Alive at 5: Spafford and Annie in the Water Jam Out at Jennings Landing

Making their first visit to Albany since October 2017, Spafford returned to the Capital Region with a vengeance on Thursday, June 16. Headlining week two of Albany’s beloved Alive at 5 concert series, organizers could not have booked a more appropriate act for “Jam Night” than the Arizona improv quartet; a band that’s bolstered their reputation in recent years by occasionally surprising audiences with unannounced single-song shows. 

Despite a tornado warning in areas of Western New York, mother nature played nice and so did the band.  Indeed the jams at Jennings Landing on this night went long and strong and judging by the look on many of the first timers in the crowd, it was as if the music was hitting them over the head like a sonic sledgehammer, and they loved it. 

spafford annie in the water

Opening band and local legends Annie in the Water started the evening as only they know how. The whole band was delighted to be playing for Alive at Five and you could tell from the first note. Although it wasn’t the jam-heavy sets fans may be accustomed to, the Annie boys threw down a well-rounded set that had a large portion of people on their feet. They chose original songs as well as an excellent cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” that have brought their fans to fall in love with the band.

Setlist: Time to Play, In the Sand, Lights up, River, Dreams (Fleetwood Mac), Seeds, Dancing the Night Away

In an age where “jamming” is often viewed as a dirty word, Spafford makes no bones about what type of band they are.  Comprised of Brian Moss (guitar/vocals), Jordan Fairless (Bass), Andrew “Red” Johnson on keyboards and Nick Tkachyk on drums, their social media bio simply says “We Jam.”  But while the theme for this week was “Jam night,” this was anything but your typical Spafford show.  For one thing it was totally free, thus attracting a lot of curious and first-time listeners.  Second, due to the 8pm city curfew, there was only time for the band to play one set and no encore.   Another key component missing was the bands elaborate light show, which due to the time of day was an impossibility.  

spafford annie in the water

Well aware of these limitations, Spafford played it smart and went with an almost “festival-like” setlist.  With first time ears upon them, they decided to offer up a collection of some of their more well known and more accessible compositions.  Kicking things off with one of the songs that put them on the map, the opening riff of “Electric Taco Stand” made it clear that despite the constraints, these Arizona cats  came to Albany to boogie down. After a beautiful and contemplative version of the Andrew “Red” Johnson sung “Slip and Squander,” bassist Jordan Fairless had his chance to shine on what was perhaps the highlight of the night, “Leave the Light On.”  Shifting gears from its reggae style structure, this version would drift into a delicate and blissfully sublime space before Jordan would reel it in and lead fans through the call and response portion of the song, so catchy even first timers could be seen mouthing the words in unison. 

spafford annie in the water

Worth noting is that the guys appeared to be having an absolute blast on stage.  Smiles all around,  Jordan in particular seemed more jovial than his usual self, even making all kinds of “bass faces” and playing off Brian’s tasty licks by sticking out his tongue during an absolutely epic version of “Back Door Funk.”  Showcasing their versatility and flaunting their ability to blend various genres seamlessly into one, the evening had everything from filthy funk and up-tempo jamtronica, to rump-shaking reggae, introspective instrumentals and all out rock n’ roll shred fests courtesy of Mr. Brian Moss and his custom Thomas Milana guitar: The Raven.  In fact, if there was an actual way to keep track of such things, I’d be willing to bet Moss played more notes during this set than any other performer in Alive at 5 history. 

After working their way through “Mind’s Unchained,” the show would come to a glorious end by way of the anthemic “Salamander Song” in which the audience was encouraged to “dance the whole way home.”   Judging by the look on some of the freshly melted faces of Albany’s first timers, that’s exactly what they may have done. While it may not have been your typical two-set Spafford show, there was still plenty to like about this performance. Savoring every minute of it, Albany fans can only hope it doesn’t take 5 more years for this very talented band to return.    

spafford annie in the water

6/16/22 | Alive at Five | Albany, NY

Setlist: Electric Taco Stand, Slip and Squander, Leave the Light On, Backdoor Funk, Mind’s Unchained > Salamander Song

Up next in the Alive at 5 concert series is Classic Rock night with Lita Ford headlining and up-and-coming New York band Candy Ambulance opening things up.  The event is scheduled to take place on June, 23 at Jennings Landing on Thursday, June 23, 2022 and as always, is completely free.

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