Lake Tahoe winters can occasionally wreak havoc on a touring band’s life, and such was the case this past weekend as Spafford and support band The Higgs were both scheduled to make their Crystal Bay Crown Room debuts last Friday. Mother Nature had other plans. Snow dumped from the heavens, and the show didn’t go on until Monday.
Phoenix jam rockers Spafford headed up the freshly plowed interstate from an exhilarating two-night run at Terrapin Crossroads in Marin. The opening act however, trudged all the way from Eugene, Oregon, on Monday and endured a flat tire to boot just to come entertain the hardcore “Spaffnerds” that didn’t care which day of the week the concert fell. Their numbers may have been smaller than a Friday crowd, but their spirits were high.
They were treated to an off-script jam session in the truest sense of the phrase.
Southern California jammers The Higgs set the tone with an energetic hour that consisted of exactly three stretched out tunes. Since making their CBC debut in the Red Room last May, it was clear that they’ve been hard at work honing their skills, and they were a tight cohesive foursome looking comfortable breaking off into their respective solo sections and revving up the crowd for the main event. Based on the shouts and high fives they were besieged by following their set, they earned some new fans, as well.
Full disclosure: I am not as familiar with Spafford as the majority of the people in the room but it was pretty clear from the beginning that the band was going to use this opportunity after two-sold out shows to just go out and have fun trying some things.
The first hour consisted of two songs — “Virtual Bean Dip” and “Leave The Light On” — (which I’ll confess I didn’t even realize until later), but the true fans seemed to recognize the changing tempos and sections, calling them out by name as the movements changed. About the only time I’ve experienced such lengthy free form has been at jazz shows, but Brian Moss on guitar and Red Johnson on keys continually engaged in back and forth interplay, while Jordan Fairless’ bass work along with drummer Cameron Laforest’s rhythms weaved the ever-changing beds for Moss and Johnson to dance upon.
Set two featured more of the same, and lighting designer Ben Factor cranked up his game another notch to try and keep up with the band going rogue. The second stanza consisted of a whopping three-song set, with a Spafford-ized cover of Grateful Dead classic, “West LA Fadeway” to wrap a second jammed out hour. Once the encore was complete, the entire evening of roughly three hours of music, consisted of a grand total of nine compositions.
That, my friends, is what you call putting the “jam” in jam band, and it set a new jam-band bar for me. Without a doubt, if these two acts came back to Tahoe for a weekend show and weren’t somehow derailed again, there wouldn’t be a ticket to be found.
– Michael Smyth