sail inn, sail away



on the last weekend of june, tempe’s historic sail inn closed down with three days of live music from bands that have spanned the last twenty years of the venue’s existence, ranging from mainstay grateful dead cover bands like the noodles and xtra ticket to local blues and indie bands like sugar thieves and black carl. i got on the sail inn train later than most of the people who attended the festivities but it will always hold a special place in my heart, particularly because spafford started playing there just a few short months after i started regularly hitting the sunday noodles/ticket shows.


the crowd was packed and even before the show the excitement was palpable. i hadn’t seen that many people there since new year’s eve, and while the idea of a new year and a fresh start can lend a lot of natural energy to that kind of setting, it was nothing compared to what i walked into friday night. some people had been there since the doors opened at 3pm, while others like myself had gone home after work to get a little silly and loosen up for the occasion.

spafford kicked off the weekend with a tight and energetic two hour set, posted above. 8 songs of exploratory and focused jamming went by in a hazy flash, though nothing less was expected as they were -in the opinion of myself and everyone i was there with- the true headliners of the weekend. “ain’t that wrong”, “memphis in the meantime” and “electric taco stand” got the set rolling and the asses shaking while the crowd turned into a free for all. when the audience is ready to go, the band can feed off them as a reserve tank if it’s ever needed, and spafford fans take a special pride in being there for the band for that exact reason.


“postman” had its typical (though when a song is always epic can that even be considered typical?) moroccan fusion giddyup and at 22 minutes was my favorite jam of the night. i am by no means a song length fluffer, but postman is a song that benefits from the band letting it open up and breathe before diving head first into the nitty gritty jam portion. i’ve got a post saved in my drafts section on here about the group club d’elf, and postman sounds very similar to their overall sound, which i really love to enjoy in cold weather with a bowl and headphones while sitting in a rocking chair next to a fire place (i have very specific taste, but try it once and you’ll know why).

postman then segued into a raging “weasel” that lifted the place off its concrete hinges. weasel is a song that i have trouble dancing to because i end up just standing there like a dunce while in my head i’m having a mind left body moment for the second half of the song and just let the music take over my senses, which is easily my favorite part of seeing live music. when that out of body experience happens, i know it was a great show.


while i tried to catch my breath from weasel, the “harry hood” kick drum intro started and i instinctively let out an animalistic howl. hood is my favorite phish song, and while i’ve seen some really good versions from them, it’s always a treat to see spafford play it. hood is one of those songs that many people think follows a structured and composed jam, and while sections of the song definitely follow the same progression, the jam itself is largely improvised on the spot. i touched on this in my albuquerque post from last month, but it bears repeating how impressive it is for the band to come up with a new twist every time in a song that has been played by its originators 500 times already and most everyone in the audience has already heard numerous takes on.

the final sail inn version got out there in a way i hadn’t heard them play before, and due to my less than present mindset at the time, i forgot at two different points what song they were playing. the overall tone had a gritty 03-04 phish feel to it that brought me back to 2.0 for a few minutes. and even upon several relistens while writing this post, i momentarily forgot what they were playing- that’s how unique this version is. all of the above is an incredibly good thing to realize as the band continues to experiment in the live setting and build upon their successful spring tour.


a melodic “leave the light on” closed out the proper set in its upbeat reggae/calypso fashion and got the crowd into a white folks sway/groove that no one wanted to end. i was hoping for a ship or sea themed song somewhere in the set but wasn’t really disappointed when they didn’t nod in the maritime direction. that was until they gave a heartfelt speech about how much the sail inn meant to them and the opportunities they had gotten from all the exposure playing there.

and then came the words i was hoping to hear all night: “sail inn- this song’s for you!” red’s keys started rapidly- is that, no… it can’t be… “come sail away” by motherfucking styx????

yup! indeed it was. red killed the vocals, but if you remember the song you know that there are several drawn out verses where it’s basically acapella. i hadn’t heard it in years so i was admittedly a little nervous when there wasn’t any music, but then the rest of the band comes in -and they nailed it- and the song took off. the audience joined in the chorus, a mini leave the light on reprise i think was thrown in there at some point, and everyone was giddily screaming out the chorus, a moment i’ll definitely remember for a long, long time.

and then it was over. gina gave a bittersweet speech and we all had to face the reality that the sail inn had less than two days left of fun to be enjoyed in it. i was off to boston for the 4th of july week, but i could not have asked for a better show to be my last at this great venue.

download the full show on archive

finally, i want to give a quick shout out to two people. the first is spafford’s light guy. i regret that at this time i don’t know his name, but his work has greatly improved over the last 18 months, and this year especially he’s been in sync with the band on every song. watch the sail inn show and even keeping in mind the limited rig he has access to it’s hard not to be impressed with him.

second is nick kirschman, whose photos you’ve been viewing throughout this post. in addition to his awesome photography, nick is the founder of (sign up for the forum- i post under the name sailinnsailaway) and the biggest spafford fan i know. you can tweet him at @nkirschontour and say hi to him at pretty much every spafford show or west coast phish show. thanks again dude!

see all of nick’s photo albums here