Review: 2018-11-09 - Belly Up - Solana Beach, CA
Hey Y’all Nerds! Just wanted to preface this with the fact it’s been a few months since I attended this show.
I was talking to the Man, the Myth, nay, the Legend Johnny Love and he had mentioned that a few reviews never took place because ppl didn’t volunteer, backed out, or may have forgotten to submit a review. I love sharing my memories with you all so I wanted to give you my experience from this show and possibly the next night as well. Please enjoy a delayed review.
(Read in a narrator's voice-over voice)
On November 8th, two Nerds set out for San Diego from Phoenix. They were going to see their beloved Spafford in sunny Southern California a mere 350 miles away. Little did they know they were about to be treated to the best Spafford performance that either of them had seen in their entire lives. Now both of these nerds are not exactly light weights. Together they are well over the half century mark in shows seen so they can spot a stellar night when it presents itself. This is the story of the greatest Spafford Show that 2 NERDS from Phoenix have ever witnessed…. Up until this point obviously!
San Diego (city)-Discovered by the Germans in 1904, they named it San Diego which of course in German means whales vagina. (Ron Burgundy, 2004)
We set out from Phoenix for two nights in California to see Spafford, leaving early in the morning, on a Sunny Phoenix November. We had just come off of the first Arizona shows of the year with one in Flagstaff and two in Tucson (first timers for Spafford in Tucson, that might be a review for another time, I digress). Doing our due diligence we decided to stay close to the venue in del Mar on the north side of San Diego. If you get a chance to go there stay at this place! Walk out right to the beach, abundant parking. We arrived late afternoon and treated ourselves to libations and inhalations on the beach. Early November in So Cal does not disappoint. We knew that there would be a fair amount of Nerds there so after a failed late afternoon nap we headed to Pizza Port for further pre-show libations, pizza, and a hang with some other Nerds. Beers consumed, pizza eaten, stories and slaps traded, we left for the venue.
Normally I am not one to get to a venue early when Spafford has an opener as I prefer to catch the tail end of the opener's set and get my head right for the eminent face melting. Holy shit was I glad we did! As we are waiting a car pulls up and a certain touring member of The Rolling Stones jumps out and asks to squeeze beside me to get to the will call window to grab his credentials. Everyone in my group was looking at me as I did my best impression of Will Ferrell in Elf when he hears that Santa is coming. Karl Denson, touring member of the Rolling Stones and leader of Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, just cut me in line and disappeared into the venue with a saxophone in hand. I don’t think I stopped blabbering for the next 10 minutes it took the Belly Up to open its doors.
I do need to say that it is becoming even more important to show up to a Spafford show early, not only to catch the opener if there is one, but also to get in the merch line. I was able to snag a print for me and my fellow road warrior, complete with the numbers that we collect. It wasn’t until the next day that I read the @blockprints post on Instagram and on the Spafford Prints group about the imagery that he was able to deliver. Huge shout out to Jon Rose and all his amazing artwork that adorns my walls reminding me of the shows I have been to.
Midnight North kicked off the evening. If you’re not familiar with them, I highly suggest checking them out. I spent the opening first set mingling and chatting with some Nerds that I knew had traveled to see this and the following night's show. I will apologize and admit that I chomped during their set. Reality set in for me when I saw the legend #diesel get up with the opener. I was shaking in my Spafflanta shirt with anticipation for Spafford's set (the shirt is important for later, tease).
Simon and Lilly started us off for the evening, the jams between lyrics let us know that it would be a night not soon forgotten. The crowd settled in and started to jam out in anticipation of what the night would bring. My second time hearing that particular song live, last being the previous year in Phoenix. Like any Spafford song, I wanted it to go on longer but this was soon over and Brian welcomed the crowd and introduced the evening's surprise…I was sure that we were going to hear Ain’t that Wrong with some Sax and proclaimed to everyone around me that was what was next. I was wrong-- it takes a strong man to admit-- but I was even more blown away by what came next!
Mind's Unchained came next and Karl took his spot next to Brian and accented the opening licks. He even took some of the lead during the opening few bars before the band jumped into the lyrics. It seemed like he had been playing with the gents for years as he segued in and out of the song with ease. It was a slow build while Brian sang the opening lyrics, but everyone took a few bars to step up and let the crowd know that this was going to be a collaboration. Karl led us into a funky soul jam while the boys kept up with him allowing him to explore the stage of the Belly Up. I couldn’t believe that this was the first time that Spafford had him on stage. They sounded well-rehearsed and Karl had a back and forth with everyone, but I think Cam challenged him most during the middle of the song. I wish I was not standing at the soundboard but rather up on the rail to see the face of Cam during that exchange. I really want to fan boy this song, but go listen to it or watch it. I was so excited to see the gents I have had the pleasure of watching over the last four years just get into a jam with this sax player. I’m not a music critic, nor do I understand much about music theory, but it seemed that everyone on stage fed off each other. Playing quietly or louder when needed. Go to the 12 min mark of the Nugs recording and you will be doing pirouettes like I was during this song. Bonus points for those that know what that word is. There are another 8 minutes of me dancing a fool, but I won’t recount that for you. You can thank me that I don’t have a dancing tutorial up on this page.
Eternity allowed me to stop my rotations and just get down. “Let it play straight from the Heavens” is one of my favorite lyrics that has ever been penned, especially during a show. You know that the band is going to bring this hard and the lyric “we are here to say, we all belong now” gets me every time. I took the Yeahs to just dance and embrace the music and the fact that I was among friends and enjoying spectacular music in Sunny Southern California. After the second-to-last chorus, just turn everything off, and dance like a fool and get to higher ground.
Memphis in the Meantime found Brian asking if Karl was still there. I thought he had sneaked out after the last few minutes of Mind's Unchained. He had, but apparently came back to rage with force. This John Hiatt tune definitely benefited from the addition of a Saxophone. According to my Spafnerds.com stats page it was only my second time experiencing this live. I kind of grew up on Hiatt so I was excited to hear this for the second time. Karl took over the solos between choruses and while everyone seemed to want to take those parts over, Karl played a little bit louder and harder and everyone-- from keys to bass to drums-- gave him space. I do want to give Cam props that he seemed to take it up to 11, when Karl took it to 10 and then dropped right back to a 3 when Karl took it to 4. Overall this song was full of jams and it seemed like the boys had found their go-to sit-in artist. Those of you on Jam Cruise this year, I am both jealous and envious of what you will see. (Time elapses while I am writing this review to walk the dog) Sit tight for the last 8 minutes of the Nugs recording as it is some of the finest improvisational material I have ever been privileged to hear. So many teases, so many individual explorations before it comes back together. Pick an instrument and listen to that, then listen to how everyone feeds off each other. This is why we listen to this band. This could be some of the finest improv performance that this lay person has ever heard.
And just when I think it cannot get any better, this show is better than any I have ever heard, they drop into Todd’s Tots. Now those of you that know me, know that this is my favorite Spafford song. Fast, slow, improv, keys, guitar, bass, stellar drums, vocals-- this song has it all. They are closing out their first set with my favorite song! At this point I was bouncing on the ceiling and nothing could contain me. Those of you at the show that I offended with my killer dance moves and interpretive dance, complaints are being received on the threads below. I was ready to charter a plane home and never see a show again as the first set left me changed: nothing could beat this, EVER. I would have been good with this being the last live music that I ever seen. (Spoiler: it gets better). I just jammed the last 5 minutes of this 12 minute Opus, silently wiping tears of joy from my eyes. It’s also how they chose to close their last studio album.
Plans opened up the second set. Jordan on vocals brought us back to the reality of the show. I really like this song. Everyone gets the opportunity to shine. One thing that I really like about this band is that they don’t have a front man. Brian get’s the ‘C’ if they were playing hockey, but everyone gets to shine. There is a selflessness to this band which is why I think people gravitate to them. I remember trying to explain this band to friends and pointing out that since it is a four-piece, the other musicians have to bring up the rear or cover for one another when they go off on a tangent. There is no second guitar to cover for rhythm if Brian goes off on a solo, rather Red, Jordan or Cameron fill in. And if one of the guys gets a theme in their head the others will cover and allow that person to explore their idea and join in. That all being said, Plans gets me swaying in a “I want to dance” kind of way. I just remembered that I was just feeling the love in a ‘you had to be there’ kind of way at the show. Keep listening, this show only gets better.
Virtual Bean Dip was up next. According to Spafford.net I have been present for 7 of these epic Jams. This again highlights the band's ability to play off each other. Clocking in at almost 20 minutes, everyone gets their moment to shine while remaining a cohesive song. It just begs you to get lost in the moment and dance. Just when you think that an individual member is going to run off with a solo, you are immediately brought back to the ensemble.
Galiesto Way brought us right up to the second set closer. This is my second favorite song and my favorite song to introduce people to Spafford. The energy that the gents bring doesn’t allow anyone to have a bad time. By the second chorus you are singing along, even if it is your first show! Rock, reggae, jam-- all is represented. Remember when I said I was dancing on the ceiling earlier, this was an out-of-body experience for me. It was brought down right in the middle to something to sway to, you get to get your head right, be in the moment and appreciate the fact you are in So Cal for this jam. No one is trying to dominate the performance you feel calm collected and at peace. Red swoons you on the keys before everyone picks you up off the floor of your own puddle of appreciation. You find the head space to clear your mind and then, and then, you feel that you are one with the band, you are on your way: the Galiesto Way!
Slip and Squander to round out the second set the boys dropped this. Not to say we had any say in the set list, but look at this pic. Are we not the bookends of the two sets? Red always impresses me when he takes over a song. Again, this is why I love these guys, no ego. Everyone gets to shine. Red has the audience captivated before the band jumps into a jam. Jordan gets us pumped for the chorus, Cam chimes in then in a huge crescendo, and Brian lets us know that it is happening, leading us all to dance our collective behinds off.
I almost missed the encore due to a much needed smoke break, but to finish the night off…Mad World. Played 30 times, I’ve been present for 5 (thanks Spaffnerds!) This song brought me down to a place where I could leave a venue with a full heart. Often when I go to a show I feel that a show left me wanting more or cheated me by not giving me a set or song that I wanted. I was already over the moon with this show but I needed to calm down and get ready for the next night. Nope, Spafford absolutely blew the roof off this Tears for Fears cover. I think I was still dancing in the parking lot to this song as I waited in my rideshare. I could not think of a better way to end the evening than this version of Mad World.
See you at the next show!
@mccuem Great review, dank show! Sure AF worth the drive. Thank you.
You fucking killed it, bro! Thanks for giving me the excitement and the feels of being at this show.. and for reminding me to relisten to it. Hottttttt!
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