Music

Spafford Delivers Hot Jams to Help San Francisco Rise Above

Jamrock quartet Spafford rocks the Great American Music Hall to provide the Bay Area with a sonic oasis for escape from dystopian air quality problems in the wake of the latest wildfires.

It's an apocalyptic time of environmental crisis in the San Francisco Bay Area here in mid-November, with climate change enhanced wildfires wreaking havoc on regional air quality yet again. The Sonoma/Napa fires in the fall of 2017 created a regional air quality crisis the likes of which seemed unprecedented. Now just a year later, the Camp Fire near Chico just a few hours north has wiped out the town of Paradise altogether and generated so much smoke throughout the region that the Bay Area is being cited for the worst air quality in the world this weekend.

Schools are canceling classes, the Cal-Stanford football game has been postponed, and citizens are advised not to go outside without a P95 particle mask. But Arizona jam-rockers Spafford are in town at San Francisco's legendary Great American Music Hall, so fans of improvisational rock 'n' roll are grabbing those particle masks and braving the gnarly conditions to catch the band's fall tour closer here on this Saturday night of 17 November. Spafford is proof positive that rock is far from dead and that bands with talent and dedication can still generate a career the old-fashioned way -- with relentless touring and killer live shows that see audiences growing with each successive visit to town.

The quartet sold out two nights at Terrapin Crossroads across the Golden Gate Bridge in March, winning a slew of new fans and leading to this next step up the venue ladder with two nights here at the Great American. It's another badge of honor for Spafford, who have grown impressively from a regional band just a few years ago into a surging national touring phenomenon. They're still flying under the radar as far as the mainstream music scene goes, as jambands typically do. But serious live music fans have been taking notice, and so Spafford has become one of 2018's top success stories in live music.

Guitarist Brian Moss, bassist Jordan Fairless, keyboardist Red Johnson,much-neededand drummer Cameron LaForest hit the stage shortly before 9:00 pm with guns blazing on "Slip and Squander", a blissful jam vehicle featured on the band's new album For Amusement Only that sets the tone for a majestic evening. The audience falls right into a collective groove here, and the uplifting dance party mode extends throughout the show. The song encapsulates the Spafford vibe in many ways, with melodic piano lines weaving through a tight groove as Moss fires off hot licks to boost the jam into overdrive. The venue is well ventilated so there's no air quality issues inside and the music hall becomes a sonic oasis of sorts for escape from the dystopian nightmare outside.

The quartet's strong chemistry continues to surge on "Todd's Tots", an upbeat rocker with lots of changes that serves as a showcase for the band's tight chops. A cover of Tom Petty's "Breakdown" is another crowd-pleaser, with Petty's ghost continuing to loom large over the entire rock 'n' roll scene more than a year after his untimely departure from the planet.

The first set has been a stellar jamfest, and the band is right back at it after a 30-minute set break when they open the second set with a big jam on the funky fan favorite "Electric Taco Stand". The song highlights Moss' ability to melt face and to lead the band on a dynamic sonic journey, with the "Spaffnerds" getting a delightful groove on and loving every minute. The upbeat vibe continues on "All In", another multi-dimensional tune from the new album. Fairless takes the vocal here on mid-tempo verses that open up for some more fiery melodic jamming with LaForest laying down a variety of beats and Johnson dialing up some spacey synths.

The band keeps the energy high throughout the show, throwing down one hot jam after another to keep this Saturday night blowout rocking for a most appreciative audience. Spafford delivers a special encore to acknowledge the Great American Music Hall's sacred ground, throwing down an extended rendition of the Grateful Dead's "Feel Like a Stranger" that hits all the right notes. The quartet takes the song in a very groovy direction, with some spacey jamming that starts to sound like they might be moving into the Dead's "Help on the Way" before finding their back to the song's main theme. This could be a most satisfying conclusion in itself, but they're not done yet as they keep it going with their song "The Reprise", a tune with an infectious space funk groove that takes the Spaffnerds on one more trip through the light fantastic. Fairless lays down a monster cosmic funk groove here as the band takes the jam deeper and deeper with Moss shredding the fretboard to drive the jam through peak after peak.

It's been a festive fiesta from start to finish, providing Bay Area music fans with a much-needed respite from the dire air quality issues plaguing the region. Spafford's star continues to rise, and the future shines bright.

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