for anyone even remotely in tune with live music in the southwest, prescott, arizona’s spafford is a band whose name and music you’re familiar with. if the name means nothing to you, that should change now.
i have only seen them live three times, but am looking forward to my fourth (3 sets on new year’s eve at the sail inn in tempe) more than any other show in recent memory. the last time they played at the sail, sometime this past september, i saw a band that played with a confidence and fluidity befitting musicians with twice as much touring experience as they have (from what i’ve read on their website and other places, spafford have been together since 2008, released their first official album in 2012 and have been steadily touring throughout the west coast). in fact, i remarked several times that they peaked that night’s harry hood better than phish had in all of 3.0. hyperbole? maybe, but you’ve gotta love my enthusiasm. their stage presence is notable from the get-go, and each individual musician (red johnson on keys, brian moss and jordan fairless on guitars, nick tkachyk on drums) has the prowess and command of a seasoned vet. their obvious camaraderie and enjoyment of being onstage reminds me of new orleans’ the radiators, who were together for 30+ years.
i always hated when articles about phish referenced the grateful dead without any notion of context, and the grateful dead are my favorite band of all time. so i’ll try refrain from throwing out any comparisons (wrong, look below) to phish or whoever else except when cover songs are in discussion, as spafford regularly plays phish and gd songs, and really, there’s no need to, as the band has more than enough original material and musical styles to nullify any lazy jam band colloquialisms.
to my ears, spafford plays a range of rock, jazz, blues, mini-funk (wtf?) spacey electronic-based songs that satisfy a range of musical tastes. even two friends who are more into edm than i’d like to admit on their behalf left the last sail inn show gushing about these four guys, repeatedly using phrases i’d worn into their brains years ago such as “throw down,” “filthy,” and “ear boners.” so if you love live music, and have no plans on nye, hit the sail inn for what could turn out to be an historic night for this band if they continue the way i think they will.
so as not to be accused of being too much of a fanboy, i do offer one criticism, which is that they don’t play live shows nearly often enough. right now it looks like they’ve been averaging 2-3 shows a month, and it doesn’t seem -as far as i know- that they’ve given up day jobs to fully commit to being a band full time, which they absolutely need to do if their ultimate goal is to do this for a living. now, i have no idea what their personal lives and situations are like or how often they practice or even what the endgame for the band is, but if they play 125 shows a year for the next 5 years and get out of just the west coast scene, look out cleveland cuz a storm’ll be comin’ through.
and as an east coaster at heart, i’ll say that the only musical equivalent i’ve found is boston’s the jauntee, who i hope to write about later. but for those of us lucky enough to enjoy nice weather in the winter, there is a lot to look forward to as we watch this band mature and develop, and truly come into their own.