from 2018 that has made all the right moves in its development and allowed the band, particularly Cam, to really stretch out and flex their chops. Clocking in at around 11 minutes, it’s a song that brings sheer delight to the crowd as Cam brought it a to a thunderous conclusion. It’s no wonder Brian likes to say after almost every version of it, “Lades and gentlemen, Mr. Cameron LaForest on the drums” to the roar of cheering fans.
Aaaaand it’s crowd control time at he The Van Buren as Red leads us into yet another rousing version of Salamander Song. With Salamander, you always know what you’re getting…until last summer, when the song took a somewhat slight turn, much to the delight of most and, frankly, the disappointment of some. The song typically features a rip-roaring solo by Brian that begins with his inimitable picking style and builds to a tremendous crescendo before the entire band whips the crowd into a frenzy with “I’m dancing the the whole way hoooooome,” but on a hot summer night in early July, at the High Sierra Festival, Jordan took the solo on what would have typically been Brian’s. This was a mere days after a fellow Nerd casually told me that the band had recently been taking jazz lessons. Hmmm….well, the jazz influence is apparent, as Jordan has taken his solo to new heights every time out of the gate and it has only gotten better and better. The song ended with the typical “Hey’s” in the correct place for a much larger percentage of the crowd than at most shows, but I’m sure to some it still needs work.
Just when we thought the set might be ending…what’s this? Cam, Jordan and Red playing the opening chords of…wait…is it that Don Henley song? Why, yes it is…it’s Dirty Laundry! Now I have to admit, this is not a song to which I would typically stay tuned when it came on the radio when I was a kid, but as is always the case with Spafford, they make a fan out of me every time they play a song about which I was previously ambivalent! After Red does his best Henley impression, Brian takes a nifty solo to kick off the jammin’. The entire band joins in on the vocals before the boys modulate up a half step to finish off a tasty surprise for the faithful. The music drops out as we hear the boys, a cappella, sing:
“Kick ‘em when they’re up, kick ‘em when they’re down
Kick ‘em when they’re stiff, kick ‘em all around.”
End of set 1.
Looking back on it now, in this writer’s opinion, there was really no better choice to kick off the second set than America. Not that this crossed the band’s minds at all when they decided on the setlist, but the fact that our nation seems to be losing a lot somewhere across the fall, it was a fitting way to begin the end of 2018. And no sooner had they settled in for an expectedly extended jam when the boys had another surprise up their sleeves, this one in the form of perhaps the most American of rock bands, the good old Grateful Dead. I don’t think I’ve heard a 4 piece band tackle the Dead’s The Other One with such precision. Brian’s vocals were the perfect fit for Weir and Kreutzman’s cutting lyrics, Red’s keyboards evoked Tom Constanten’s haunting sound from the late 60’s, and Cam made sure nobody even thought for a second that a second percussionist was necessary to fill out the rhythm. 15 minutes is usually considered a long song, but not in Spafford time, 15 minutes was barely enough time for this spaceship to take off!
But wait…what’s this now?? Could it be that he spaceship is encountering…Aliens along the way?!?!?!? Why yes, I believe it could…well, either that or some perv Nerd brought their blow-up dolls to the show…unlike the hostage-taking, NOT a felony, but really kinda gross. With the band bringing some out-of-this-world vocal jamming, reminiscent of Phish’s vocal explorations (its okay, breathe, not a comparison, just a reference point), two green plastic blow-up aliens were tossed around the venue while the band kept the spacey undertones as the countdown to midnight began. Midnight struck and the boys burst into, of course, Auld Lang Syne, while each of their significant others walked onstage for a brief New Year’s kiss before the band wrapped up. I didn’t even notice the appearance by the ladies, as I was sharing may first New year’s kiss with my Shirley. And yes, it was spectacular! :-)
Right out of Auld Lang Syne, Brian brings us back to America with the familiarly lyrical A minor arpeggio rising like a Phoenix from the ashes and marking the beginning of the end of this meandering exploration. Just as the song ends, we hear the familiar rhythmic beat of The Reprise, a fitting bookend and the funky compositional foil to America. But what typically turns into the slow, funky calm before the storm took an unexpected turn here and the band stopped and Brian played the opening riff of…Blister in the Sun! Are we really going THERE now?!?!? Welllll...not quite…after the opening guitar riff and the iconic double taps on the kit, Cam and the boys take us right back to The Reprise…nice fakeout, gents...for now, at least!!!!
The Reprise had seen better days by the time Fall Tour 2017 rolled around. During Cam’s early days with the band, what had traditionally been a lengthy buildup to its classic “melody” half way through the song felt a bit like Brian was trying to get to the finish line sooner than later…with a few exceptions, of course (see: 11/10/17 Fort Collins!!) But as 2018 went on, the boys seemed to relish once again in the patient methodical approach to what makes this jam well worth the wait. Reaching its climax, the crowd whipped into a frenzy, the set closer burned like a wildfire in Northern California before the tempo slowed, we all took a breath and the band brought it to its final resting place.
End of Set 2.
Waiting to hear what the boys will play for an encore is always one of the most anticipated moments of any show, especially on NYE. Spafford may not have yet ventured headfirst into the aforementioned splendor and pageantry of other more well-known jam bands, but they had already proven that they had plenty of tricks up their sleeve, made even more obvious from the opening chords of Blister in the Sun. Blister is a crowd pleaser at just about any party from the time you were, like, 13...at my Bar Mitzvah (yes, that's right, on April 5th, 1986, good memory, fellow Nerd, you passed!). Let’s face it, if this song doesn’t get you at least a little pumped, you probably lack a pulse (also may affect sex drive, which is even worse that not having a pulse). When you get a bunch of Nerds in a room on NYE and the boys bust it out for the first time EVER, it’s something special. A rousing rendition of The Violent Femmes classic gave way to what has become a Spafford classic, Slip and Squander. After two nights of channeling Gregg Allman and Don Henley on Whipping Post and Dirty Laundry, respectively, it was time for a return to the sweeter side of Red, as the gently tread vocal verses gave way to temporary overdrive before settling in for a classic build on the shoulders of Dr. LaserFinger himself, the honorable Professor Moss.
Photo courtesy of Carson Church Media
One might’ve thought a two-song encore was just enough to satisfy the Nerd faithful, but when those opening chords of All In ring out from Jordan’s bass, you are guaranteed at least 15 more minutes of multi-genre, mind-bending jamorama! And what a rendition it was! All In got a LOTTA play over the festy summer tour and suffered from, according to some, at least, maybe a wee bit of overkill as it was assumed the tune is seen as a good cross-section of both their songwriting but also their multi-dimensional jamming prowess and thus a great way to draw in new fans in a limited time frame at festivals. But this Nerd never gets enough of it, as it is truly one of the great jam band anthems of all time. The crowd was certainly all in it for the ride…and holding on ever so tightly…because the “might as well drive” line, so beloved by Nerds everywhere, rang ever so true for the many who had driven from all over the country to see this spectacle of spectacles. Brian was in full force here (is he ever NOT?) as The Raven seemed to pull him towards the front of the stage for the song’s final movement, a tour de force of nastiness unmatched in the band’s entire repertoire. Red takes a nice solo here, accompanied by a powerful build with Cam before Brian begins his methodical climb to immortality. This song is living proof why you shouldn’t talk at a Spafford show. It’s not because it’s rude or because it’s annoying to those who “pay good money not to hear you talk,” as we have all seen on the boards. No…it’s because if you talk during what you think are the quiet moments (when conventional wisdom says that not much is going on), you will miss some of the most unique, precision picking you’ll ever hear waxing lyrical from a guitar. You will miss the seeds of a mind-bending extravaganza, with each member of the quartet adding layers upon layers of what grows into a monster climax, Brian fanning, Cam pounding, Jordan bomb-dropping and Red sustaining until they bring it all back to the final movement’s theme. WOW!!!
And…AAAAAAND…if that wasn’t enough, let’s do one more, shall we?
I used to think that The Traveling Wilbury’s End of the Line was an okay tune, nothing special. But, true to form, I will never listen to this song the same way again. When the boys started using it as their outro music, I used to joke on the boards that it was my least favorite song because it meant the Spafford show was over…and ya know, THAT kinda sucks, right? So how fitting that as the year closes out, we get to hear the boys perform their traditional outro song live for the very first time! Everyone got in on the fun here, with Brian and Red taking lead vocals and Cam lending his oft underutilized - and underrated! - vocals to the harmony. A light-hearted bonus romp left a nice tasty treat on our tongues as we cheered the boys for what will go down as an historic two-night reign on their home turf.
Well…that’s a wrap for 2018, folks. I know the anticipation is already super high for what it is to come in 2019 and beyond. The sky is the limit, so raise your Brooklyn/Denver VIP cups and toast to the wild ride that is…SPAFFORD!!!