Review: 2019-10-31- The Van Buren- Phoenix, AZ
mccuem last edited by Johnny Love
Halloween found me in Phoenix at The Van Buren. Still in a haze from the Meow Wolf show I was excited to see what the boys had in store for us. I am not normally one to dress up as I lack creativity in that department, but this time my decision was made for me since this was the Raven’s ball and all.
For the first show in a long time there was no official meet up or pre-show drinks as it was Halloween and most people were enjoying the holiday with their families before they set out for the evening. I got the message that we needed to be at the venue for pictures at 8pm. And we made it with mere moments to spare. Pictured is the group photo of the Fun Cult aka Fun Club. Membership required, PM me and I will give you the contact information of the powers in charge, if they are accepting new members. It’s a lot of FUN!!!
Just to be upfront with this review, I had not planned to write it but I reached out to one of the evening's sit-in performers for a few words and ended up getting some cool insight so I decided to pen something. Also huge thanks to Jay Stevens of Stevens Design and Photography for letting me use a few images from the evening as I had entirely forgotten to take any pictures.
Alright, so Fun Cult picture over with it was time to enjoy some of the costumes and grab a drink as we made our way inside, all while scooping the Jon Rose's “The Raven’s Ball”. Jon continues to blow me away with all his prints and it is always a treat to see a new print in person.
We settled into the main room of The Van Buren and I immediately noticed that there was way more gear on stage than I have ever seen. Looks like at least one extra guitar set up, monitor what have you, and a percussion kit just off of Nick's right. As I’m taking in the scene in front of me, I am also taking in the crowd. There were so many cool costumes, I was really impressed. Lumberg, Guy Fieri and Jacob Daffner costumes all won the evening. And I don’t mean Jacob’s costume, I meant Robbie who dressed up as Jacob. If you didn't see it please go back through the Album on the Facebook fan page.
Monster Mash on the house speakers and the boys walk out decked out in their Ravens Ball attire. I must say I was impressed that they kept those outfits on all night especially the masks! Brian introduces the first piece of the evening, a Vocal Warm Up that they do sometimes backstage and encourages us to try and keep up. Guitar accompanied by what I can best describe as Skat that gets progressively faster, where the crowd repeats what they just heard. I think Brian said we did an alright job with the Vocal Warm Up. For the first song of the night, first of many firsts, Phil Collins' In the Air Tonight floats over us. Closing your eyes you wouldn’t have been able to tell if it was Red or Phil himself up there singing. The whole song, right up to Mike Tyson's favorite part had an eerie vibe to it and I think Spafford nailed that cover. And once Tyson's part kicked in, I believe 75% of the audience was playing air drums.
After I put my air drum sticks away, Brian dropped into Backdoor Funk. A member of the older guard, Backdoor Funk is one of those songs that Spafford continues to shred anew every time that they play it. Great songwriting, excellent vocals and in this rendition some chunky bass lines as well as piano.
The Evil was up next and I can’t remember ever hearing this live. A quick look at my witnessed songs confirms that I have in fact never seen this and that it has only been played 3 times total, including tonight. I think that if this got the Backdoor Funk treatment, this song could become a song that they could stretch out to a 20 min jam. Brian does give us a little taste of what that could sound like in the future but then reigns it in just as I’m starting to get lost in the groove. And as he lets us down, he brings up the evening's first guest, Jayson Johnson. Ain’t That Wrong is what the band jumps into and it’s fun to see the back-and-forth between Jayson and Brian on stage. I did a little digging as to who Jayson is and the best description I was given is that he is the only other guitarist in Phoenix that can come close to shredding as hard a Brian does. Jayson plays with a few local acts here in Phoenix, The Uncommon Good and one of my favorite singer songwriters, Shawn Johnson. But back to the music, these two absolutely shred! It’s a fun back-and-forth and at one point I’m not sure who is having more fun, Brian or everyone else present.
Now remember I mentioned a percussion kit earlier in the review? Well, Brian brings out and introduces us to Arturo Sosa. Then they drop right into the Funky Meters' classic, Fire on the Bayou! Second cover of the night and also the first time they have played this particular song. Having the additional percussionist really gives this song another layer.
Well, some internet sleuthing and all I came up with was a Facebook profile for an Arturo Sosa and I decided to reach out to him and get some background information on him. I sent him a message asking if I could share a brief bio and how he met Spafford. Here is what he said about meeting them: “ Yes. Spafford used to rehearse right in front of my rehearsal studio. I’d listen to them as they jammed on. I quickly became interested in meeting the guys. I persisted they let me play with them and little by little I established a relationship with them.” On the boys and his career: “Love the guys. Such BadAss musicians and souls… As a percussionist, this is the music I love to play most on. All this funk, rock, Latin, ect… blends they do, ask for percussion. I play with various bands. I’m a drummer in some bands, and a percussionist in other bands. I love my passion for what I do best. I love to play and perform always. I’ve toured as a percussionist, and I’ve toured as a drummer. But to play percussion for Spafford , is a total different story. The vibe the music, the whole crew makes this experience go to a different level. It’s a great team. Hopefully I’ll see you ln the next Spafford show. Hopefully I play them.” Thanks Arturo for the response always interesting to hear how musicians meet each other and start jamming together.
Still listed on the setlist on Spaffnerds as part of Fire on the Bayou we start to notice the drums and percussion taking things over, and that is in fact the case. Red, Brian, Jordan and Jayson leave the stage and we are treated to some Drums! Nick and Arturo have themselves a drum solo, or is it a duo? Anyways it gets funky and there is not a single stationary body in the house. Arturo and Nick go back and forth and jam out together just getting down!
Eventually, Red, Jordan and Brian walk back on stage while the drums are starting to cool off and the band segues into Salamander Song. Salamander Song is another member of the old guard and lets everyone shine, even the crowd, as long as they get their heys correct. I really like this song when I get to hear it in Arizona, it seems like they are playing just a little bit harder and jamming out just a little bit more as they are dancing the whole way home! What a great way to close out a solid first set of music!
After a quick break the boys re take the stage and drop Chris Isaac’s Wicked Games on us! Another first time cover dropping on the hometown crowd who has been waiting since New Years for a show! I must have looked perplexed because @persevere looked over at me and sang me the chorus letting me know what song I was hearing. I really hope that this is not a song that never gets played again- I think this has great jamming potential!
So a few new covers into the show, I wonder if we will get any new originals and little did I know I wouldn’t have to wait any longer. The Waltz made its debut on Halloween! Now I don’t know my music theory but if someone could confirm that this is in ¾ time. I’m also picking up some different themes in this one, a few bars reminded me of the Vocal Warm Up as well. Lets keep an eye on this and watch this song develop!
Brian stepped up to the Mic and did the first song dedication that I can ever remember hearing. Thanking the band's (and my) dentist they laid into another first time cover, but not the last, with Bill Withers' World Keeps Going Round. Not a tune I’m familiar with but seemed like a good mellow break leading up to our next song.
Estimated Prophet brought up the Noodles John Reuter to the stage. For those of you that don’t know the Noodles, they are a tradition here in Phoenix. Playing every Sunday they provide church for the Dead Heads of the Valley. John does an amazing job channeling his inner Jerry, so much so that you would think that it is Jerry up there jamming with Spafford. Estimated Prophet was the longest jam of the evening but wait, what’s that, that now sounds like Weasel, could it be? Yes, that is definitely Weasel. I really liked having the two guitars up there for this one gave it another layer as well as another tempo, this seemed a little more relaxed perhaps even a little slower or piano.
Be Strange to close out the second set! I was lucky to catch this song's debut at Red Rocks this summer and really enjoy its Reggae vibe! The gents fall into that familiar groove and I notice those around me gently swaying to the beat while others attempt to sing along. And with that the second set draws to a close. We all know that they are coming back with a fire closer but I don’t even want to guess what it is going to be as I can never get that guessing game right.
Brian takes the stage with the boys again and lets us know that they have two more songs for us and that he hopes to see us at the next two shows, Tucson and Flagstaff! Are you kidding, I’m not missing any home state shows! With that out of the way they drop into Doghouse>Part II. These are really new songs/ segue, both having just debuted less than a month ago in Nashville. Again, I really like the tempo changes in these songs, at points I feel like Brian is trying to assault us with the Raven. Part II is a phenomenal Jam that whips the crowd into a frenzy! What a great show! Not that Spafford has ever disappointed but this show was amazing. New covers and a new debut, catering to the local nerds! And it was completely different from the last few shows.
I would like to thank Jay Stevens for letting me use his images, please go check his stuff out! You might even recognize a few pics! Arturo Sosa, thanks for taking the time to answer my questions! Ford Oliver, thanks for your stellar recording! And all the nerds that made this night special and FUN!!
Geek Squad was the highlight for me