Review: 2017-10-13 - The Bluebird Nightclub, Bloomington, IN
A newbies maiden voyage on the S.S. Spafford:
Nestled in the middle of a block downtown amid other bars/restaurants and shops on one of the main avenues that carry traffic though the area surrounding Indiana University sat The Bluebird Nightclub. Spafford’s new tour bus proudly parked in front and the throwback marquee let us know we were in the right spot. This was my first show at The Bluebird and first time seeing Spafford (or the opener Hayley Jane & the Primates). It was also the first time either band played live in Indiana. This night full of firsts, the entire experience, couldn’t have impressed this new Spaffnerd more.
The iconic Bluebird has been a staple of Indiana University for more than 40 years and gives you that comfy feel of a chill local hangout.The stage sat a few feet high off the dance floor and “front row” was there for the taking right at it’s edge – no rail hugging necessary. The walls were flanked with large framed photos of musicians and posters of bands that had visited and called the stage home for the night.
Before the show my boyfriend spotted Red outside the venue and struck up a quick conversation. Red seemed genuinely interested and grateful that we had traveled four hours from a neighboring state to see them. He raved about the Hayley Jane and the Primates and let us know we shouldn’t miss them. Red couldn’t have been more right. Haley Jane and the Primates brought a soulful, fun vibe to fill the rooms and prep the early crowd. There was a definite deep soul to their sound with some songs feeling a bit of a rasta-reggae root, including a mashup of Coconut>New Speedway Boogie>Coconut that was a perfect fit together and the band made their own! Even though the crowd asked for more as they finished their set, they graciously made way for the Spafford crew to ready the equipment.
Fans started to claim their spots with room to move and groove as it came close to show's start. Casting off with those waiting for them to take the stage in tow, Jordan set the course with the opening bass line. The whole band then jumped All In as others wanting to embark on this trip still flowed in the doors. Jordan grabbed the vocal lead to continue the evening’s voyage with attendees swaying and wading in the tunes with what felt like a fairly mellow start of the song. As the chorus started, “One look was all it took” to know this crowd was down for the ride. Once through the lyrics, the energy in the room shifted as the boys made way for this long opening arrangement and it was apparent that everyone was ready to dive deep in the jams and get lost riding in the waves. After a few minutes of delving in and out of different grooves, Red and Brian entertained with a swashbuckling back and forth answering each other’s playful string and key frolicking. The following 10 minutes or so gave a taste of what was in store capped off with Brian shredding the last few minutes of a nearly 18 minute show opener like a surge breaking on a rocky shoreline.
With just a slight meddle of sounds giving the impression they were going to come to a full halt, Brian broke directly into the next song with another fearless guitar riff to begin All My Friends, to taper into a short respite from the crashing jams. Tight and funky, it was the shortest song of the night that had Red shining for a bit on keys before letting it crest into a killer intro to Bee Jam and laying into its sticky sweetness thick and heavy. Everything you could ask for was in this one... From mind-bending rock outs , smooth-melting funkalicious flows, back to heavy rockin’ slams spinning into crowd-lovin’ energetic funktastical spurts then buildups that kept climbing and space-outs that made you think you were in a wormhole… they let the currents carry this jam around.
As they were floating from one Spafford original to the next, flowing between bouncy, “shake a leg”, funk-filled whirlpools that whisked you out into some uncharted dips and then threw you head first into energizing guitar shredding, Brian, Cameron, Jordan and Red were playing as one and this connectedness continued through the entire first set making a seamless span of tunes to drift along with.
It seemed the crowd was on the same wavelength as the boys had everyone moving to a beat and sound reminiscent of Scarlet Begonias (I almost thought it was a spaffed-up version, being a new s’nerd and all), as Mind's Unchained got under way. As they splashed around into a bit of improv time, the crowd came out drenched and loving every minute of it. This was the perfect bridge to lead between the hurricane that Bee Jam had stirred up to the more reeled-in playing that came after Mind's Unchained.
A slower, smooth lead in to Simon and Lily was up next, which showcased some tremendous guitar by Brian, and amazing support by Red, Jordan and Cam as their meandering treated the crowd to an extended exploration of S&L. Everyone near us seemed engulfed in these long instrumental trips the band kept gifting us, showcasing Spafford’s many facets. The end came for the first leg of this endeavor, washing the crowd out of the water and onto Levilan Shores which was like landing on a secret island. This was only the third time this had been heard live. They kept the lid on this treasure locked for the night, but I can see some definite room for it to open up in years to come. The ending of the song made you feel like you were sitting under a palm tree and watching the water tickle the sand at your toes.
The set break gave everyone just enough time to meander, check out the merch, which included the 2nd Fall tour poster by Jon Rose, grab a cold drink or a smoke with company outside the venue and bask in awe of the first set.
The second set was clearly about to get underway and more folks tried to jump aboard on the floor close to the stage. The distinctive start to Windmill gave a great push off to begin the second set as Cameron and Jordan hoisted the sails. Likely expecting the song to be over, there was much love shown from many attendees between the versed portion and the shredding that ensued which came in dark and strong like a thunderous night storm. This was already a song that I really liked, and I remember my boyfriend leaning in to tell me, “Now I see why you like that one."
The segmented layout of the room and open truss rafters and compact ceiling area near the stage made little room for much play with light effects. It looked like they had to be rigged low and almost directly behind the stage. From certain vantage points you could space out and wander with the sounds when you caught the designs dancing overhead like a school of fish in the ripples. Adding to the rooms ambience, was the misty smoke of the fog machine often hitting the light beams just right to throw a few swirls in the beams weaving behind the band, which had the audience hooked while they watched them navigate the waters of each song's delivery.
With no slacking from any of them as every single song all night was all hands on deck, the guitar and bass had seemed to carry much of the weight in the first set and gave everyone a full taste of what Jordan and Brian could do, but the second set definitely had moments where Red was in his element - in a few of the songs it was as if the wind was in his sails and fueling him along. Cameron kept the bearing throughout this excursion and showed he no doubt had his sea legs about him, and had I not known I would have never guessed he was so new to this crew. As the night crept on, Spafford continued to submerge us into the boundless deep, with this willing crowd aboard.
Walls made a splash that got the whole crowd soaked in the grooving dips and bobbing heads were everywhere. Using the stars as their guide this one was spacy and couldn’t have been more welcomed. First time hearing this live, I see why it has been raved on from other shows. As the final brick fell deep into the abyss a cohesive flow carried on as Red continued into the headwind with People. The Red Tide made it’s first Indiana appearance through a stirring solo that had every eye and ear locked in awe as he washed over everything in his wake and with no doubt killed it!
The Reprise brought the funk in with Jordan and a sick bass leading the way into a crazy storm of all four guys treading the swells together through an off-the-chart, wild ride. At a few points I could’ve sworn that a fifth person joined them and was playing a horn somewhere on that stage. I know there wasn’t and I am not sure where that was manifesting from (I am guessing Red or Brian) but it was tight the few times I heard it!
They proceeded on the quest and headed back to the calmer waters to slow it down a bit again before heading right back into the squall. At the close of The Reprise we were spit out directly into an obvious fan favorite. Audience participation crested with a good portion of the room knowing the words to sing along in parts (and others trying their best) as the high tide rolled in with Galisteo Way. It was like hearing a timeless shanty that everyone knew, except this crowd was here to kill it, so it was an overly exuberant chant, which the band fed off as they immersed into a ska-inspired rastafied spot where you could imagine Red’s synth sounding like steel drums. The rest of this one had the guys coasting in a mellow sea before docking back to close out the song. As the last call out of “Galisteo Way” was made with the crowd yelling in unison, this easily could’ve ended the second set with no complaints from the crowd, but there was a bit more in store to explore with these guys at the helm.
Like visiting ports in different countries, the song selection for the night gave a varied taste of what this band was capable of and also an insight into the influences that helped bring their sound to life. If it wasn’t already apparent that these guys could play just about any style and nail it, their last song of this set blew any doubts out of the water. The bluesy, soul-stirring delivery of Shake You Loose kept everyone on the floor and toned the vibe down just enough for what the encore had in store.
There wasn’t much room between the second set’s end and when the band came back to their posts for the final leg of the journey. After two sets of complete originals, Spafford threw their own songbook overboard as they launched into the realm of covers with a well-received first to kick it off. Red brought in the encore with the vocals to My Sisters and Brothers, a song best recognized as a Jerry Garcia Band favorite. Without straying much from the familiar for the delivery of this classic, they were still successful in putting their mark on it. After getting the taste for some Jerry Garcia from Haley Jane and the Primates and knowing that stuff from his repertoire sneaks into the Spafford sets on occasion, I was happy as a clam to hear this cover and get to witness the first time they played it. Spafford laid the groundwork for this cover to only get better in their hands and the lyrics seem to be timely and so well fitting for what music should do… bring people together. Although I am newer to this band and its loving community of fans… it really shows that this is something Spafford has an amazing grasp of, and in my opinion – as the Spaffnerd.com site and community that supports them help prove – they do quite well.
The evening’s last treat was bringing Hayley Jane out to flourish the vocals a bit for the final song. Red intro’d with a solo on the keys leading into a reggae island vibe rendition of I Shall Be Released. This was a perfect fit to follow My Brothers and Sisters, but also to give the opportunity to collaborate with Hayley Jane. She was like a siren, entrancing and impressive as she jumped right in and delivered the second verse and gave a well-balanced harmony during the chorus lines, which seemed to have everyone joining in to flesh it out. The guys had it locked on this song which had already made a Fall Tour appearance and clearly welcomed Hayley Jane to do her thing as she belted out the final verse and nailed it to close the show.
It was pure enjoyment both for the band and those that had sailed the show with them and both encore covers had the audience taking it all in, singing along, and spreading the love, which didn’t stop at the songs end. I would suggest to any newbies to Spafford looking to tick them off their must-see list to not only do it without hesitation (buy the ticket already!)… but to also do a bit of exploring and check out some of the extensive songs and shows available online. I could have listened to more in the last few months but I did take a solid few days of checking out tracks everyone was hyping up that they most enjoyed on other fall tour stops. Taking in some of the more top-played tunes was just enough for me to feel well-versed in the sea of that sweet Spafford style. Even though I didn’t know the name of every song or jam, couldn’t tell you the lyrics to much at all yet and some of what they played I am sure I hadn’t even heard yet – I was sold. Having even just a slight familiarity to a handful of the songs they played and taking every drop of enthusiasm from the band and what they stirred up in everyone there, this night gave me that realization that I really did “get it” with these guys… when I had already thought I got it.
@spaffytaffy great review! Yeah they're the real deal, it's been a while since I “got it“ with any other new band
Red and Brian entertained with a swashbuckling back and forth answering each other’s playful string and key frolicking.
Amazing review, @spaffytaffy, thank you so much for your vivid and surrealistic portrayal of this incredible show... wish i could have been there! I love the description above of the back and forth Brian and Red do during All In. What a great image to embody that sound.. up till now I've always had an image in mind during this exchange of Brian and Red running and skipping down a green grassy hill together.. but now them dancing back and forth on a ship's deck rattling sabers in three musketeers garb will forever be my go to look!
you really expanded my mind with this review.. thank you.. and keep writing for us, please!!
Lovely review! Glad you enjoyed it :)
Great review! Wonder why Brian wasn't playing The Raven for this show...