Review of Spafford at the House of Blues

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Spafford at the House of Blues
Image credit: Spafford

Spafford at Chicago House of Blues…A Great Show!

Spafford has been on our radar for a couple of years, and we finally caught a show at the House of Blues in Chicago during their 2018 Fall tour. It was a first for us on two counts: the first time we saw Spafford and our first time at the House of Blues. We came away impressed with both the band and the venue. Oh, and the fans, who call themselves Spaffnerds, are pretty cool too! If you’re into jam bands, you’ll want to catch Spafford the next time they’re in your area. These guys are all jam, all the time!

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Chicago House of Blues

The House of Blues (HoB) is right in downtown Chicago. It’s a combination restaurant, concert venue, and blues museum, with a trendy bar upstairs. From our house, it’s about a two-hour drive. We considered driving to a “Park and Ride” near O’Hare and taking the “L” into town, but the station was a few blocks away and there was rain in the forecast, so we bit the bullet and drove right in. The HoB has valet parking, so we took advantage of it. The cost – including the valet tip – wasn’t much more than just parking in a Chicago parking ramp, and you can’t beat the convenience. I expected heavy traffic on a Friday night, and it did take an extra half-hour to get into town, but the drive out after the show was smooth.

House of Blues in Chicago
Valet Parking right in front! (Image credit: House of Blues)

House of Blues Restaurant

We don’t get into the Windy City very often, so we decided to make it a full “date night” and go out to dinner. I made reservations at the House of Blues restaurant and we drove in early just in case traffic was worse than expected. It wasn’t, so we got there about a half-hour before our reservation. There was a private party going on, so they redirected us to the upstairs (and upscale) VIP Club to wait. After a beer and a friendly conversation with the bartender, we went downstairs to eat. The food was good and the prices were reasonable, considering that it’s downtown Chicago. The staff at the House of Blues – including the bouncers, the bartenders, the waitstaff … even the washroom attendant – were very friendly and professional.

House of Blues Restaurant
House of Blues Restaurant (Image credit: House of Blues)

House of Blues Concert Hall

Balcony view
We staked out a spot right around the B in this photo. Great view of the stage! (Image credit: House of Blues)

After ordering our general admission (i.e. standing on the floor) tickets, someone from HoB contacted me and asked if I wanted to upgrade to one of the VIP packages. For an extra $50, you can get a barstool behind the railing. It’s elevated, so you can see the stage. For a higher upgrade (in both cost and altitude), you can sit in the balcony and have a server bring you drinks.

The barstool seats didn’t look all that comfortable and the balcony seats looked okay if you’re in the front row of the balcony, but behind that, I doubt the view is any good. If you’re okay with standing for a couple of hours, we recommend staying with the general admission package. We’re glad we turned down both upgrade options – it was great to stand with the crowd in front of the stage and enjoy the show close up. How close were we? This close:

Ever been so close to the stage that you can’t fit a four-piece band in one picture?

Spafford Jams

The music began with an opening act, Southern Avenue, who played a really energetic blend of blues, rock, and soul, including a funky cover of The Beatles’ Come Together. If you get a chance to see them, do it!

But the main attraction, of course, was Spafford, and wow – they were really tight! They took the stage and played continuously for almost 40 minutes, which, in the world of jam bands, amounted to two songs.They’re largely an instrumental band – it was around the 20-minute mark when they first sang any lyrics, and that was brief. After two more songs, they took a short break, returned for another hour-long set plus an encore.

Like many others in the genre, Spafford is heavy on extended jams. Unlike most jam bands, however, they’re not big on lyrics or recurring melodies. Where bands like Phish, String Cheese Incident, and Tedeschi Trucks Band will often start a song, play a couple of verses and choruses, move into a long improvisation, and eventually meander their way back to the final verse or segue into the next tune, Spafford skips the preliminary stuff and goes straight to the jam. And they’re really good at it!

Check out the setlist and a full, high-quality recording of the show at the Spaffnerds website. I listened to it while writing this article! And visit the band’s official website for upcoming tour info and more

Like small venues in the Chicago area? See our review of Anders Osborne at SPACE.

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