Review: 2018-03-16 - Barkley Ballroom - Frisco, CO
FreshTracks last edited by Johnny Love
How do you get your live dose of Spafford?
Some of you Nerds get to go on tour, hit multiple shows, and maybe squeeze in a summer festival. Congratulations, I salute you for soaking in as much jamming as possible. For others, despite the desire for more, more, more we have to be satisfied with a single show squeezed in between work and family commitments. These days, I'm a member of the latter group. Which means when I do get my Spafford fix, I savor every guitar solo, cling to every cymbal crash, and absorb every bass vibration. They have to last me months.
With my touring days relegated to the rearview mirror and the band eschewing Denver for Colorado ski towns this winter, the Barkley Ballroom show was my lone opportunity to catch a show on this tour and share my enthusiasm with other Nerds. I was fortunate enough to catch the Aggie rager on the Fall Tour, and anticipation for the Frisco show was intense, as it was one of the only shows on the tour to sell out months in advance (Atlanta was the other).
I was able to convince my high school friend Scott to fly out from the East Coast for a show, a day of skiing, and a family visit. It would have been his first show, but he one-upped me by sneaking out to check out his home state show in January. I was only mildly jealous that he was treated to a gorgeous Red’s Jam opener and the tragically underplayed Sweet closer at his very first show.
After picking Scott up at the airport, we headed into the Colorado high country for dinner and drinks up the road in Breckenridge. When I saw the setlist from the previous night in Steamboat, I confess my heart sank slightly. I sensed that the Frisco show was probably going to be overshadowed by the previous night, but that admission hardly tempered my enthusiasm.
The Barkley Ballroom is a small nightclub tucked into the lower level of a shopping plaza. What it lacked in charm it made up for in intimacy. I just can't imagine the band playing venues of this size for very much longer, certainly not in Colorado. We pre-gamed at a bar/pizzeria across the way, where we had another beer and chatted with other enthusiastic Nerds who were waiting for the doors to open at 9. We met several folks who had attended their first shows on this Colorado run and were already hooked.
Since we got there early, I positioned myself right on the "rail," smack dab in between Red and Jordan. As a short guy, I love having an unimpeded view of the interplay between the band members. After introductions with my neighbors Lance, Amy, and a few others, we settled in for the ride. The mix up front was outstanding, and everyone in the first few rows was friendly, eager, and intently focused on the music. A distraction-free listening experience in a sea of positivity-- a sharp contrast to the rail scene that generally surrounds a certain foursome from Vermont.
It was the band’s 3rd show in a row and 13th show in 17 days— yet they barely showed signs of exhaustion, though there were signs that they may have been feeling the venue’s 9,000 foot elevation. Focused and deliberate, they dove right in.
Set 1-- Love holds us together....
The show opener People caused me to break out in a shit-eating grin. This is the song I sing to my 6-year-old daughter, who responds to the catchy hook and doesn’t have the patience for long jams. This version had some extra mustard on it as well, with a very nice middle jam that boasted a psychedelic tinge before exploding in a high-energy climax.
Aeroplane— Aside from its debut performance on New Year’s 2016, this cover has only been in the rotation for about 5 months. Nonetheless, it's already become a great jamming vehicle. Ignore the mislabeled tracking on the Nugs release, as this version winds down into a quiet, bubbly jam that eventually builds back up into a funky, bass-driven departure. Call it "Barkley Jam" or an extended Aeroplane, but regardless of what you call it, this improvisation simply soars. This flight eventually descends for a smooth landing, sliding seamlessly into All My Friends at the 20 minute mark.
With all the great Bee Jams out there, this one might wind up being relegated to the forgotten pile. It doesn't feature the wild, extended improvisation of other versions and the band takes some time to find a groove. Eventually, a quiet theme that echoes the Doors' "Riders on the Storm" emerges. The final two minutes are fiery, but this version is standard when compared to its legendary brethren.
This was my first Leave the Light On in the three shows I've attended, and it was one of the first Spafford songs that really caught my ear. Words are insufficient to describe the ebb and flow of this version, but it holds up nicely against other versions from the tour.
I was all but certain that LTLO would close the set, but instead we got a bonus song. I wasn't familiar with The Man, which was busted out for the first time in 95 shows, complete with a birthday dedication to Spaffnerd Chris Ogor-Lopez (@Lopez .)
At setbreak, I find Scott relaxing, bleary-eyed, in the back of the venue. He was exhausted and fading, clearly feeling the effects of the 5am East Coast time start, the beers, and the altitude. I drove him down the road to our hotel, returned to the venue, and found my spot on the rail for set 2.
Set 2 -- I don't like sleeping at night...
It's hard to ask for a better second set opener than Todd's Tots, one of those idiosyncratic Spafford tunes that is part of their signature sound. The feedback drenched journey never wandered, a focused batch of tots if there ever was one.
The Remedy (which was subbed in for Levilan Shores on the setlist) meandered for some time before getting going. The wandering jam included several moments that sounded to these ears like the introduction to the Grateful Dead’s “The Wheel". By around the 14 minute mark, things heated up significantly as the band locked back into a jubilant major key groove that had the entire venue grinning from ear to ear.
Since its introduction on New Year's Eve, the Lovesick Melody > Soil combination has proven extremely fertile. This outstanding pairing didn't disappoint in Frisco, with the Soil jam a contender for best version to date. Cam switched to the e-drum for the first time of the night, Red got futuristic with the synth sounds, and Brian followed with some downright dirty, extremely danceable funk that transitioned into high-energy rock and roll.
The Postman delivered the goods for the second set closer, the contemplative opening section allowing me to ruminate on all that had brought me to this night, and what future might await this talented foursome on the live stage. The build up was funky and fierce, eventually bringing Brian to the edge of the stage, his foot on the monitor, egging on the crowd in front of him. A fierce, high-energy special delivery.
The short but high-energy Electric Taco Stand encore was icing on the cake, a gift of one of the band's signature songs to send us off into the night. For the discriminating listener, check out People, the Aeroplane jam, Soil and the Postman-- all contain outstanding band interplay, and the entire night was a celebratory ride.
Walking out of the venue, I had no doubt in my mind that the days of connecting with the band in intimate venues such as these are numbered. The band is simply too talented, and will continue converting fans one at a time. This summer, they'll have the opportunity to play to thousands of new ears at a time and convert even more fans. The ascent continues, and it's going to be a fun ride. Invite your friends!
Our heartfelt thanks to Tara Gracer Photography for the amazing photos
@FreshTracks thanks for the awesome review! I 100% under the savoring every solo, clinging to every crash, and absorbing all that bass. I'm in the same boat. I think I brought a full-show's worth of energy to the 10-minute ATW performance at MSG last month. So much so the Knicks fans were looking at me a little strangely :) This was a solid show, glad you got your first LTLO.
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@Johnny-Love Thanks for the kind words. Glad I’m not alone in savoring every opportunity between obligations. It’s the common binding of people like me and you.