From Day 1 this turned out to be one of my favorite festivals of all time. Caribbean beach destination. Check. All-inclusive resort. Check. Jam royalty in attendance. Check. F***king Spafford is playing a late night after a day of face melting from the classics? Cheeeeck!
This the second time now Spafford has essentially forced me to follow through with a dream run, (last year was Phish MSG for New Year’s). This time was even better. Albeit a completely different Spafford experience (especially for a festival).
The late-nights before Spafford were pretty epic: SunSquabi tearing up the room the first night and TAUK with a massive sit-in set ft. members from The Motet. The boys were going to have to do something really special for their show and I believe they did just that:
Mind's Unchained: Perfect intro to the show. Easy and leads into a huge jam. I am positive I was hearing China Cat teases in the beginning but who knows. A really solid, unsuspecting build for anyone that wasn’t ready for the heat. Jam ends flawlessly and the boys are only getting started.
Side-note: Lyrics about being out of one’s element and having to soak it all in were quite fitting in my opinion.
Todd’s Tots: One of their strangest songs in their catalogue chosen for the 2nd slot. A bold move that basically slapped everyone in the face with a defining composition early on. Good old silly lyrics paired with a monster piece with lots of curveballs. It raged and so did everyone else.
I like toys and I DON’T LIKE SLEEPING AT NIGHT. Duh. Perfect. Moving on.
Catfish John: A jam standard if you will. Everyone loves raging to some good ol Jerry classics after a long night of some modern jams. Spafford thought so too, everyone else agreed. It was a splendid time.
Red’s Jam > Electric Taco Stand: Very squishy stuff here folks. Is it just me or has Red’s Jam sped up significantly in the last year? No complaints! Anyways, some brilliant keyboard work as always from El Rojo (as the locals would have said). I will say it definitely sounds like hanging out with Magner and Cummins lately has been good for us all, given the levels of melt this jam reaches.
ETS needed to happen given the popularity of the song as of now. But why not? It’s a funky good time after all. Place basically erupted at this point since this is really the only song of the night with a good slammin’ introduction. This is the hard-hitting, biscuity edge I enjoy so much from Spafford. Heavy, squishy envelope from Jordan. Good piano sounds coming from Red. Cam is just chilling in the untz trance and Brian slowly builds the funky riffs into a mind-blowing peak. And there was much rejoicing.
Slip and Squander: Now this was the most confusing song selection I have witnessed from the band. I would assume that most in this position would pick a song with high-energy intro and no real low-energy parts. Not to mention they had played Slip and Squander the show prior for the tour closer in Flagstaff (along with ETS as well!) Its past 3am, we just got done dancing to potentially 7.5 hours of music prior. I and many others were expecting something along the lines of Weasel, Virtual Bean Dip, Thieves, Galisteo, etc.
There is a very good reason behind this song selection though. It’s Spafford. Damn me for assuming they are settled on any formula. This song is very uniquely them. It says, “We don’t have to constantly party in order to keep people hooked and dancing.” It delivers too. A beautiful version and a solid prep for the melt to follow….
The Postman: Now things start to get really interesting. Any song of yours that Brendan Bayliss genuinely wants to learn is a great song. This version was as good as they come. The jam is super appealing to my earholes and this may have been the highlight of the show for me. Super patient jams here and lots of great band communication during the jams. Red starts to unleash the snyths at around 10 mins really setting a great vibe for the rest of this show. Crunch levels steadily increase until Moss decides to finally settle things down after a barrage of notes for a tasty peak. It’s getting really late now. My ankle is twice the normal size due to shenanigans. I hope the energy keeps.
Leave the Light On: The energy keeps as this is one of my favorite songs of theirs. Especially after what they did with it at American Beauty for New Year’s…. It’s like their Reba/Fire on the Mountain: 2 chord vamp jams with tons of room to explore the brains of unsuspecting attendees. Except this song contains a second jam that is filthy, dirty, disgusting goodness that only Spafford can produce. Again, tasty Red synth work. Big bombs from Jordan. Good funk-chugging from Moss and a nice bouncy groove from Cam make this second jam climax quite nicely. I am dancing on a sprained ankle. Life is really good at this point. Did I mention the staff is not letting anyone’s drink go below half full? Every 2 mins someone is asking if I want my 32oz (nicknamed the Slug Jug) filled. Again. I am really enjoying life during this fat LTLO. Brian becomes possessed and starts to really destroy the whole place with notes. Quite the spectacle. And there was much rejoicing.
All In: Spaff-metal at its finest. They start what is normally a 20+ minute journey after Moss tells the crowd they have about 5 mins left on stage. There was shredding, tightly played parts. But alas, due to time constraints, the second jam does not even take place. Not my favorite version of All In but I am sure glad I got to rage this song at the coolest party ever.
Final thoughts: Spafford picked a set-list that defined them the most. Most of the lyrics in the songs selections were very immediately descriptive of how I believe the band was feeling all weekend. They purposefully left out their “party songs” so to speak (as did the other bands really all weekend long) to show us the true face of the band. Traditional rules of festival sets were broken all around and we were all better for it in many ways. Reception was solid AF even with the set not being as hard-hitting as they could have chosen to make it. Also, many of the other artists were raging to their show (maybe another reason for the selection). For example, I closely relate Weasel to the obvious Disco Biscuits influence in the band. I bet some would maybe conclude Spafford is “trying to sound like the Biscuits” if they did play Weasel. With this unique setlist, fans were most likely walking away going “these guys are pretty unique songwriters and can also shred the balls off anyone.” I think this was a major success for them and I am glad to see them continuing to grow and melt faces all over the world.
I am ready for New Year's Eve.
This new years we're pleased to present the Inaugural Electro Funk Ball on New Years Eve. If you're coming to the New Years show join us in dressing in whatever funky, glowing, light up, electric, wild, nerdy, clothes you can find. The idea is to dress 'formally' in clothes from any period, but to add an electro funk touch. Don't be the only Nerd standing around in the corner with nobody to dance with. Get lit up and show your stuff. There will be prizes for best dressed and maybe even a chance to get some cool pictures taken.
We were somewhere around Sedona, on the edge of the mountains, when the drugs began to take hold. I remember saying something like "I feel a bit lightheaded; maybe you should drive...." And suddenly there was a terrible roar all around us and the sky was full of what looked like ... wait a minute... That wasn't me... I read that in a book somewhere. Anyhoo...
We left the warm desert and headed up to the chilly mountains somewhere around midday. The drive to Flagstaff from the Valley is absolutely breathtaking. For a kid from NJ the only schemas that I have for the scenery are upstate NY and maybe eastern PA. But the truth is that neither holds a candle. The canyons are enormous, the hills roll on into an infinite horizon, and the air is crisp, clean, and cold.
It wasn't long after we arrived at the hotel before the madness began. Some random spaffnerd kept calling me and saying he wanted to use my room key to break into the hot tub in our hotel. This was confusing because there was no hot tub in the hotel. Soon the room was filled with booze, our bellies were filled with Pizza, and it was time to head down to the Orpheum to fill our souls with joy.
The Orpheum is a beautiful little theater and the band has some long-time history here. This was their 10th gig at the venue which they hadn't seen since May of '16. I was lucky enough to be on the guest list and as I got my tickets from will call I was excited to see a pair of All Access passes included with the stubs. I handed @lmwsongbird her pass and ticket and headed for the door. As I walked up to the pat down I threw some garbage in the trash. A minute later I went to give my ticket to the nice lady and realized it was nowhere to be found. I then had to spend a chunk of time searching through the garbage to no avail, and then convincing the two people at the door that I had a ticket. I told them "I've got an all access pass... I'm not trying to scam anybody here man..." Fortunately they took my word for it, gave me a friendly pat down, and sent me on my way.
The room at the Orpheum is surprisingly spacious. Its deep and not too wide with a couple of bars setup on either side. I saw @archive-it's mic stands sticking up from the back of the floor and immediately began running into Nerds that I've met both online only and IRL.
Before I knew it the moment of showtime was approaching. I took a quick dip backstage to see the guys and wish them well, but then I was right back out on the floor, front and center. There's no way I'm passing up the chance to see Spafford play that close. It seems like it won't be long before that's not an option.
And like that, the lights came down, Brian declared, "We're Back!", and the volume went up.
The boys opened with Take Your Mama. I'm pretty sure this was played for Cam's mom who was in attendance. In fact she was passing out "Cameron Hotel" IKI slaps. They played it bouncy, energetic, and fun. A great way to start the show. Next came the 'wa' peddle for and West La Fadeaway and Red's smooth and sultry singing. Spafford's version of the Dead's late era classic is a personal favorite. This one stays true and funky with Brian's guitar guiding us through Jerry's classic melody.
Backdoor Funk gets nice and spacey, opening up in the middle and relaxing into a groove with Brian playing light and liquid runs over Red's expansive and etherial keyboards. Red grabs some leads with the "baby grand" and the two dance around each other while Jordan and Cam keep the funk funky. Before long the jam builds up to the tension release climax that Spafford does so well. When I hear comparisons to Phish, this is the biggest thing I see in common. An understanding of building a jam to a peak and then allowing it to explode.
The guys at the venue made shirts for the band. They said "Let Red Sing" and this was definitely a night for Red to sing. Up next was Slip and Squander. I don't have to tell you how excited this made the crowd. If you don't love Chuck's lyrics and the band's composition on this one you're probably listening to the wrong band. Red's clean piano and Cam's steady beat set the stage for a journey into thoughts of "everything, maybe even death." The blissful build and peak of S&S never disappoints and this one is no exception. You could feel the love in the room as we all took and the explosion of joy when the song finally hit its crescendo.
If there's one single song I was hoping to catch it was Eternity. I feel like this song stays off the radar of most Nerds and that's a shame. The lyrics (which we'll get soon) seem to suggest that live music, concerts, and togetherness are the path to heaven. Jordan sang this with such heart you couldn't help but feel the edges of eternity raining their soulful music down on all of us. Eternity reminds us that all signs keep saying this way leads to higher ground.
Walls. I remember walking my dog and listening to a version of Walls in the early days of my Spafford musical exploration. Even then I knew this song was a hit. It's got everything you need for a good jamband song. Funky beat, groovy moves, and an easy simple singalong. Jordan's bass pops got the whole room swaying, including Brian who dropped into his 'gunslinger' pose. Cam fired up the 'untz' and the space was there to explore. Around the 7 minute mark Red's spacey keys set fire to Brian as he lights up the jam just before dropping into the hook-melody. So good! This Walls gets flagged as a must listen as it's the only 2017 Walls with the "Chant" as the band called it.
Second only to Eternity on my "must hear" list was Plans. I've said that this song has grown on me a lot lately. I love that Spafford has so many songwriters. You can really get a feel for who wrote what just by listening to the thematic content. It gives you a window into the minds of the guys and shows you what they think about. Jordan's songs tend to examine the big sweeping life and soul stuff.
Plans does too as we 'raise up our hands and sing...' and Brian grabs a ripping guitar solo just before we drop into the bridge and slow things down for a moment to breathe. Moment over, Jordan slaps that bass so hard it's like he's teaching it a lesson and the wave of sound washes over us all. Riding high on the crest comes Brian, Red, and Cam, and we're once again back into the build and release that is Spafford's signature move. From 0 to 60 in a few bars. Finally the closing lick comes spilling from the Raven and the end of Set 1 is upon us.
"I found it all, in the heart of America." I'm not sure these words have ever been more true for these guys. I'm sure it was trippy for them to play up in their real, original home after spending so much time out there exploring the highways, rest stops, and bars of America. Set 2 opened with passion and fury. America brought its usual fire and brimstone and Cam's beats propelled the whole monster forward. Red took over with some of his alien sounds and we were all strapped in for a killer second set.
America ended with a fakeout. The drum beat sounded like we were about to drop into The Reprise but the band pivoted and dropped a My Road (My Road). I have to say that I wasn't really into this song until seeing it live. Sometimes this happens with new songs and I've been around long enough to know that just because I don't get it right away doesn't mean there isn't something to get. Here too we can hear the different songwriting talents from the guys. Chuck's lyrics are typically introspective, a little bit dark, but hopeful as well. My Road is right in line with that.
This My Road gets an awesome synth treatment from Red giving us a chance to hear him take leads for a bit and even get up on his feet. And you know when Red gets up, we get down! My Road is a big vehicle for jams as it opens wide in the middle. This gave each player a chance to show off a bit.
From new song to old cover, next up was Send Me On My Way which hadn't been played in 114 shows! This was no doubt a throwback to the old times that the band had up in Northern Arizona. This song brought back memories of long ago. I first saw Rusted Root open for Page & Plant at Brendan Byrne Arena in the late 90's. Oh yeah, and the night before Jerry died my dad called this song "Simmy and the Whale." Anyway, Jordan's lead vocals are really pretty with Red complimenting him with the "On my way." This was a fun, unexpected detour into the lighter side of Spafford and a nice breather after a beautifully heavy My Road. With that said, don't miss the peak of this one as it's far beyond anything I've ever heard Rusted Root do with it.
And then BOOM! Electric Taco Stand dropped and the roof came off the place! This ETS is a bit short and sweet, but that's because it's headed for an Alternate Ending sandwich. Suffice to say we don't need to call this "Alternate Middle" just because it returns to ETS afterwards. The look of bliss on the fans' faces during Alternate Endings was just outstanding.
Finally, The Reprise was there to carry us out of the second set. Personally, I love when you get an America opener and a Reprise closer for a set. There's something poetic about it. Also... it means that the set is going to end with one of the best jams that Spafford plays, so there's that. I could write a bunch of words but the truth is a picture is worth a thousand...
Check out these Nerds throwing their heads back and soaking in the magic that is the peak of The Reprise. Even the most jaded tour vet who's seen hundreds of Phish AND Spafford shows couldn't deny the magic of the moment!
Let Red Sing! As the theme of the night it made sense to kick off the encore with Into The Mystic. This beautiful Van Morrison tune left us all swaying back and forth and holding on to the ones we love. But we knew that couldn't be it. And it wasn't. Steak Sauce was the final tune to close out the tour, a great gag as that was the song that opened the tour as well. Brian later asked me if I thought that the Nerds "got it." I looked blankly at him and said, "um... yeah."
After the encore the band posed with their backs to the crowd and took a bunch of photos and some video. You can see this on the official video that Spafford put out on their facebook page.
I have to say that, personally, this tour was a huge adventure. Running this site, engaging with new and old Nerds, and cheering on the band has been an incredible experience. Being at The Orpheum and actually getting to spend time with the crowd and the band was so fulfilling and it left me aching for New Year's which is now but a few short weeks away. Can't wait to see you guys there!
Spafford has released a "Best Of" of selected cuts from the 2017 Fall Tour. It's a great way to take a bite of the official soundboards that they've been pumping out over the last few months. The album can be found here on Spotify and the track list is:
- My Road (My Road) from Madison
- Funkadelic from Asheville
- Walls from Bloomington
- People from Bloomington
- America from Philadelphia
- Space Gadget from Philadelphia
- In The Eyes Of Theives from Columbus
- All My Friends from Albany
- Bee Jam from Albany
- Alternate Ending from Albany
- Ain't That Wrong from Albany
- Sweet from Austin
- Plans from Columbia
Just a disclaimer, I can be long-winded so I broke up the review so you can read what you’re most interested in.
Well, that's just, like, my opinion, man.
Spafford in Los Angeles, sounds like a great Friday night, right? Let me tell you it was. I was fortunate to be able to make it, just a short seven hour drive from Phoenix. When Spafford announced their Fall Tour it was this and the next night that I circled on my calendar! For those of you that don’t know me I’m a huge live music fan. My younger years were dominated by punk rock. I can’t define my music taste except for a few dislikes, which include top 40, modern country, and most modern rap. I’ve been a huge Spaffnerd since about 2014 with this being my 24th show, first time I’ve ever streamed, and according to Spaffnerds.com the 7th time I’ve seen them this year in 3 different states. Props to this website for all the stats!
We left Phoenix the morning of the show and made it to Los Angeles before the- as rumor has it- unbearable traffic. Checked in and noticed a familiar tour bus parked next to the hotel and I knew we had arrived! It was early afternoon and I noticed the crew loading into the Teragram (Margaret). Road tripping is always fun, listening to recordings of previous shows on Nugs and Archive always sets the mood for an epic evening.
A few other Nerds from Arizona made it out as well and we all met at the Monty Bar right next to the venue. Cool little spot, craft beer and cocktails with old-school movies playing on the back wall. Really cool staff and just the place to grab pre-show drinks. If you ever go to the Teragram stop by-- it’s stumbling distance! Not going to brag about running into band members before the show at lunch/ early dinner that day or meeting potential sit-in guests, I’ll save that for later. I did, however, try to confirm rumors that there would be sit-ins but I was met with shoulder shrugs from a few members of the band. I also wanted to mention that I got a family member of mine to their first Spafford show. I have a cousin that lives in Los Angeles and mentioned to him that he should check it out-- I don’t think he was disappointed.
I was really excited to check out Shaky Feelin but only caught the last song. I was trying to coordinate with the evening's taper, WarfatJoe and Arizona legend Grout to figure out how to set up a stream for everyone. Here is where I will give huge props to Streamers and Tapers. It is not easy to get all the gear inside (I hade a phone and a mic, so no big deal, also thanks Louis), set things up or get approval from the venue. I thought you just needed approval from the band, alas I was way off. Lots of ins, lots of outs, lots of what have yous.
Venue (Not the one that Marty got for his Cycles, btw.) (But decently close to the In and Out Burger, which has tasty burgers.)
The Teragram Ballroom is a two-level venue with huge ceilings and around 350 person capacity. Acoustics for me were amazing. Efficient and friendly wait staff running not only the attached café (get the Cuban, it's delish), but also the bar in the back. Really large sound and light board in front of the bar and from what I could tell a decent sized stage. Only gripe I had was that I didn’t realize that the balcony was VIP only and wasn’t allowed to check it out.
Music (Not the fucking Eagles man, I hate the fucking Eagles.) (Also wouldn’t hold out any hope for the Credence.)
The Remedy opened the evening, Brian came out and welcomed the crowd before Red and the band jumped into the song. Looking around, those that knew the song immediately dropped into a grove while others tried to figure out if they should talk about the band or follow our lead. I started a dance off with my girlfriend which I would ultimately lose, but that’s neither here nor there. People followed by the highly anticipated Hollywood, I mean we are in Los Angeles after all. Mind's Unchained gave us some funky jams before bringing the roof down in an epic crescendo before serving us with All In. All In knocked my socks off, Jordan threw down on bass, Red was omnipresent, and Cameron seg’d into Brian transporting us to another stratosphere. It was a great back-and-forth between all the band members, just that perfect jammy, happy, high feeling. All In led to Brian bringing out his brother Geoff for Legend. Just to nerd out for a second, I met Geoff at lunch that day. During the show I ended up standing next to him during the first set and even gave him some of my #killing it stickers, not remembering who he was. Geoff serenaded us all the way to the set break with him and Brian exchanging appreciative looks of sibling approval when one or the other would take over the spotlight. It was truly epic to see them share the stage as I don’t think that they have ever done that, at least in recent memory.
Ain’t That Wrong got us started for Set 2. A ten-minute dance party that peaked with the Raven demanding us to dance just a little bit harder. Pretty sure that Brian suffered 3rd degree burns from that fire and Cameron was able to guide him home before the Raven went up in flames. The last few minutes of this were my personal highlights of the evening. I was barely able to catch my breath before Areoplane made it’s Teragram debut. Eyes closed I didn't know if they had Kedis on stage singing with the rest of the Peppers just jamming out. (I really wanted to make a Flea in The Big Lebowski reference here.) Areoplane sequ’d right into the longest Jam of the evening, Leave the Light On. The end of LTLO took us back to one of my favorite Spafford covers, Mad World by Tears for Fears. Mad World is one of those songs that I never thought could have extended jams and here I sit typing this as I’m proved wrong. It was here I realized that I was losing the dance-off to not only everyone around me, but most importantly to my girlfriend which she was quick to remind me of. Salamander Song was next and the band introduced a sit-in by Brock Butler (Perpetual Groove) on guitar confirming my initial question to Brian that afternoon, that was met with shrugs.
Next to Electric Taco Stand, Salamander is the song I recommend to new nerds. It’s also a great measuring stick to see how much a particular crowd knows Spafford. ‘Hey’ needs to be shouted at the correct time in the song while following Brian’s lead. I must say I was impressed with the LA crowd. I will admit that I’m not as well versed in P-Grove as I should be but I did hear that Red had sat in with them in Denver and Brett was wanting to return the favor. This song gave me huge goose bumps when I remembered that tomorrow Spafford would be back in Arizona. Dancing the whole way home!!!!!!
Beautiful Day closed out the second set but not without tugging on some heartstrings. This has been a crowd favorite for some time and I was really impressed with the sing along that those around me gave the band. The band was firing on all cylinders, Red had the lead with keys and heartfelt vocals. Brian, Jordan and Cameron gave him space when needed but were always there to give the punching explanation mark to the song. Days like these are why I love this band so much and they only come around once in a while.
After a quick break the band returned to encore with another crowd favorite, The Postman. This is a song that gives me chills. Every member of the band gets to shine, not only individually, but also together. I’m pretty sure at this point of the show I was just swaying back and forth trying to decide what air instrument I should pretend to play. With the last 4 notes I couldn’t immediately bring up my hands to clap, I just stared at the gentlemen who had transported me to a jam bliss for the last two-and-a-half hours.
Post Show Notes-
I was floating in a haze of jams and good vibes after this show. I consider myself so fortunate to be able to see these shows, meet the fans of the band and be part of this community. I’ve met some really cool people, traveled to a lot of cool places, and seen some epic live music as a Spaffnerd. Please take time to share not only this band but also the community with others. Also check out the recording of the show, I was really fortunate to meet the taper and share stories of the band with him! People, Nerds- I can’t stress enough how cool of a community this is, how much I appreciate you all and how much the Tapers mean to me. Thanks for being such awesome ‘Nerds! See you at the next show.
I really wanted to end on a Big Lebowski quote, but instead I’ll take one from Rufus in Bill and Ted (filmed in AZ) – Be excellent to each other.
Far out, man. (Ha! I did find a TBL quote to use!)
Thanks for reading!