Review: 2018-06-07 - Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival - Manchester, TN
Back on the Farm for the first time!
Living in Nashville, it’s no surprise that ever year I look forward to the Bonnaroo lineup announcement. Not because they ALWAYS have the best lineup but because it’s just soooooo close to home. This year I was, like so many, disappointed in the overall lineup. But then, the saving grace, there was at least one band I would not be going to miss…Spafford. Many firsts for the band recently and after witnessing the Red Rocks glory I was super happy to be here to witness this first and write my first review...So let’s get to it.
10:30 p.m. - I stroll straight up to the soundboard and settle in. Plenty of dance space around me but the center of This Tent is packed with eager ‘nerds ready for the getdown. Space around me slowly starts to fill up as I overhear the two guys next to me talking about this being their first time seeing Spafford and that they hope the hype is real. “My friends,” I said, “come chat with me after.” They laugh.
10:45 p.m. – They bounce on stage, all beaming from ear to ear. “Bonnaroo! I never thought I’d say that!” Brian says… Another first begins.
10:46 p.m. – Electric Taco Stand - Immediately the boys drop into a hard-driving, very danceable groove. Brian shows us right away that just because this is a festy set it doesn’t mean they won’t be playing around a little by doing a fun little scat section after the verse break and an extended scat section to transition into the breakdown. I’ve always secretly wondered what a quick vocal jam in this song would sound like so imagine my happiness when I heard a taste of it. The jam had immediate legs and everyone seems to be ready to get into it. Cam in particular seems to be driving tempo and changes and the interplay between he and Brian would be fun to watch all night. I look around and everyone has a mash up look of surprise and wonder on their faces. I think they might like it.
10:59 p.m. - Mind's Unchained – At first this song seems slow, especially compared to the ETS funk drive that came right before. However, it was the perfect tempo to let the crowd gather our collective breath. The verses settle out and the boys drop back into a nice, easy groove, almost like they are asking the jam gods to guide their way. Maybe I’ve just never noticed it before, or maybe it was just more pronounced this time after the driving ETS, but Mind's gets spacey. Spacey enough for me to think, "Are they just going to throw down a ridiculous jam from here to the end of this set?" It has the feel of a possible “Bonnaroo Jam”. A gentle build built with care that leads us to a bright ending would answer that question though. At this point, I look around and see the two virgin ‘nerds smiling and dancing. One comes up and exclaims, “Holy Shit!”... Indeed, my new friends, indeed!
11:10 p.m. – Mad World – A jam begins. My immediate thought is Down Under and I start thinking about how this crowd might react. But then I hear it, deep down in the individual phrases of the music. Nope, not Down Under. Could it be…yeah, that's it…(build continues)…maybe a tease and fake out…(more build)…the crowd can feel the energy from the ETS creeping back in…(more build)…is this the drop in?...nope not yet…here?...nope…BAM! They drop into Mad World and the crowd burst open, matching the band’s intensity. Everyone around me is smiling and shaking their heads in blissful disbelief at what is happening. This was a really tight version of this cover and perfect for the crowd which is a good mix of older heads who miss the jam at the ‘roo and the youngins who have never even seen that world. Everyone has a familiarity with this song. This was the jam that did it. Anyone who was unsure about whether this band’s hype was real, anyone who was standing there thinking that this might just be another overhyped summer blockbuster, began to dance like no one was watching. Everyone was now aware of just what it is that Spafford does…JAM!! Brain builds this song to a peak several times. I feel they did an exceptional job in building the improv sections all night but this one in particular. Brian and Cam, as they have all night so far, are playing off each other like kids on a playground. Jordan laying down serious grooves all lovely swaddled in Red's etheric keys. Tight!!!! A side note, the younger of the two virgin ‘nerds next to me exclaimed many times “What is going on right now?”
11:21 p.m. – Beautiful Day - Finally, a moment to relax and enjoy. Anytime I catch a Beautiful Day it makes my heart swell with happiness. It was one of the first songs that really grabbed me. So I am ecstatic, of course, but I’m thinking this might let the crowd back out a little. No fear there. It’s such a beautiful rendition that no one seems to mind the dance party had taken a momentary break. At this point the chompers weren’t even talking that much. Red smashed this song. He was in beautiful voice and was serenading us. Unfortunately, the "Old school Bonnaroo T" was lost on most of the crowd but that's okay. This is one of those songs that whenever I hear it, it feels like Red is singing just for me. I might have shed a tear of joy at this point. Indeed, Red, it is a beautiful day.
11:28 p.m. – All In – As soon as Beautiful Day ends they hit it. This will carry us to the end of the set, no doubt. The orchestrated sections of the song are clean and tight. My new friend next to me exclaims how blown away he is…again. The orchestrated section ends and a patient jam opens up. These are the builds I love. Especially in Spafford style. It’s smooth and sexy with Jordan laying down a groove that would make even Barry White say “Oooooohhhhh Baby!”. Once again Cam's drumming grabs me. It amazes me how easy he makes his job look. His face just looks like it’s another day at the office but his hands are flying all over. Quick high hat flourishes that encourage Brian to play along and make Red stand up behind his keys. The jam slowly and patiently builds, using several peaks to tease us with an ending until you can taste the final surge. Heavy ending!!! Solid way to leave our now slightly stunned crowd wanting more.
Even though this was a short festy set, it was a hard-driving show. The energy was up, even in the more laid back songs. The big standout to me was Cam's drumming. We have all been aware of it and watching it grow, but the Bonnaroo set will forever be the one that made me stand up and say “DAYUM!” He was so tight and he had these flourishes that were the perfect cue to drop into the next section or to bring it back to the main song. Throughout the show Brian would turn and look at Cam jumping around as the two of them played with melody and form while Jordan and Red added brackets that capped the music into a tidy little, easily swallowed pill. Short festival sets can sometimes seem like throwaways but I really feel they used as much of it as they could. The jams felt patient yet purposeful, the playing was energetic, and the timing was spot on.
As the crowd began dispersing my new friend turns to me…"I totally understand why this is your favorite band now. The hype is definitely for real!!! I’ll be seeing them again soon.” “What’s your name?” I ask. “My name’s Donkey!”…………………....Of course it is!
@ClanW great review! I think this is my favorite set of the year thus far!
@ClanW Dude killer first review brings tears to my eyes with how you explain all the subtle neuances that makes this band sooooo freaking badass!!!! Love you brother can't wait for Florida run!!!!
What do you get when you combine virgins and Barry White? An ecstatic dancing Donkey, of course!!
@Johnny-Love This might just be my new joke. I don't think many will get it but it's hilarious to me!!!
@ClanW lol! I was so tempted to use this line when I shared the post to "Spaffnerds - Fans of Spafford" with the idea that it would be so intriguing and mysterious people would have to click the link... then I did what I do in my more self-aware moments and I slowly backed away from the rimworld of my instincts to the shelter of normal society...