Saturday, July 22, 2017

The Jon Spear Band Flying High At The Tin Pan

Dara James, Jon Spear, John Stubblefield, Andy Burdetsky.  Photo by Anita Schlank
The Jon Spear Band is the band that said, “Live music is better,” and they took over the Tin Pan’s spacious stage and filled it with some of the best music I’ve heard in quite a while. With only four pieces in the band, Dara James on lead guitar and vocals; Jon Spear on rhythm guitar and vocals, Andy Burdetsky on bass and backing vocals; and John Stubblefield on drums, they managed to create the sound of a much larger group.
James is a guitar wizard who can move from playing a standard lead to delivering a blistering break that could actually cause the audience to break into applause before he even finished playing. Spear is a helluva player as well, great on the vocals, and writes most of the band’s material. Spear has also loosened up a little bit and even managed to break out a few dance moves that were well-timed and it added value to their performance.
Burdetsky is a very animated bass player who made several songs come to life and Stubblefield is a very underrated drummer who threw in some great fills throughout the night. Together, the four of them dropped some great blues in support of their latest album Hot Sauce, and mixed up a very spicy meal.
They kicked off an evening of rocking blues with a great rendition of Can’t Help Myself and quickly segued into Casting My Spell. That set the tone for the evening as they moved rapidly from song to song yet still managed to connect with the audience, many of whom were friends or fans of the band.
Next up they launched into Shake Your Boogie which got the first set of dancers up and on the floor. They would reappear throughout the night, and a typical Richmond audience threw caution to the wind and were actually having a good time unselfconsciously. Good for you, dancers, and I hope more folks follow your lead.
After that came Noah’s Blues and Beginner At The Blues before moving into the bouncy breezy number, Geographical Cure. Then they launched into the most intense song to that point, Wintertime. James’ break was electrifying and many in the audience burst into spontaneous applause.
After that, the audience needed something to change the mood and Spear obliged by dropping a fun number, I Love My Skin. Then came several more songs from the latest album starting with the title track, Hot Sauce, with another killer guitar run from James. After that was the adult joke turned cool dance son, Hit The Quarter and an amazing blistering song about the fire at the Rhythm Club in April, 1940, Natchez Burning. That incident cost over 200 people their lives when the fire broke out inside an overcrowded theatre that had locked all of the exits except one. The song was a beautiful tribute and James’ voice was the best on this number. It was like he was channeling those lost souls through his vocals. It was a very moving moment.
After that number, the band launched into a song about my early life, Cheap Whiskey & Stale Cigarettes. Another powerful song followed, Blues For A Soldier which gave Stubblefield a chance to do some great work on the drums. When he switched from straight drumming to a march time, it was an exciting moment.
They went all the way back to their first album to play the title track, Old Soul, and then called an audible and played Mean Mean Woman. One of the songs many of their fans were waiting for, Tin Pan Alley, was next and for the next several minutes the audience was enthralled by the darkness of the song and the beauty of James’ guitar break.
They finished out their 90-minute set with Devil’s Highway, which again got a number of audience members up on their feet and dancing with abandon. They had one more song up their sleeve and performed the funkiest version of Black Cat Bone that I’ve ever heard.
Charlottesville has always been a hotbed for great music. There’s been plenty of good rock that grew up around Mr. Jefferson’s University and all of the pubs and clubs that support live music in the area. Whatever you like, you can find it in C-ville, and if you like the blues, you’ll find it being delivered by the Jon Spear Band.
While you’re supporting those great bands, support those clubs who are brave enough to play live music. It’s cheaper to throw a DJ up behind a sound system, but there’s nothing like the electricity that a live band creates. Remember, as Ellwood Blues said in Blues Brothers 2000, “no pharmaceutical product could ever equal the rush you get when the band hits that groove; the people are dancin', and shoutin', and swayin'; and the house is rockin'!”
And brothers and sister, the Jon Spear Band brought the rush tonight!

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