My history with seeing Spain live is starting to look like that Dearly Departed Tour in Hollywood where you ride around in a hearse and see all the places where celebrities died, except in this case, it is for all the great music venues that have left the fair, and rapidly gentrifying city.
I first saw them live at the Opium Den on Ivar when that part of Hollywood was reserved for junkies, armed robberies and gang fights. I remember realizing, already halfway into the show, that there was actually no ceiling over the entrance area; we were actually outside. It was then I realized I wasn’t in Canada anymore.
The band took the the stage in front of a packed house, it was hard to find space for my lungs to expand between all the elbows, and yet once the music started I realized I could just let go and float. Spain, you see, is a name that came to frontman Josh Haden in a dream – a dream about soft, soporific breezes coming through windows overlooking Majorcan waterfronts, presumably. The music is like a Frankie Avalon record on slow motion while sucking down nitrous oxide. The BPMs are so low that if it was your heart rate, you would instantly be rushed to the ER and administered an adrenaline shot.
The record they were promoting at that time – “The Blue Moods of Spain” – became my go-to for almost a decade, alongside Talk Talk‘s “Laughing Stock” for sleeping, making out, writing by candlelight, waiting for a plane to takeoff…
What a perfect venue to have seen the band play the first time. In fact – the name was so appropriate, I thought it was the name the promoter had given the night. R.I.P. Opium Den.
The next time I saw Spain play was under a different moniker – maybe it was just “Josh Haden” – this time at the Brown Derby, made famous in the Vincent Vaughn/John Favreau debut Swingers. Again, at that midway point before the first time and now (meaning about a decade ago) they put me into a kind of ASMR trance that held me like a cooing mother and influenced all the music I myself recorded thereafter.
R.I.P. Brown Derby – sorry you are now a Chase Bank.
So when I read that the band was somehow, miraculously, playing a free show at Amoeba – that vast warehouse, like from Raiders of the Lost Ark for all things Gen X, for all nostalgic yearnings for Tower Records culture; that last bastion of hope for music discovery in a real, organic, and human way…I rubbed my eyes, splashed cold water on my face (not real water, we still have a drought here – easy on the almonds and hazelnuts!) and headed straight down.
There were some 15-20 people threaded throughout the rock vinyl aisles waiting for the band to come on. I think half of them were family members. Haden and his colleagues came on without much fanfare and began to barely finger the strings of their gorgeous sounding instruments – the gold-strung electric bass, the vintage Gretsch through a military green Ampeg 1×12; every note a delicious, warm-bottomed, thrum across the floor and into our feet, bellies and hearts. People in the aisles started leaning their heads on each other, and swaying back and forth, and holding hands.
At times it felt like the band was hardly even playing at all. And then, the second to last number, it sort of swelled, and then threatened to fall apart as multiple time signatures began overlapping and twisting and churning. Haden’s expression never changed – his eyes remained closed, his legs slightly akimbo and his back slightly slouched as though a bird perched on the edge of a canyon, looking out over the vast space that was its natural domain.
A guest appearance from sister Petra Haden on the violin added gritty textural depth. Six songs later it was over. I had just traveled through Twin Peaks, and the 1950’s and heartbreaking pleas for a relationship to give it one more try, and quiet nights beside the ocean, and new romance budding as the sun comes up and breakfast at the Brite Spot. And then I realized I was standing in a record store.
And then I realized I still got to stand in a record store.
Stay alive, just a little longer for us, Amoeba. Spain is still sending out lullabies for our frazzled realities – a service, with no reasonable dollar figure.
The new record is most certainly more lively (speaking in relative terms) than previous outings – there is a little more menace, more ebullience here, more harmonies – but it is built upon the incredibly restrained, minimalist arrangements that are the band’s trademark. Sadly, this is also jazz legend Charlie Haden‘s final recording contribution – but what a lovely way to complete a catalog, alongside his progeny.
The new album “Sargent Place” by Spain is available now.