albuquerque- i spent a month there one night
this is a few weeks late, but i spent memorial day weekend in albuquerque to see spafford, whom i’ve written about before on here. several things to get into regarding the trip, but i always like to start by saying that if you don’t know the band or their music then that is something that needs to change pdq.
jay and paula (i won’t use last names but if you’re familiar with the live music scene there then you definitely know who they are) were the most gracious and hospitable hosts i’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. they opened their home, shared their party favors and on sunday threw a great party for both spafford and another band that was in town named groove session. we saw about 45 minutes of groove session’s show saturday evening at la cumbre, a cool little brewery near the venue that spafford was playing saturday and sunday (low spirits, another cool venue in the industrial section of town).
while this review is mostly about spafford, i want to say a few things about groove session. they are three guys -two of whom are brothers- from ontario california, and they played with the ferocity of a band that’s been practicing 12 hours a day for five years, which from what i heard sounds pretty accurate. their jams were tight and crescendoed as easily as they mellowed out. i’m always interested to see bands lead by a drummer and this dude is no joke. i told jay that he looked like a hybrid of animal from the muppets, joakim noah and john bonham. just a beast. the bass player and guitarist were both in sync as much as the bassist and drummer. the group communication is something i always look for when i’m close enough, and the guys from groove session have esp with plenty to spare.
the set was interesting becuase the set up at la cumbre was almost that of a coffee shop or bookstore that frasier and niles crane would surely frequent, at least the section where they were playing. we were seated about 7 feet away from them in chairs and a table surrounded by other people sitting quietly. that place was not ready for the thunder that the band brought from the word go. their energy permeated the room from the first note and pretty soon after jay and some other folks were dancing right in everyone’s grill mix, which i loved. i’m not familiar with their songs yet so i don’t know exactly what they played but for the time i was there they launched us into deep space 9 several times. all in all a perfect warmup for spafford. just bummed i missed them two nights prior here in tempe. absolutely go see them if you can- they are more than worth it.
i couldn’t find any video of that set but here they are playing “diamonds on the soles of her shoes” from earlier in the year:
as for spafford, well, the setlists can pretty much sum it up:
5/24/14 Albuquerque, NM
Set 1 – America, Backdoor Funk, Windmill, Wolfman’s Brother
Set 2 – Weasel > Palisades > Weasel, On Fire > Salamander Song
Encore – Legend
5/25/14 – Albuquerque, NM
Set 1 – Walls, Ain’t That Wrong, Leave The Light On, Harry Hood
Electric Taco Stand > Galisteo Way, The Postman, Beautiful Day
Encore – The Reprise
four song sets! a hood! a wolfman’s! a reprise to top off the weekend! 40 minutes of a labrythinthan weasel! a bluesy debut in the encore slot! more woos, ows and yowzas than you can count!
at jay’s party on sunday i said to pretty much anyone who would listen that we had witnessed magic the night before, and that the show, weekend and hopefully tour would go down in spafford lore as a turning point for both the band and its fanbase. the band because as far as i know this is their first major tour outside of the southwest, and starting about a year ago they had torched every venue they’d played and left jaws agape across the desert. for the fans because it seemed, according to my not-at-all-researched opinion, that this was the first time many of us had legitimately travelled outside of arizona to see them. and i don’t think either side disappointed.
so many personal highlights for me, but i’d probably have to objectively point to 5/24’s monster of a weasel as the mvp. this was a jam and overall direction i had never seen them take a song before, and really is a tribute to all the practice and smaller shows they’ve been playing for the last 3-4 years.
the segue around the 13 minute mark into palisades -which i admittedly was a little too silly to realize that that’s what it was at the time- is a 180 u-turn on a dime. it’s hard enough to build that kind of tension in practice, but to not only build it up so forcefully without sacrificing the quality of the playing only to stop with what seemed like no warning at all- i mean that kind of thing is pretty indescribable.
and the final 15+ minutes have several gorgeous soulful jams that are exactly what i play for people who don’t realize they need this music in their lives. edm kids, downtempo brats, rave sluts, jazz snobs- come one come all cuz whether you like it or not you’ve getting down to this right now. i also said that if you put the band behind a curtain and had some dickhead w a laptop and turn table that everyone thought was the one making the music, the band would have 75,000 people lining up every weekend in ibiza to hear them.
i also knew on sunday that after the previous night we as an audience were going to have to show up highly energized and ready to get down again. this was the band’s fourth straight show to open their tour, and as tired as i was after saturday night i can’t imagine what they were feeling like, having played the damn music themselves and all. all i could claim was that i danced like a hyena and partied my ass off. i wasn’t the one actually responsible to get the asses moving. this was also the night i hoped would kickstart the oft-used phrase (in phish and panic circles at least, probably started w the dead but i wasn’t around for that era) “never miss a sunday spafford show.” well, bless your hearts boys and girls because that is now a saying you can commit to memory. skip spafford at your own risk.
one other thing i want to touch on is the hood from sunday night, mostly the part during the first cool down section when brian starts the melodic note plucking or whatever the musician’s term is. if you’re familiar with the song and the jam section in particular, the notes, chords etc that the guitarist plays at this point generally become the roots of the full band jam and peak before launching into the “feel good about hood” finale. i’ve seen them play hood about 10 times now and they’ve crushed it every time. in fact, at the beginning of this version you can hear me yell “take notes trey!” (approx. 5:16 into the song if you’re curious) because spafford has played the song more consistently than the phish for pretty much all of 3.0 (blasphemy? sure, i dabble). this version is my favorite by these guys, though, not because it was a terrific jam (it was, but not the point), but rather because of what i witnessed, and no one can tell me differently because true or not at this point it’s what i want to believe.
the reason this is my favorite spafford hood is because of the intimacy with which the band played together and really showed us how much trust they have in each other. i’m not a guitarist or really even a musician, but coming up with new phrasing and licks for a song that everyone in the audience knows by heart has got to be incredibly difficult. on sunday, brian seemed to struggle a bit finding a section that worked for him, something that he always makes look so easy that i noticed when it seemingly wasn’t on this night. not to say he was tentative in the slightest- the dude’s a wailer and a natural leader, so that wasn’t the issue.
(quick aside: this version actually reminds a lot of a jam that holds a special place in my heart. trey came out to play “lie in our graves” with dave matthews band at spac in 2007, and it was the first time i’d seen him perform since his arrest. in his case, he definitely seemed tentative and nervous. it wasn’t his song, crowd or even general comfort zone. but he came out, played a few stray and off-key notes while the audience held their breath in between cringes before he got it together and ripped off a great little solo, complete with drum and violin duels and smiles all around at the end. it’s this fighting through a bad night, a lack of practice, composure or anything else that might be going on that separates the good players from the great ones, not to mention the band they’re onstage with. it can’t be easy to be up there and feel helpless if one person just doesn’t have it. again, this was not the case with brian or spafford whatsoever, just reminded me of one of my favorite musical moments. watch here):
musicians, like everyone else in a physical performance based profession, sometimes have to push a little harder to get to that place, and so that’s what he -and red, and jordan, and nick- all did. they pushed a little harder. on the recording i have, the beginning section of what i’m referring to starts about 5:05 into the song. the band mellows out with its usual patience as they find a nice cozy place to chill together while the music plays itself. brian shows no signs of hesitation, but it’s clear he’s taking a little longer to get it going. the other guys chime in here and there to see what they can add to the sound, but he rushes nothing and they let him find his space, which he and they do right around 11:25, and in that instant you could feel it click in the room.
those 6 minutes were beautiful to watch because i had never seen them have to sit back and let a jam come to them. it’s that exact kind of thing that makes me love the music and especially the live music experience. like a basketball team that loves playing together, a group of musicians who click as a band but also as friends off stage is something you can’t help but smile about. it’s what i think anyone who starts a band strives for, and it’s obvious to me that these 4 guys have it, know they have it and are making damn sure they take advantage of lightning in a bottle.