Review: 2019-03-20 - The Domino Room - Bend, OR
It seems like every review I write starts with something about high expectations and how well the band is playing. Their trajectory lately is undeniable. Every time I see them for the second time in a given city, they’re playing a bigger venue, and it’s easy to see why. Night after night they produce exactly what music enthusiasts crave – they cut a broad swath through genres, keep every show amusing, unpredictable and relentlessly energetic, and most importantly, connect with the audience like almost no other band can.
This entire tour has been a monster, to the point that every night produces at least one, if not several, forays I consider “recommended listening” for the Outstanding Versions thread. That said, the Northwest run has been particularly enjoyable. The Seattle, Portland and Eugene shows all shine in their own way, each a different but equally scintillating gemstone in the hidden treasure that is the band’s library. Having been on mini-tour with the band through Oregon, I couldn’t wait to see what they had in store for Bend.
Hard Way is a new song, and a simple one. And I’ll give it no guff for that – often I feel the most energy when the band starts up a lyrically brief tune, because I know it means they mean business. That said, I can’t help trying to translate set lists and song selections into deeper messages. What is the band trying to tell us? Well, after a staggering 40 shows in 55 days – I need a nap just after writing that – maybe they’re trying to politely remind us that this shit ain’t easy. Despite its reggae underpinnings, the tune itself has a dark lilt, and maybe a chip on its shoulder. The foursome likes unpredictable openers, and the crowd seemed to dig it, too.
But then the opening bit of It’s a Bunch kicked off and I was jumping up and down with excitement. This little fella has come a long way since its 4 minute, 50 second birth in Detroit to become an absolute powerhouse. At least in my statistically unevidenced opinion, it’s right there with Bee Jam for being voted Most Likely to Blow the Dang Roof Off in the school yearbook.
This version slides gracefully through the opening catharsis-jam through a darker, more evocative one. At one point I swear Brian was yelling “More! More!” at Cam. After that, around 21:00, I would have bet a flaming chicken that they were about to play their recently resurrected righteous reggae rager take on Exodus. But things turn a bit more contemplative and sparse, Red moves to his electric piano, Brian’s playing gets a bit more sparse, and suddenly I sense that this jam is headed Down Under.
They throw one more curveball before the tune proper starts, though – an utterly demented groove on top of a frenetic beat. For a moment one senses that the lunatics are running the asylum. Red’s flex after the “muscles” line always cracks me up. (When taking artistic risk on stage, it’s important not to take yourself too seriously.) I felt like they had a window right from the get-go for something unique, but they quickly moved to stay on the song’s usual path. Still, Brian finds a solid refrain, and Cam brings tremendous energy to his snare fills to close the song out.
After almost 45 minutes of nonstop play, the band insists we make ourselves Comfortable. This song has been in heavy rotation this tour, and for good reason. Many Spafford songs have a nostalgic component – memories of road trips, sleepless nights spent with friends, good times captured on polaroid that make us shake our heads at who we used to be. With its Stevie Wonder bass line and comforting chord progression, this song is a great example. When it finds its footing, I could see the closing jam reaching Slip and Squander-level emotional deliverance.
I thought they might end the set here, but Cam launches us into Broken Wing. This song is a saucy minx. It never strays far, but full-band tension and release contribute to a stellar rendition. And as far as standalone versions go, this is one of my favorites.
Their last time here, Spafford played the much preferable Volcanic Pub, a smaller and more Bend-y venue that also serves up live theater. The Domino is dark, terse, and serves nothing but drinks. If the venue influences the band’s selections, then this room – at this point a vibrating dance floor in a building one step above a warehouse – is a great place for In the Eyes of Thieves’ high-powered blend of funk, jazz and shred. The band looks keyed in, Brian seems to have just a bit more loathing in his eyes than usual while locked in a staring contest with his microphone, and despite this being an all-ages show, and drinking only being allowed upstairs, the crowd is feelin’ it (or, perhaps, killin’ it.)
This was my first time seeing Simon & Lily live. It’s a pretty song, with lyrics that tip the scale heavily towards the abstract and I love Brian’s guitar part. It works here, as a nice foil to the evening’s selections thus far.
The first jam of Leave the Light On features typically excellent playing to a broad peak, and they glide nicely into the song’s middle segment. The second jam, though, is instantly unique, with Cam dropping to half time and playing something on his MIDI pad that could provoke a genre argument among EDM fans – is it chill trap, or trap-chill? Maybe it’s psybient trip-trap. Whatever it is, the band digs in, and for a few minutes they explore this new soundscape, before the energy level comes up. Red hits a nice refrain on the organ and Jordan lays down a frenzied groove, wheeling us around to the song’s conclusion.
Bend loves the Dead, and West LA Fadeaway gets a nice cheer of approval from the crowd. A few whitehairs in attendance are instantly closed-eyed, presumably transported on the wings of an acid flashback to some buried barefoot memory. Red takes an extended solo on the organ, complete with the rest of the band pulling an “oh, he’s not done” eyebrow raise at him halfway through.
Lonely’s electronic vibes can sometimes be the opening for an ambient exploration of an effects-laden landscape. Other times it’s just used to whip the crowd into a dance frenzy. This one’s a bit of both, with the band bring their dynamics down but Cam never really leaving the four-on-the-floor late night dance hall behind. Jordan’s fuzz effects and Red’s ambient pad make a wall of sound, with Brian’s rhythm play maintaining just a hint of funk. The lights were particularly on point during this jam, puncuating the tension and release that took the song to its fruition. And like that, the second set is over in what seems like a blink of an eye.
Continuing the trend of alternating ragers with songs I can’t quite figure out, Radio gets the encore call. I think this song makes me sad, but in the best possible way. It’s the last Spafford song I’ll see live for a while, so that’s a fitting feeling. From the quality of the music and the looks on their faces, it’s easy to tell that the band loves playing in the Northwest, and I know they’ll be back soon – but never soon enough.
P.S. I forgot to bring my custom Killin’ It stickers to this show – if you were at it, or if you collect them, hit me up and I’ll send you some!
Great review @Jeenot! You have a gift for describing the sonic, social, and cerebral vibes of this music. Thanks for sharing. Can't wait to listen to this IAB>Down Under opening sequence :)
thepizzasloth last edited by
@jeenot Thanks for the review. I was unable to catch ANY NW tour because I just moved to PHX, those fucks!
Well, I'd like to address your line of questioning about placement or meaning or "Hard Way" as an opener. As the last couple of days have shown us, the band is going through some challenging times. I believe it all is for the right reasons, and I am happy to have Nick return, esp since I never saw a live show with him at the kit.
Here's to 3.0 and whatever it may bring. More Killin it!