Review: 2018-04-21 - Variety Playhouse - Atlanta, GA
When Terminal West sold out in under two minutes it was obvious this show would be special. Then Variety Playhouse sold out in under a minute. I got lucky and got my ticket the first go ‘round and was stoked for a solo trip down from Massachusetts, just for this show.
I ended up expanding the trip a little with a three-day 420 wristband. Caught their day set and the full day Saturday. I have never been to the Playhouse and time spent in Atlanta has been minimal to this point. I had a room in Castleberry close by the 3-28 Atlanta Falcons stadium. I’ll give it up for the city. Almost everyone I met was pleasant and friendly. I was a $6 Uber from the venue, and a 20 minute walk to the festival. There is something so liberating about doing something like this solo. My only commitments were the music. The only belly I had to make happy was my own.
The Variety Playhouse is a beautiful old theater we don’t see around much these days. There was a bit of a line at 11:30p to get in but it moved quickly. I was nervous getting a spot up front, but after breezing through, hitting the bar for a couple beers and couple waters, I walked down front to a wide open floor and set up right in front of Brian. The venue never felt “packed” and when the band hit the stage right around midnight it didn’t seem to fill in much more.
Brian was hopping around getting us juiced before launching off with Electric Taco Stand. High expectations kicking off a highly anticipated show with one of their biggest jam songs. And they did not disappoint. “How you feeling, Atlanta? Let’s get funky.” Yes, please. Jam kicked right off into a sweet highly melodic Jordan-led groove, and Brian's signature chord shuffles. The jam shifted a bit as they found a new groove which had Jordan and Cam filling space and just like that we’re locked into a new dirty groove. Then Brian gets on his Wah. It’s six minutes into the show and we already need a heat check. Red shows up to the party laying on the pipes and we’re peaking now. Sound in this room is close to perfect as Brian's high notes rip through my skull during the peak. They drop right into breakdown as Red gets on the synth. Jam picks up tempo with Cam shining, as he would all night. It was hard not to just watch him. This new build-up was a monster taking us right back into the ending refrain.
I’m glad they took a few seconds between songs for some water because this guy was winded already and we were only one song in. When All My Friends started I was happy I wore my big boy pants, because it was gonna be “one of those nights”. Fuck it. Dance now. Pay for it later.
Is there a riff Brian loves more than Bee Jam? The funk got thick with that magical Brian/Cam chemistry holding it down as they both brought us into another build up with Brian really gettin after it. He has a way of playing notes with his entire body that just kills me. We slid from that peak into a major key jam that had soaring written all over it off the rip. They were patient all night with jams and I think this is the best example of that kind of confidence. It felt so organic, like the jam came to them. The jam didn’t take off the way I thought it would, instead they rested on what I was sure was gonna be Lonely, eventually. It’s one of those jams if you isolate all of them they are all playing near perfect. By the smiles on their faces they knew it too.
Salamander Song took me completely by surprise coming out of that jam. It was the one song I’d bet the house on tonight, but I expected it later in the show. I took a second to look around the room. Yup. We’re in full-on dance party mode now. This was a shorter Salamander Song than most, with no Brian solo. I thought Red was a little low in the mix all night, or it just could have been my spot. Even his part here didn’t dominate the jam like it should. It’s a shame I couldn’t really hear him all night. Red always kills it and the color he adds is a big part of my Spafford experience.
We dance all the way Into All In, which in retrospect feels like the anchor of the show. When someone asks what the late night Playhouse show was like just have them listen to this. Sums up the night. All fat no filler, fan favorite kinda night. And, most importantly, they were having a blast. Unfortunately, Jordan was having some technical trouble during the composed section. Looked like he got a handle on it as they went into the heavy section at the end, then Brian went off. If there is a riff he likes playing more than Bee Jam it has to be All In. He's up there jumping around, playing on one leg, and never misses a note. This funk jam is as filthy as it gets. The kind of funk jam you skip the pregnancy test and just get the Plan B. Maybe I’ll start selling it to pay for Spafford tour. They gently laid us into this spacey groove, again patiently moving upwards to a roof-blasting peak. I heard a few “wow”s and the chompers settled, which is always a sign of a good jam. The build-up in this jam was so clean. Then the blue balls happened. Whatever technical issues Jordan was having came back right at the peak. Literally, the peak. He was pissed. True professionals, they dropped out of the peak into yet another filthy groove and we rode that for a while as Brian and Red construct another build. Technical issues didn’t even phase them as this got heavy fast and we were back in action. Brian's solo was like two solos in one ripping back into the All In riff.
With all the great musical highlights this night has the “meat” of the show, All In, Todds Tots, and Plans, might be the most impressive. All highly composed songs with regular monster jams. You get any one of them at a show you’re happy. Back-to-back-to-back is next level. Next level is also Brian's solo during Tots. When I hear something like this I’m convinced there isn’t a sound that comes out of The Raven that isn’t intentional. The way he uses sustains and bends to accent his solo is why he’s my favorite guitarist around now... and moving fast towards all-time status. I actually ended up to the side a bit by this point in the night and was in front of Cam. If you get the opportunity to just watch him during Tots, do it. He's busy back there. As I’m watching this technically proficient kid kill the drums, Brian is buckling my knees with his final solo. I remember looking around at everyone around me at this point and everyone had a smile, to varying degrees, on their face. Which made me smile. It was that kind of night.
I’m sure I heard my leg muscles cry when Plans started because they knew there are not going to be “breather songs” tonight. Brian's first solo was definitely short and not the raging peak it usually is. I foolishly thought maybe this will be a mellow Plans. Maybe even closer. Felt so good to be so wrong. This isn’t a monster 18:00 Plans but holy shit, it was thick and meaty. Whatever technical problems we had before were in the past because Jordan fucking OWNED this jam. Wasn’t long before we were in a faster tempo, every single person in that room locked in. All four of them filled the others' space while maintaining a progressive groove. Cam basically took a drum solo for the entirety of the jam, even when they went to a breakdown he was still changing his fills. Brian locked into a funky little groove, and we knew this would take us up again. Long day. Long night. This is the jam I lost my shit on and just left it on the field. Whatever gas I had left in me burned when Brian hit that peak. At one point he was legit running in place while ripping Plans chords to end the song.
I thought Plans was closer so when Down Under started I was stoked. I got the sense right away this would be blistering. They settled on a groove that went high-speed dance hall level quick. It was the only time of the night I wanted to be further back because the lights looked awesome. The peak was high energy but a little short due to time.
Cam came out first and started a funky groove for us. I immediately thought I heard a Lion King beat in there, Hakuna Matata? Maybe he teased it. Maybe he didn’t. Maybe there are only so many beats and some sound similar. The world may never know. Brian led Jordan and Red out with a little Brian dance. And the fan boi I am of Brian, I admit, I got a little smitten. They got into a solid Bluesy honky tonk like groove. I didn’t know the song, asked everyone around me, no one knew. Turns out Broken Wing is a killer encore. Has that Blues appeal you just know Brian wants to slay over. Given the slot here, and the night, I knew this was gonna be good. Also, one of the few times during the night Red was higher in the mix. Added a different depth to the jam than we heard through the night. Brian's solo was so thoughtful and deliberate without sounding forced. The kind of solo you would put on the album in one take. You got it. It’s good. The fun honky tonk riff at the end was a fun way to end an incredible night.
A bow was taken. Picks and drumsticks were tossed. Love was given.
Thanks for the review. Wish I had been there.
Thanks, Ron, great review! I love when people like you are able to technically describe some of the awesome things happening in my ears when I listen to Spafford! I listened to the Live Stream, but this is definitely going to require a re-listen. Esp the All In. I love me some All In.
@Lauer-Nation Dude thanks for the killer write up! I was loosing my proverbial shit the entire time. This is why I travel for music. Meeting people and enjoying epic shows. So glad you took the time to type this up and from the read it looks like you enjoyed yourself more than others! See you soon man!
Great review man! Glad you got down there for some well deserved Spafford! I just saw that this went up on Nugs and I’ve got it downloaded so I can start my day right tomorrow. After hearing your breakdown I can’t wait to get into that Tots and Plans!