Live review: Spain (Atlas)

Spain are a very strange band to know. I’ve had the pleasure of listening to their music for 20 years exactly now – coming across their debut album “The Blue Moods Of Spain” being played in my local record shop when I was 15 and washing dishes in a surf and turf joint to save up cash to buy CDs and guitars. Spain was unlike any other band I’d ever heard of – they played slow. All of their songs were slow, not just one or two on the album as the other rock bands were doing like Smashing Pumpkins or Pearl Jam (because that’s what people listened to in 1995) but they seemed committed to just doing this. I thought it was revolutionary. Later on I discovered there were several other bands that had a ‘core’ philosophy of playing slow and quiet. Slowcore. 


Once again Atlas proved really the only place that seeing a band like Spain could work – they performed a double set (I believe of their greatest hits compilation: Spirituals) at Voxhall in 2013 with their full lineup as a matinee concert in late summer – not the ideal kind of scenario to put on a gig like that in the dog days of festival season at barbecue o’clock for music fans in Aarhus. Still – that was a mesmerizing concert – except for several twats in the 45-60 year old demographic and their alcoholic banshee women talking and laughing through the whole thing – the genesis of my qualms with talking at shows in Denmark. I of course avoided being arrested for aggravated assault with a bottle of Heineken and very much enjoyed their over 2 hour set (with break).


For this concert however things seemed to be really different. Again – it was a completely different line-up, only down to a trio (guitarist Kenny Lyon and drummer Joel Virgil) with Josh Haden being the sole permanent member of the line-up, but it’s always been that way. On their recordings, sisters and fathers (famed jazz guitarist Charlie Haden) drift in and out of the line-up. Their recent album: Sargent Place was in fact the last time Charlie Haden was recorded. Knowing this – and knowing how somber their music can be – I thought this might be a wake. I peeked at the setlist – It looked long.


For the 31 people I counted in the audience for the show though, everyone seemed completely enraptured. Not only was this one of the quietest shows I’ve ever seen from a band, (ironically it was national ear-care day) but also the audience was absolutely transfixed on what was happening. Good. Lately I’ve been getting embarrassed by these weekday kind of concerts where people seem to crawl out of a hole and decide to go to a quiet weekday show and ruin it – not the case here. In fact – there was one dude there that just seemed absolutely in ecstasy to see Spain. A super-fan. He’d punch the air when he heard an oldie and respectfully clap or mutter “YEAH”. It was charming and endearing.


Spain did manage to break the monotony of their normally wooden performances of their material. Tempos were changed up on some tracks, Kenny Lyons’ guitar surprised me quite a bit – Hayden laying back to let him improvise jazzy and blues inspired solos – we did not expect that but it was tasteful and welcome. It seems Haden’s jazz upbringing paid off – the band gave each other space for fills and a bit of light jamming on few songs (well – as much as Spain could jam on their material) and still managed to be true to cuts from their first era of albums. New material from 2014’s Sargent place was featured heavily – but that’s the thing with Spain – they don’t age, they don’t change, and they don’t ever suck.


Even though the attendance was meager for their show – they came and did two rounds of encores – “Spiritual” (a song so good that Johnny Cash himself recorded it) and “I’m Still Free”. They repaired to the wings before performing “The Fire”. The band shot straight out to the merch booth and were signing records before I could even get my coat on – true pros.


You know we really are so lucky to have a place like Atlas here in town to give us a show like that on a Tuesday. I say “give” because they can’t have made any money off of ticket sales and bar – so it was obviously because Spain are an important and influential indie band and we have to have that in Aarhus if they are in the area. Again, everyone there absolutely seemed to enjoy themselves, or at least were respectful enough to each other to not show it if they didn’t. As always the sound (what very little came out of the pa in fact) was excellent, and the bar and venue staff were so nice and were nothing but smiles and kind words with every interaction.



Lets hope Spain come back, maybe we can get a few more of us in to see this great and beautiful music.

Bobby McBride
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