"Spafford 'Turn Down The Lights' plays intimate show in Virginia."2/12/17 | The Southern | Charlottesville, VA
One thing I have learned over the years about the Jam scene is that bands come and go, as fast as they appear, POOF... they are gone. A band may seem poised to take over the Jam scene one minute and then breaking up the next. I had been hearing so much about Spafford this year, the new, breakout Jam act; I had to give them a chance in a live setting as soon as I could. Spafford's first tour across the country brought them to The Southern in Charlottesville, Virginia. I opted out of their recent Richmond show, where they opened for Umphreys McGee, for this much smaller, more intimate setting with Spafford as headliner. At first, I wasn't sure what to think about the name Spafford; it sounds so similar to a local Virginia high school, Stafford that it throws me off. Not being so put off by the name, the music shines through, and in the end, I guess it doesn't matter what they call themselves as long as they jam and jam they did.
Spafford began their performance in an easy and fluid-like manner, seemingly ready to take the music anywhere, at anytime. I was immediately impressed with their sound quality, which was very professional and much larger than the room they were playing for. The professional sound quality of this live mix was the best I've ever heard in such a small venue. It pays to have all the right equipment and a team of people that have the knowledge to use it. Within the first 15 minutes, I could already tell that I was getting my $10 worth tonight. The band seemed off in their own world, noodling around for a few songs, never reaching their full potential until the audience began to get into the music with them. The band members became less withdrawn and the energy in the room heightened, as the lead guitarist began to smile into the crowd and they lowered the lights. Spafford's technical abilities show even in the first few songs. They have the ability to transition and shift musically but they're always ready to take the jam further and longer.
I was able to get closer to the band after the horde of 7-foot frost giants left the front of the stage. I will never understand why the tallest guys in the room have to stand right in the front and block everyone's view. As a guitarist myself, I can honestly tell you that Spafford's lead guitarist knows his stuff. He is very controlled and centered but I still saw him nimbly taking a few chances on the neck. His sound is very familiar yet; he still makes it his own, as do all the band members. At any time, Spafford can sound reminiscent of the Grateful Dead, Pink Floyd, Phish and even moe. and that's all in one song.
In their song, "Todd's Tots," we even see extreme traditional jazz breakdowns, which are always a good way to impress a purist like myself by showing genre versatility. Their songwriting ability is still actively growing but the music is very thought out, structured and coordinated. This band cares deeply about their sound and their musical output; this can be a good thing and a bad thing. Sometimes you have to let loose and follow that improvisational groove wherever it may lead but its great to have that structure to build on. The band doesn't have a huge category of songs but they threw in some Van Morrison, "Into the Mystic" as an encore; which is always a classic choice. The band still seems to be learning stage maneuvering and onstage communication but that will come with more time and practice, as they all become even more comfortable onstage and with each other.
What stands out most about Spafford is there effervescent jams, that seem waiting to foam over; some jams only fizzed, while others popped and boiled over.
Spafford seems ready to grab one of those coveted spots in the jam world and they have the sound of technical ability to do so. Only time will tell but this won't be my last time seeing Spafford and most likely they will be playing much larger venues. The vote is still out on these guys but I am very impressed, to say the least.
May the Jam Gods be with you,
Jam Band Purist
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It's a Bunch, The Postman > Todd's Tots, Hollywood > The Reprise > Leave The Light On > The Postman, Virtual Bean Dip > Palisades > Leave The Light On
Encore - Into The Mystic
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Editor: Robert (R.A.) Fadley
Freelance Writer, Musicologist, Music Journalist, Music Critic, Music Writer, Author, Musician, Singer-songwriter, Composer, Guitarist.