Review: 2019-02-08 - Union Transfer - Philadelphia, PA
Your trip starts with a drive down the interminally long-feeling Turnpike with sunset in the direction of Philly toward which you cruise under high cirrostratus canvases splashed with quiet flames of exquisite light that must be either magical or chemical in nature. It is a homecoming of sorts to a place of vivid remembered experiences rather than a residence of past inhabitance. Long ago nights cruising into the lights and shadows of the colonial capital in chiaroscuro to visit friend (RIP) and ex-girlfriend (LIP), your side-panel speakers shaking with the hot hot music the hot music.
The bar around the corner according to @dontjudgedave is a proximal, commendable dive. You sit there and drink with Todd who sythesizes music as Great Fox - check out Roll Up A Tract for some funky apostasy. The fine folks from Trestle Inn flip egg whites in their sours, line whiskies along their mirrors, and dim lights for happy hours.
Roll out down dark block. Enter the chamber and Transfer into Union with other nerds for Out of the Beardspace. Seven pieces of awesome. Big prog-fusion sounds. Two drums, one percussion, two six-strings, bass, eighty-eight keys and then some. Check them out and their South Jersey Beardfest. Along the rail line up Cam side slam side with the NE Crew, NY crew to exchange tales of recent days and nights of flame from Spafford. Get warm to Headhunters as anticipation rides the crest of energy awakening in bodies. Here come four illustrious shapes onto the stage and a change in house music. Yesssss!
To rock the mic
My only show of winter tour, I was hoping for things I hadn’t heard and hard jams. Philly did not disappoint from the get-go.
My first live Memphis In the Meantime was a 20-minute slow cook. Jordan owns the Tennessee vocals. It was a strong even jam backed by Cam. Brian does some shredding, of course, but Jordan leads on bass most of the way allowing Brian and Red to play around him. 8-9 minutes on becomes one of the highlight sequences of the show with the boys digging into a deep groove. Cam wins MVP when he drops the tempo and then switches on the “SLOW UNNNNNNTZ” as @crappygeorge announces with his face all twisted up like he just smelled some filthy doodoo. Red starts to lick People (so to speak) with some six minutes to go before the fadeout is complete and it’s
People time! Red drops the vocals and everyone is dancing and looking around at their friends and feeling freaky good. I receive a wave of Nerd love from @603Brett then Red takes an early solo. When the band steps back in the Ben Factor is in full infrared effect as Brian hits the first peak before Spafford brings the song to its romping terminus.
With scarcely a second to catch your breath, the boys launch into Virtual Bean… oh, wait a minute, that’s not what actually happened. Up next is Fuel. While there is a precipitous drop in the room’s physical energy with the opening notes, Brian is greeted with enthusiastic cheers of love and appreciation from the crowd as he hits the first chorus of a clean, crisp, uplifting, three-minute palette cleanser. (Folks, you’re going to need to save some energy for later. Trust the Spafford.)
Photo Credit: Ron Adelberg
The opening keys of thieves begin to jingle. The room responds to Red in kind and gets ready to rock. The band brings a tight In the Eyes of Thieves jam, as usual, and Jordan and Cam (more cowbell!) really start to pick it up about 7 minutes in. Brian responds the only way he knows how by slowly steadily building tensions upon tensions on his fret board like the world is about to end. Then the boys settle back into the song for a bit and follow Jordan into another jam before a sweet little untz-lite ending.
I am thrilled to hear the opening notes of the third-ever Settled In. I love this Radiohead-esque song that blossoms from a breathtakingly beautiful love poem into a nasty hellfire jam with a guitar peak that would make David Gilmour weep. If this song was a tattoo I would get it on my face in an impulse move right now. Big ups to Chris Imburgia for taping this show and capturing the berserk hornmad crowd at the end.
Pretty awesome first set. Perfect time for a little break.
With masterful set-list wizardry, Spafford opens set deux with The Reprise, completing the legendary second-set-opening America from the last time they were in Philly some 18 moons ago. This long-awaited fin delivers mightily. I occasionally look over my shoulder from Cam side slam side to watch the entire hall of nerds go crazy. Let me put on my Captain Obvious pants for just a moment here and say that all these tapes and soundboards are amazing, but there is just no comparison to the boys turned up to 11. Brian is wearing a Dead Skull shirt and the first 20 minutes of this jam have that kind of a feel to me. Red wins MVP for the last eight minutes or so as he colors over Cam riding the high-hat hard. Then the jam slows and fades into...
Photo Credit: Ron Adelberg
Hard Way. Debuted just a few days prior, this song has easy-swaying reggae and lyrical verses punctuated by heavy latin-flecked instrumental breaks. I liked it more in person than I did listening to the debut recording. Everybody sounded good on it. Feels, perhaps, a bit unfinished at this point but plenty of potential.
Spafford is King of the Cover, IMHO, and I was thrilled to catch the second-ever Dirty Laundry. When they take a break from jamming (as earlier with Fuel) to play a song cleanly, I am struck by their poise and virtuosity. This song kicks ass and even when he fumbled the lyrics for a measure, Red unified the party with his brilliant vocals on this one.
Already 45 minutes into the set, I had no idea there was another 45 minutes ahead before the boys’ first bow.
Leave The Light On was up next. While this was a song I had burned out on a little bit, Jordan has brought some incredible new energy to it and his early bass solos the last two performances have been insane. Out of that solo Red brings a big Feeling into the room and the first jam soars to great heights. Jam #2 after the happy doot-doots follows its normal wavelengths and caps off in a blistering Brian solo and final chorus with the entire crowd leaping 10 feet in the air and singing along.
Photo Credit: Ron Adelberg
I love when I hear that opening train beat and know I’m heading to Hollywood. This song is another prime example of Spafford’s uncanny ability to write catchy, deeply moving songs, hitch an audience up, and take everyone to unknown jammy places. Probably my jam of the night, this one flowers euphorically for a while before lacing across the sky like electrical current and whipping up a frenzied storm as Brian and Cam egg each other on. At some point I’m pretty sure I caught Brian mouth to Cam “faster” and Cam rages the jam right into the segue of the night >
Ain’t That Wrong. Cam explodes us into the song, which is fitting because I remember thinking during his first few months in the line-up that this was his go-to song. Between the 4-5min mark Brian starts playing with an effect that I’ve been hearing more of during this run… another time I recall is during Buffalo Tots (around the 11min mark.) I wish he had explored the theme a little longer here because it is a cool-ass sound, but no complaints as Cam and Jordan speed it up and turn the place into a full-on dance party to ride the rest of the set out.
The crowd is all growls and applause and the attempt to articulate the preceding 90minutes to one’s show neighbors is nigh impossible.
OOOOoooooooeeeeeeEEEEEE! For encore, I witness my first-ever Spafford debut with a 6-minute Comfortable. This feel-good song is the opposite of Numb with Red warmly delivering the keys and vocals as the boys lay rim shots and rhythm guitar and a gripping bass hook to keep it moving along the whole time.
Many of us were waiting and calling for more debuts and more varied setlists... we must have been good little Nerds in 2018 cuz we've hit pay dirt so far in 2019. Thank you Spafford. Thank you Nerds. See you soon.
Photo Credit: Ron Adelberg
Great review. You have the gift.
@Johnny-Love was my beacon of joy in the sea of wookdom that I was wading in. I found a People like me and I and gave a smiley wave. Great review Mr. Love!
@Johnny-Love unsurprisingly writes the best review we've ever had on the site. The Roots references are astounding and the piece reads like a cross between Hunter S and Mos Def. All the wows. Well done my friend.
@damian if you're trying to butter me up before we visit later this month, well-played, sir. Well-played.