on friday and saturday of last weekend (october 28th & 29th), spafford played what amounted to two farewell shows at last exit live in their adopted hometown of phoenix. they weren’t presented as such, but if you’ve been following this band then you know how big they’ve gotten in the last 6 weeks and how big they will continue to get through the end of the year and throughout 2017. shows like last weekend’s at venues of this size are about to be considered the good old days, so i hope everyone there realized what we were witnessing.
opening for lotus this weekend, playing phish after shows in new york over new year’s eve, and opening for umphrey’s mcgee in january up and down the east coast ensures that they’ll be playing to crowds that recognize and appreciate their talent, which should eventually pave the way for their own national tours that will allow them to come back to arizona with their guns blazing and a bigger, rowdier crowd here to greet them.
however, we can’t talk about this past weekend without talking about the midwest run at the end of september with shows in boulder, denver, lincoln, milwaukee, neenah, chicago, and ottawa.
you know. the tour that gave us an instant all-timer in the pizza jam(!!!!!), back to back shows at the sweat and joy-filled tonic room, and of course the band’s new folk hero- the man, the myth, the legend… lopez.
born out of a perfect storm of jams, booze and end of the week giddyness in the mixlr chat room during the neenah show at cranky pat’s, we finally got to meet him in the flesh when he flew out from milwaukee for the last exit shows, and he did not disappoint.
lopez is basically the result of catherine zeta-jones getting eiffel tower’d by paul bunyan and zorro with the lone ranger on camera duty and no one bothering to take a paternity test.
he more than exceeded everyone’s expectations and brought a new energy to the phoenix scene that everyone responded to immediately. there were dozens of shouts, cries and near-orgasmic wailings of “lopez!” throughout both nights- the dude’s a people person for sure.
with no hint of jaded vet hambland feelgoodery, i can say with 100% confidence that the next spafford show is always the best. last weekend was beyond stellar, though, and it took me a few days and several relistens of each show for the music to fully sink in. it’s been a long time since i’ve reviewed an actual show and since these are going to be the last we see here for a while i figured i’d do an old fashioned recap of what went down.
friday night (10/28) opened with an extra smooth but unfinished “in the eyes of thieves” that segued nicely into “feel like a stranger” where red’s vocals really shine in an always welcome cover. look for a potential thieves conclusion this weekend.
next up was probably the best “lonely” i’ve ever heard them play. brian shreds in a powerful but restrained peak and you can really hear jordan’s rolling bass lines throughout this section. just a lot of excellent interplay by the whole band.
it was also at this point that some silly goose in the crowd asked a certain photographer whether this song was already the encore. yeesh. some of you people need to handle your party favors a little better.
songs like “walls,” which came next and rages here, are an important play off the happier, more upbeat songs in the band’s repertoire. i can’t say it any better than jerry joseph in the video below from the widespread panic documentary the earth will swallow you:
the downy-soft drop into “postman” was a thing of beauty and the resulting jam was upbeat, exploratory and patient enough for each member to show off their individual talents before climaxing with an exultant peak.
this is the kind of jamming i love, whether it’s the grateful dead, james brown or spafford- when everyone’s on the same page and jamming together, this is what i’m after. phil lesh is famous for confusing musicians who haven’t played with him before when he tells them that he wants everyone to be soloing together instead of laying back and having people take turns on their own. well, this is what they can listen to if they don’t know what he’s looking for.
“slip and squander” closes out the first set in its typical lovely fashion. this song has really become a fan favorite and live staple over the last year, so let’s shout out the band’s namesake and lighting master chuck johnson, who wrote this song as well as one of my other personal favorites, “the man,” which will hopefully be getting played more often going forward. check out his other writing right here.
set two opened with a monster version of “all in.” really- this one is worth all 25 minutes they ride it for. around the 5 minute mark, that little guyute-esque scale run is always one of my mini favorite moments at a show. i don’t know how to explain it, it’s simple, nothing stands out too much, but it takes me to my happy place every single time. then right after that, going back to the jerry joseph analogy, they launch into rock god mode and get the room’s energy all the way back up before exploring several different areas of improvisation that never lose the crowd’s interest.
“electric taco stand” follows, with a pretty straightforward first 7 minutes that lead into the bliss-filled 10 minute alternate ending that peaks and peaks and peaks before going back into the taco proper finale. if you love this version as much as i do, check out the 8/9/14 show where they !encored! with the same hose-filled facefuckery. gotta love this band, man. hoo doggie!
not to be outdone by the two preceeding jams, “weasel > red’s jam > weasel” closed out set two in trancey, pure groove fashion. along with “walls,” this song brings a dark undertone to the show every time it’s played and can really get out there when they want it to. nick really drives this version all the way through.
saturday night (10/29) kicked off with a 16 minute jammed out cover of “ghostbusters” which was just plain fucking awesome. i played this for my younger edm-loving coworker yesterday and after the jam started he remarked that it didn’t sound like ghostbusters anymore. big mistake, junior. i proceeded to lecture him on type I vs type II jamming for the next 90 minutes.
this jam really gets out there and segues perfectly into “todd’s tots” which continued to take the energy up beyond the 11 we were already at. i maintain that the beginning sounds like the doobie brothers’ “china grove” but no one agrees with me. another really nice bliss section in the middle of the song before the craziness caps it off.
brian gives us a tour of the shred factory with “ain’t that wrong” in the three spot, getting the asses shaking and heads banging as a bunch of people sang along to the chorus. red’s organ was on point throughout, adding a nice layer in the background.
batting cleanup and out of nowhere they drop an extra laid back cover of green day’s “long view” off the dookie album. i got the album for christmas in 1994, the same day my family got a black lab from santa. we named him duke. i thought of him during this song. because he’s dead now. anyway, he was a good dog and this was a good jam. a very nice surprise.
“backdoor funk” from live vol. 2 has been my go-to spafford listening along with the pizza jam, and while this night’s version is quite shorter than the album’s, they cover a lot of different space with this one and it’s really one of the best jams of the weekend. excellent version.
closing out the set is a cover of herbie hancock’s “cantaloupe island” with mike cunningham on saxophone. i was unfamiliar with this song before the night but they seemed to have done it justice and it’s always great hearing spafford with horns.
a unique take on soft cell’s “tainted love” opened set two before “the reprise” got things going again. someone please tell me another time they’ve played this before “america” because i can’t think of a show where that’s happened. seemed like there were lots of confused but smiling faces around the room. i love when they do stuff like that to keep the fans on their toes.
i was hearing “windmill” and “salamander song” teases for the last two minutes of the reprise before they fully went into the latter, which is another always-welcome fan favorite with the audience participation and joyful bliss peaks (although there were a few too many “heys” during the chorus section, listen to the band noobs). it’s just one of those songs that makes you feel good– about life, yourself, the moment, whatever. great energy in the room because of this one.
“america” following this was really cool and got everyone back into rage mode with the last 3 minutes developing a lovely little jam that segues right into “galisteo way.”
the opening guitar chords always get people moving and this one was no exception. with the crowd nice and lubed up by this point, the singalong portion of the chorus was especially spirited, if wildly out of tune (that’s on me, i’ll raise my hand for that one. i can’t sing for shit. doesn’t mean i’m gonna stop, though).
the jam that came out of the main song was quiet and delicate and mostly stayed that way before “dis go in 5?” came in for a workout. the instrumental behemoth got dark and grimy and had the crowd in a trance while going into another beautiful jam-within-a-jam (check out the lick brian starts around 9:45) before going back in to the finale of galisteo, which itself was an all out dance party.
of all the segues and transitions from the weekend this one might be my favorite. pure joy into dance madness with people jumping up and down in unison.
bringing mike cunningham out again to close the set by covering todd rundgren’s “bang on the drum all day” was an awesome finish and left everyone smiling, screaming and singing along to the chorus.
what more could we have asked for after two straight nights of astounding jams, cool sit-ins and virgin cover songs?
how about an instant classic version of “leave the light on”? there have been so many great versions of this song in 2016 alone, but saturday night’s 25 minute epic is one that holds up after many relistens. like friday’s “all in,” this one makes use of every single note played- you get your money’s worth if you listen start to finish, especially if you liked the night’s “ghostbusters” opener because they bring ray parker’s masterpiece back for a brief but fiery reprise that put a perfect bow on another perfect spafford music weekend.
actually, here’s a reenactment of the collective response during the ltlo peak that went back into the ghostbusters reprise:
so yeah, it was a great two nights.
as always here’s the archive and soundcloud links, but for chrissakes if you have a few extra shekels to spend please go to their bandcamp page and buy live vol. 1 & 2 if not the entire catalogue, of which most of us celebrate in its entirety.
jimi hendrix said “the time i burned my guitar it was like a sacrifice. you sacrifice the things you love. i love my guitar.” i don’t exactly want to set these lads on fire, but i do love them and want to see them succeed to the highest level they’re capable of.
so leaving arizona for a while and making a name for themselves on the national scene is what they need to do, and i urge everyone to continue spreading the word, sending links to jams and shows and just keep getting the name “spafford” out there. the reward we’ll get as fans will be more amazing music and a band that is able to do this full time.
so chicago- enjoy what you’re getting this weekend, on top of a world series to celebrate, you’ve got our band and, by the looks of it, our weather now too.
with love and only the straightest of lasers,