Review | An Evening With The Spin Doctors

Words, Images and Videos: Tim Neagle

Spin Doctors :: 8.28.13 :: The Indepedent :: San Francisco, CA

Twenty years ago this summer I saw the Spin Doctors play in a small club in New Haven, CT and ever since I’ve been a fan. From their H.O.R.D.E. Festival days, to their poppy hits of early '90s off their best-selling Pocket Full of Kryptonite album and lesser known albums like Turn It Upside Down and the live Homebelly Groove, the Spin Doctors toed the line between jamband and pop artist. The band always had enough technical talent, bluesy grit, playful humor and a darker ambient sound to cater to the jam-heads. But they also wrote enough catchy melodies and lyrics sung by charming and witty lead man Chris Barron to stay relevant in the mainstream.

On Wednesday night, the New York City quartet graced the stage at San Francisco’s The Independent – the venue I’ve been to more than any other. Promoting their new blues album, If the River Was Whiskey, while also tugging on our nostalgic heart strings by playing nearly all of Kryptonite, the Spin Doctors put on a two-hour show that was nearly everything this Spin-Head was looking for. Nearly everything, I’ll get to my unfulfilled wish later.

“He’s faster than a bullet, stronger that a train, he’s the one who got lucky, got his cape around Miss Lois Lane, I can’t believe my dilemma is real, I’m competing with the Man of Steel.”

Right off the bat, the band picked the perfect opener with "What Time Is It," a funky and energetic track off of Kryptonite. I could tell immediately that their sound and style hasn’t changed in 20 years, I knew every Eric Schenkman guitar lick, nearly every Chris Barron vocal scat and was spot on with my Aaron Comess rhythmic air drumming. Despite the years and the shorter, more age-appropriate hairstyle, Barron’s Gumby-like stage presence and elastic dance moves haven’t regressed at all. Schenkman is still rocking his '80s hair-band rockstar look, while Comess and bassist Mark White are unchanged, except for the inevitable pounds that time tacks on. But as a band, they’re just as musically tight and energetically loose as ever.

“Different strokes for different folks, mind you manners easy on the ethnic jokes.”

The show continued with a healthy dose of Kryptonite songs including crowd favorites "Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong," "Jimmy Olsen’s Blues" and "Two Princes" - their most popular number that Barron sarcastically prefaced as a song they just randomly made up. The rare tune featuring Schenkman on vocals, "Off My Line," was another off their breakthrough album. But with no doubt, the highlight of the show was the 20-minute exploration and talent showcase in the classic segue of "Refrigerator Car" > "Shinbone Alley." Bleeding out of a drum solo intro, Comess morphed into the syncopated opening 9/8 drumbeat of "Refrigerator Car," which leans more towards psychedelic guitar rock and less towards the pop angle. The song provided a backdrop for Mark White to show off his chunky bass slapping skills as the jam morphed into a rolling spacey probe. Barron left the stage for what seemed like 10 minutes as the band took turns soloing and showing off their individual talents and skills that aren’t always obvious to their mainstream fans.

When all was said and done, the band found a groove that segued seamlessly into the bluesy back-beat driven "Shinbone Alley," the second half of the rocking suite. Aside from the hits that everyone knows from extensive radio play, this duo of songs is truly the classic Spin Doctors sound: shredding bluesy guitar riffs, loose half-time ride-cymbal and open hi-hat drumbeats and deep, spacious, funky bass lines that allow Barron to gyrate his body in his typical flamboyant way.

“I’ve held your hand and sunk your ships, and I can taste our future in the whiskey on your lips”

Aside from doing their best to turn the clock back to the early '90s, the Spin Doctors mixed in a handful of new songs from If The River Was Whiskey, released this past April. I love the name of the album, as the band’s overall sound has a watery feel to it, while whiskey is an allusion to the album's bluesy style. These songs, while tight and classic in their form and style, strayed from the creative, playful and funky intricacies of the Spin Doctors older albums. Instead they touched on an older, patient, '70s blues- rock style. "Scotch and Water Blues" has a slow passion reminicent of Led Zeppelin’s "Since I’ve Been Loving You," while the album's title track and "Traction Blues" have a more up-tempo Derek Trucks or Eric Clapton rockin' and rolling energy. While enjoyable and everything you’d expect from a professional tight group of mature musicians, the Spin Doctors are better suited for their exuberant, experimental, playful, risk taking style.

The show came to a conclusion with an encore of the old favorite "Yo Mama’s A Pajama" off of Homebelly Groove. Overall, as a longtime fan of the band, I had a blast. Besides everyone singing along to the hits, "Little Miss," "Jimmy Olsen" and "Two Princes," I’m not sure if the crowd received it the same way I did. The venue was only 1/3 full for the encore and there were times that during the band's funkiest dance numbers, Chris Barron was the only one really letting it all go on the dance floor. Perhaps California never truly embraced the Spin Doctors, perhaps it’s because they’re older or because we’re older. Either way, the show was more of a trip down memory lane, and less a showcase of a relevant band in today’s music scene.

“I gotta love her, it’s my duty, she got a big fat funky booty.”

But my hat’s off to the Spin Doctors who were clearly having fun, all looked healthy and happy and have not lost that goofy funky charm that grew them a place in music history in the early '90s. As for my one gripe. I wish they had played more songs from Turn It Upside Down, like "Cleopatra’s Cat" or "Hungry Hamed’s," an album that any true Spin Doctor fan needs to have in their annual rotation.



[What Time Is It?]
[Little Miss Can't Be Wrong]
[Two Princes]


[Published on: 9/1/13]

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