After an incredibly fun Brendan Bayliss birthday party UM show it was now time for what would be not only the highlight of my weekend, but one of my favorite Spafford show to date! These guys have a reputation of taking late night shows to another level and tonight would be no exception. This was my first time at the newly renovated HI-FI Indy and it’s a cool venue. Limited to around 400 people, and with a bar stretching down the left side of the dance floor, we had plenty of room to boogie while never being far from a cold drink! Good acoustics too, for a room this size.
A newer song of theirs with great vocals and a foundation for incredible jams, Broken Wing is quickly becoming a fan favorite and it’s easy to see why. A somewhat chill jam gave way to Brian taking the lead with bright, soaring riffs that made the room feel 10x bigger than it was.
Next up was My Road (My Road). For a song that when released felt somewhat tame, My road (My Road) has turned into a perennial monster! Every member in the band seems to have their hands around various parts of the song. Red’s crooning, Cam’s surgical syncopation, Jordan’s funky backdrop, and Brian’s playful trips across the fret board all took turns leading the way during an extended jam that dropped flawlessly back into the end of the song.
There was a noticeable reaction from the crowd as the opening notes of Leave The Light On rang out. Always popular, “LTLO” is the song that started my love affair with this band and it has yet to ever disappoint. Brian, Cam, and Jordan were happy to lay the foundation as Red showed off his light fingers on the keys through the first of two jams. The second jam picked up the pace as Brian and Red both seemed to drive forward at the same time ending with another perfect drop back into the closing lyrics.
Spafford’s upbeat rendition of the Gary Jules tune Mad World then started a run of three straight songs I had been hoping to hear going into the weekend. A common cover of theirs that I had yet to see live this one had the crowd getting down!
The set ended with what is probably my current favorite Spafford song, The Postman. The chill, melodic opening almost lulls you until the sudden tempo change clues you in to the song’s true sinister nature. One of the sickest breakdowns in Spafford’s catalog (imo) leads to the less than complex chorus, but fancy words just aren’t needed in the audible odyssey that is The Postman! Seamlessly ranging from a funky groove, to shredding riffs, to piano scales, to electronic dance elements and back, this song is as fun as it gets. It was clear I’m not the only one who felt this way as the crowd absolutely got DOWN from beginning to end during this one. As the song ended and the band exited the stage I couldn’t help but wonder, what encore could possibly top what we had just heard?
It didn’t take long for the band to come back out with the answer in the form of the opening notes of The Reprise. THE. REPRISE! All shred. All the time. With an infectious riff that you can’t help but rock out to this is one of the absolute best ways to close out a set. I don’t care who you are, the sheer elation on Brian’s face while crushing this song will make your inner air guitar rock god come out at some point. Mine did for the majority of the encore! What a way to end an incredibly fun weekend of music from start to finish. Time to go buy more concert tickets!
After an easy drive from St. Louis to Indianapolis it was time for night 2, and the first of two Spafford shows of the day! Finally a beautiful Midwest summer night! Between the cooler weather, it being Brendan Bayliss’ (Umphrey's McGee) birthday, and knowing a lot of us had the Spafford late night after this show, there was an added energy throughout the crowd. Tonight was primed to be a dance party!
The set opened with what felt like a fairly standard When It Falls. I’ve now seen this song 2 of the 4 times it has been played live and the potential in each section of this song is immense! I’m REALLY excited for where this song could go once they stretch it out!
Next up was a rousing rendition of the always popular Ain’t That Wrong. High energy right from the start and then settling into a groove that emphasized the fun in funky, this jam seemed to build from your toes until the entire crowd was getting down as one. To me one of the easiest measures of a great jam is when you think it has reached it’s peak only for the band to take it to another level, and this version did exactly that!
I love Jordan’s bass line during All In, especially as it leads through Red and Brian’s almost Allman Brother’s-esqe dueling scales, and ultimately to one of the best breakdowns Spafford has in their catalog. Brian’s shredding through the first sections of this song gave way to Red leading a mellow jam (and perfectly timed breather) before Brian came back in to hammer this one home. It just amazes me that these guys get tighter and tighter every time I see them.
The set ended with more fireworks as Brian crushed more soaring riffs through America. This one was fairly straight forward, but that is NEVER a bad thing with this song. As technical as ever, the band has been absolutely on point throughout these sets. As they ended the set Brian said “See some of you tonight” and my anticipation for the coming late night could not have been higher!
I have to admit I had been looking forward to this weekend for a looong time. Umphrey's McGee and Spafford are hands down my two favorite bands, and to have them together for 3 total shows over 2 nights in the Midwest is as good as it gets for me. The smiles and hugs from friends as we entered the Chesterfield Amphitheater were almost in jeopardy as we waited out a run of fairly significant thunderstorms that seemed to come out of nowhere and last up until just minutes before the guys took the stage. Tonight was going to be a hot one. Mid 90’s and high humidity made for less than ideal dancing conditions, especially in the pit, but none of that mattered now. Spafford was taking the stage and life was good!
I'd be lying if I said this was the first time it felt like the positive energy of the arriving crowd seemed to push away the clouds and the band opening with People seemed to echo that sentiment perfectly! Red explaining that “love's the common binding of people like me and you” was the perfect backdrop as the crowd filled in and any remaining anxiety from the weather melted away. This song just never gets old.
Next up was The Remedy which showcased some really fun back and forth between Brian and Red as they took turns filling in while the other took control. This jam flowed along beautifully with each member building on the other leading to Brian's familiar tone absolutely soaring across the venue. You could see it in their faces, they're ready to play this weekend... and the crowd knew it too.
Backdoor Funk came next and I recall thinking Brian almost looked sleepy as he strummed a simple riff that would be the foundation to the entire jam. Pardon my sports metaphor here, but like any superstar late in the game Brian seemed to just want the ball in this one, and the rest of the band was happy to oblige. He single handedly took that riff through some intricate plucking, and into a flat out shredding crescendo that was to be my favorite jam of the set. Brian’s arsenal was on full display for this one!
The set ended with a short but suh-weeeeet Electric Taco Stand that was much more of a sprint than the marathons Spafford is known for. The band knew their time was coming to an end and just put the pedal to the metal on this one as they all melted into one big sound from start to finish. It’s not often that Umphrey’s is about to take the stage and I’m thinking about a show the next day, but this set had me hungry for more!
Locked in for Lockn’
Oh, the magic that is Lockn’!!! A reminder of the days when the large music festivals were filing their lineup with jam friendly bands and packing the side stages with every regional and local act they could find. Certainly, it is one of the few larger festivals that caters too those who crave improvised music. I was absolutely delighted to see Spafford on the lineup for Lockn’ as it is one of my favorite festivals to attend in general and I know the scene watches this fest closely.
Sunday afternoon is not the day I personally would have picked for Spafford. True, they are rather new to the scene, this was evident in the fact that most of the people I talked to throughout the weekend many had only heard OF them, not actually heard them. My personal theory on this has to do with age. Wait a second and hear me out. I am over 40 myself so this is not a slight, just my observations. It seems to me that Spafford sits in a grey area between age gaps. Not quite electronic dance music but not quite just full-out rock and roll either. So, it seems to me that they sit in the middle of the age spectrum yet still gather fans from either side. I think this makes them perfect for Lockn’ as that is a perfect age group for the fest to target.
Personal theories aside, I was eagerly anticipating this set. I knew it would be a short one but what would they do with it? I had our vendor neighbors excited to see them as neither of them had before. So, I enter the concert field at about 2:00 and quickly head to the soundboard area. The heat pushed a lot of people back to the shade after Keller’s Gospel set, so the field was only spattered with people at the end of the Judy Chops set. As the final note rang out, the stage began to turn, and the boys were already jamming as they spun into sight. The sound switched over to them and we were off to a running start.
Broken Wing opens up the set. You can hear it as soon as the main sound system picks them up. It was a hot tempo too. Brian can be seen sending back monitor adjustments. A short intro jam leads into the main body of the song There were some technical difficulties at the beginning. First a loud POP from the system at one point that was quickly fixed and then in between verses it looked like Brian lost a cable connection or something as he had to bend down and fix it. The song itself was a feisty little romp but fairly safe and standard. I like this song a lot and think it has potential for some huge jams, but I personally think this song might fit better later in a setlist. The song ends strongly, although I can’t help but feel that there might have been a little frustration at the tech stuff that took Brian out of the mindset for a second.
Red stands and waves at the crowd which has now filled in the central pit of the main stage and the crowd goes nuts. More younger people in the field overall but some of the older heads are there to check out this quickly rising band. The opening phrase of Slip and Squander greets us as the 2nd song of the set. I have mixed emotions about the placement and choice here. It was played beautifully, and Red’s voice was on point for sure, however, after the rockin’ intro it seemed to take the vibe down a little in the crowd. The lyrical section was tight as always and the instrumental build was patient and well-crafted but Red’s voice is the strongest part of this version to me.
A short break after SaS and the quick-tempo, funk-strut of Electric Taco Stand graces our ear holes. This song immediately breathes new life into the crowd and despite it being the hottest day of the festival, people get up and start to dance hard. I think ETS also hit a higher gear for the boys too. Brian finally seems to let loose a bit more adding little flourishes here and there that were less noticeable earlier. Jordan’s bass sounds amazing! Really clear and heavy yet not overpowering. After the first few minutes of sound issues, the mix was perfect in the field. I could easily hear Red’s keys tinkling down over the crowd as clearly as I could hear Brian shred and feel Jordan drop bombs. ETS certainly brought the heat. Again, I notice the communication between the group, especially between Brian and Cam. At one point I see Brain actively trying to pick up the tempo in the jam section and Cam immediately responds. Not much of a change but just where it needed to be. They really seem to be firing on all cylinders now. Brian is dancing around as they patiently make their way to the build. As they wind back into the melody of the song, building into a huge crescendo the guy standing next to me dances over and says, “This drummer is on point!”, then dances back to his blanket blissfully smiling. As the song ends the crowd erupts and even those that were laying down getting some sun were on their feet.
With about 20ish minutes left in the set it seems like the perfect place for All In. Sure enough, right after I think that, they drop into it. I’ve never seen this song fail to win a crowd, especially as the end of a short set. There are so many styles they happily wander through that there seems to be something for everyone. The composed, heavy section ends and they ease into that rolling reggae feel. Everything feels really light now. Red has descending runs down the keys that seem to peek out of nowhere. Brian’s fingers seem so nimble as he switches back and forth from strumming to picking, slowly pushing the jam forward and up. Really beautiful, patient jam. You can hear Cam pushing things slightly, but it’s balanced by Brian’s longer tones. This is my highlight of the set and everyone is up dancing around now. The build to the end is large and finds Cam and Brian playing off each other to perfection as Red fills in the sound to give them a landscape to play on. The song and the set end on a massively high note and with authority.
As the stage spins back around, I begin the long walk back to the booth I was working, handing out slaps as I go. After that ETS and All In, with Pete Shapiro watching and smiling from the side of stage, I have no doubt that Spafford will be back at Lockn’. I know for a fact that they gained many fans. I’m hoping for a better time slot honestly. Maybe even a night spot so we can see the amazing light shows as well. Personally, I’m hoping for them to slide into that late-night Saturday spot. Two nights of JRAD late night and a night of Spafford late night? I’d buy tickets just to go to late night!!!!
The Oldest City in America! When I looked through the tour list after Spafford announced they would be returning to the road with Umphrey’s, there was one show that called to me. One show that I knew if I was going to catch them at all this tour, it would HAVE to be that that show in St. Augustine.
For those who have never been, I personally think St. Augustine is the best city in Florida. In what other state can you dangle your feet over the bay while sitting on a moat wall built in the 1500s? So much history, so much peace, and so much fun. I used to live there and the thought of seeing Spafford rip up the same stage I used to perform on as an actor made me giddy. A home show away from home. And I also would get to introduce a good friend to my favorite Florida city. Let’s do it!!!
I stopped and received my pit wristband from the very friendly amphitheater attendant just as Spafford kicked into the opening notes of Eternity. “Damn! I’ll never get close to the front now,” I thought. But when we rounded the corner of the food booth I saw hardly anyone standing in the pit. Dancing down the steps, across the pit floor, all the way up to the 2nd row back from the rail. “Let it play straight from the Heavens, bring that joyful music raining down on me.” Eternity was a nice little warm-up. It’s not necessarily one of my favorites songs but this eternal city on the Florida coast seemed to be calling for it. As the song comes to an end, I look around. The S’nerds are into it, but others seem to be just waiting for Um and talking.
Then I hear coming from the stage that funky strut rhythm. Wow! Could they really be dropping a Double-Time right now?! Yes, yes, they are. A smile stretches across my face and the funk fills my booty and my body begins to really jam. Funny thing is, those talkers and folks just hanging out, they begin to move too. Jordan’s bass sounded extra crisp to me. Strong and clear with a nice mix overall. Double Time is the song that woke everyone up…including Brian. During the short jam section, the Moss face started. Tongue out, jumping up and down, this is when the feeling hit. On the short side, but full of feeling.
Double Time ends and both Jordan and Brian step back on the stage to let Red take the stage. With a soft rolling key intro, it could only be one song…Beautiful Day. I felt this one coming before the show. A sunny Saturday, with few puffy clouds in the sky, it almost screamed for a Beautiful Day to settle out the hard funk before it. As Red winds into the song a guy standing next to me asks what they have played already. I tell him the list so far. “Is this Beautiful Day they are rolling into?” my new friend asks. “Yessir it is!” I hand him some of my St. Augustine slaps and a Dis Go pin that I had on me. He smiles and says “Awesome! They played this in Orlando.” Red’s voice is spot on today. It’s strong and clear and just floats over the melody. The “old school Badshoe “T” was replaced by “New school.” Wish I could have heard it but the chompers standing next to me on the rail overpower Red, and I couldn’t catch it. Hopefully we will hear it on a recording.
Beautiful Day ends and there are some nods from Brian to the rest of the boys and they break into the next song. At first, it's as if my ears don’t believe what they hear. “Holy Great Gaps, Batman!!! It’s a Virtual Bean Dip.” All of a sudden I get a tingle up my back. I know they haven’t played this one in a bit so this feels special. This would be the song that all the boys seem to really connect too! Watching Brian and Cam communicate non-verbally during this tune was amazing. The jam seemed cohesive as a whole and they were really paying attention to the small things. Cam’s fills seemed more confident now, or maybe just more warmed up. I don’t know exactly but they definitely feel at this point that they have hit a groove they really like. The crowd feels it too as they have stood up, even those in the nearly empty seats have begun to dance hard.
VBD begins to mellow out and there is a shift in the drums. An island rhythm begins to form and there can be no doubt for those that know. For the first time it feels as if we might get a bleed. Slowly the change comes. Next change comes from Red and now there is certainly no doubt. They finally drop into Salamander Song after a fairly long and patient bleed. Even those who are only partially familiar with Spafford know this one and the whole crowd begins to dance. A nice version of Salamander and they carried over the connection they had found during VBD. The song is blissful and upbeat and leaves everyone "dancing the whole way home." The crowd breaks into applause and those of us at the rail begin yelling our heads off thanking the boys for the show.
I’m waiting for them to walk off stage before I leave my spot but, Brian turns and looks out at the sound board area with a face that seems to say, “One more? Do we have time?” A look over to stage left another glance back to the soundboard. You can see Brian say “Yeah?” and Red sits back down at the keys. YES!!!! One more final song. What will they play? They are talking among themselves for a second and all of these hopeful ideas float through my head. There was one song besides Broken Wing I was hoping for. Then, as if my thoughts had been beamed directly into their heads, the opening of Hollywood. I have been waiting to hear this song for a minute now. Not a long version but a tight one. Again I have to remark at the boys communication on stage. The way they listen and respond during songs is something I haven’t seen to this degree in a long time from a band.
The set ends with a cute little finality and I stand there, wrapped in the warm Hollywood fuzz they left me with. They played a range of song from the get downs to the lyrically driven and it’s that range that makes me continue to follow this band around the country. I thought that maybe the Umphrey’s fans were waiting till closer to the start of Um to come in, but even when they came on the St. Augustine Amphitheater was still somewhat empty in the back. If you ever have a chance to see a show at this venue, TAKE IT! The venue itself is small but beautiful, and the city is amazing place to spend a few days. Moe. and Widespread will be playing there later in the year just FYI.
After the show I pull out my phone to see just how long it’s been since Hollywood was played and I’m surprised to see some of the gaps. Eternity was last played on 2018-03-10, Double Time last played on 2018-03-14, Virtual Bean Dip last played on 2018-03-11, and Hollywood last played on 2018-03-07. That’s a hell of a lot of gaps dropped on this show folks and some of those songs people have been waiting to return. Loved the easy feeling of the show to match the easy feeling that St. Augustine gives you. I left the city relaxed, centered, and totally excited for what they might drop at Lockn’!!!!! I’ll see you ‘nerds in Virginia!!!!!!!