Review: 2020-01-30 - Bijou Theatre - Knoxville, TN
ClanW last edited by Johnny Love
Historic space, Squishy bass!!!
Exactly 1 year and 3 days after their first performance at the historic Bijou Theatre, Spafford returns to Knoxville, Tn. Even though there is a slightly bigger theatre not far away, the Bijou is a beautiful space original opened in 1870 as a hotel and is believed to be the oldest commercial property in Knoxville. It was converted into a Vaudeville Theatre in 1909, and then again to a second-run movie house in 1935 by Paramount Pictures. It’s a beautifully ornate and pretty intimate theatre space to see a show with very few “bad” seats in the house. It’s not the Ryman, but it holds its own.
Enough about the theatre, let’s get to the stuff you came here for. We slide into our seats on the far house left, Red Side, 3 rows back. Even though there’s a speaker stack right there, I still have a clear view of the entire stage and a fantastic look at Red’s work area. A short break after CBDB, whom I highly recommend if you haven’t seen/heard yet, some hellos and slap trades to the nerds around us, and Spafford takes the stage.
Dream Jam kicks off the night and would be a sign that they had no plans on stopping. My first time catching this song live and it did not disappoint. It clocks in at just over 25 minutes, but it’s at about 13-ish minutes that things slow down and really start to set a mood. By the 19 minute mark it is deep dream land, slow, spacey, guitar wails over fat, squishy bass bombs of which we would be bathed in several times throughout the night. Eventually you can feel Brian start driving the jam home, but not before Jordan really opens up that effect and let’s those alien’s peek through the dimensional wall. I see the only 1st timer in our group shaking his head with his hands in the air just amazed. Suddenly Nick picks up the tempo, and Brian follows, and you can feel the shift begin.
When It Falls patiently flows out of the transition. A solid version of the tune where Red has some particularly nice work about halfway through the jam. And even though a second song put an end to my hopes of a set long Knoxville Dream Jam, they continue the party with a continued segue session as they meander right into After Midnight.
Now I can’t be certain, but I feel as if I caught some communication between Brian and Red that looked like they were saying, “Are we gonna do this?” ”Eh, why not!” Again, it could have been something completely unrelated, but this song more than any of the others throughout the night felt as if they just kind of landed there…and that’s awesome!!! And another 1st time song for me. The jam for this really highlights their ability to sit back and let a jam open organically. The seem to have hit a new level recently in the realm of exploration. Always moving the game forward!
Eventually the jam settles into a nice funky rhythm which feels like a tease at first, until finally dropping into a full on Walls!!! One song I’ve been chasing for a minute!!!! While nothing to put this version in best of category, there is still some solid jamming in this song. Honestly, I feel it’s worth just listening to Jordan’s playing. He’s really beginning to use that “squishy” sound effectively. Walls comes to a close capping off a 4 song first set that was one segue after the other. While not a full on improv set, it was a beautifully executed set of non-stop tunes!!
I walk back into the theatre from set break just as the lights start to fade and they walk back on stage. Comfortable starts the second set and I’m wondering if this marks the end of our segue marathon. But not to be outdone, Comfortable ends up taking us on a long ride. It’s second longest I do believe. At just over 20 minutes it sits just behind the epic 27+ minute opener from the 8x10 in October, and just in front of the 13+ minute version from the Meow Wolf show at the end of October. Some really nice exploration throughout the entire jam honestly and once again I notice the patience of letting the jam come to them and not rushing into the transitions. Comfortable jam begins to pick up pace and everything gets pretty frantic for a moment until it resolves right into Ain’t That Wrong.
Listening back to it you can hear the transition start, but at the time, being lost in that beautiful jam it seemed so effortless that the song took me by surprise. Some really nice work from Red on this one and at about 4 minutes in he starts adding a little alien feels of his own. Super funky, dancey, dark weirdness throughout this jam which eventually finds us back at the main chorus. Instead of a break after the final chorus, they drop right back into a groove for another solid 5 minutes of exploration as they search for a way into the next tune.
They build the transition so nicely into Galisteo Way, leaving to time to find the right tempo and not actually start the song until every member of the band is right there, ready to just slide on in. Here’s yet another, patient build that purposely wanders through the sonic landscape, never in a straight line from beginning to end, but always toward whatever destination. Some really nice build work by Nick in here as well. After the build back into the final chorus, I peek at the time and realize that there’s still plenty of time for another song. They drop back into another groove and begin that transition sequence again. A slow, funky beat emerges, and that squishy bass shows back up for the party.
Plans finally, subtly comes around the corner into view. Jordan’s sound, even without the effects, has been AMAZING to me lately. I really noticed it during the NYE run San Francisco, but it particularly shines in a piece like plans. It’s so full and clean, but it still has a warmth to it that is so nice on the ears. I’ve seen Plans now 6 times including this one, and it might just be my favorite. HOLY SQUISHY J-BOMBS BATMAN!!!!!! At about 6m45s into this Jordan really starts laying into that effect. I don’t normally like doing this because it causes such reactions from fans, but there is some very Phishy feels during this section. By about 8m30s, it feels like Jordan is channeling Les Claypool with the way he starts stretching out the notes. Really different, unique sounding jamming and at this point I realize again that we may have not gotten an all improv show, but it’s another 4 song, non-stop set ending in some of the most explorative work I’ve witnessed them play.
They cap the night with a really nice, relaxing cover of Dylan's I Shall Be Released, another 1st for me, and leave us all incredibly satisfied and comfortable. Really solid show from beginning to end and it was nice to see them opening up everything. The patience I witnessed in some of those jams is going to lead them right to the next level.
Highlights I think are the bookends of Dream Jam and Plans. That Comfortable Jam is right up there as well!!