Some rock bands deserve an attached forewarning, even if only half-serious, to help illustrate just what it is they’re doing up there on the stage or in the recording studio.
“CAN YOU HANDLE THE SPIRIT?” has probably been used as a T-shirt slogan or a sticker at some point in the past for some act out there, somewhere. But that could be a good question to pose at the door to who hasn’t yet experienced the furious goodtime that is a live Delta Spirit show.
Led by the energetic and wild-eyed Matthew Logan Vasquez and currently based in SoCal, Delta Spirit was just in town back in the fall but announced another local show at Baltimore’s Ottobar not long ago, and the five-piece group took the small stage at the storied Howard Street venue for what would be a fulfilling, exemplar night led by this consistently thrilling band.
Lights dim and flickering as the song tempo dictated at Ottobar on March 26, Delta Spirit packed a set with favorites and its newest release as the band rocked the space to a group of ticketholders that for the most part seemed to know darn well what was in store.
“They rock,” was the expression used in more than one conversation before Delta Spirit pulled back and unleashed songs from the band’s catalogue now spanning 16 years, one fueled by the vivid enthrall of Vasquez’s eye-opening delivery and a perpetual hunt for climactic, screaming guitar rock manifestations coated with the psychedelic blues.
Beginning with a consonant “From Now On” from 2014’s Into The Wild, Delta Sprit showed its range early moving into a warm, remembering take on “Strange Vine” and then a blistering “Parade” from the band’s full-length studio premiere, Ode To Sunshine.
Just four songs in, “Tear It Up” saw the band already in brash celebration, even as it was without one of its regular members, as longtime bass player Jon Jameson was unavailable for this run of shows. But with Brandon Young on drums, Kelly Winrich on the piano/organ/synth and, in this song, more drums, and of course William McClaren cranking his electric guitar on the left side, this was the majority of the group that began writing head-turning tracks for the initial EP, 2006’s I Think I’ve Found It.
Filling in on bass, Austin-based Z Lynch ensured Jameson’s absence would be no issues and he was offered appreciation throughout the night — “we love Z,” Vasquez said, introducing him to the audience to loud cheers.
Watch the official music video for Delta Spirit’s newest single, “What’s Done Is Done,” via the band’s YouTube channel:
The band also introduced a new song, “What’s Done Is Done,” a track released in the weeks leading up to the Ottobar show, and one indicative of some experimenting but still spiraling into an imploring, amplified rhythmic endeavor — like all of Delta Spirit’s, a song on a mission. The video for this song, premiered at SXSW 2022, is said to be the first to star individuals with down syndrome.
Vasquez himself was casual all night with the room, comfortable engaging with fans as he stayed focused on execution and moving swiftly through the set. An extremely busy musician and a family man, Vasquez is involved in a number of must-hear side projects in addition to his own efforts as a solo act, including Glorietta and Middle Brother, a trio featuring Matt along with his friends and high-profile musicians John McCauley of Deer Tick and Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes.
Taking off his sweater to get comfortable, someone shouted “FUCK THAT SWEATER!”
“I love this sweater,” he feigned defeat but cracked a smile as he looked at the garment in his hands with nostalgia. “It’s a Dana Point Festival sweater my wife found in Pittsburgh.”
But stripping the layer was purposeful, the sweat already shining on his face. A few songs later, Matt would show signs of his true emotion in dedicating a song to his wife, with whom he recently celebrated 11 years of marriage. And the track “Yamaha,” one of several by Delta Spirit eventually used in film or a TV series, whistled with clarity and its excruciating harmony filled the packed club, serving as a wonderful moment of solace amid an arresting rock show. For as sharp and electrifying as Delta Spirit is as a rock entity, these words show it to be equally astute in navigating more hallowed space:
“So cold, I know you can’t believe it / Sometimes you gotta face the feelin’ / When you don’t care if you don’t get up again / There’s a thousand things I will not understand / I hope you know I care /Now you’re dealin’ with the hell I put you through / If I had my way I would be right there next to you / There’s certain things in life you cannot change / There’s certain things / I hope you know I care.”
A mystical and challenging composition, “How About It” was pulled from 2020’s What Is There — the band’s first studio album in five years after a period that saw its members off in different in directions. With layers of sound created in the back by Young and Winrich, this song showed the grandeur of Delta Spirit’s effort — a magnificent and moving piece with impeccably timed crashes and heightened, glowing vocals that would seem unthinkable at such a gritty venue.
Stream Delta Spirit’s expanded version of the band’s most recent studio album, What (Else) Is There, via Spotify:
After closing the set out with the rapid and voyaging masterpiece “California,” Delta Spirit returned to the stage for a boisterous two-song encore, including a rowdy throwback to “Streetwalkers” from the band’s premiere EP with Vasquez sliding behind the piano keys and Winrich hopping over to the second drum kit. In finale, the club was treated to a brazenly triumphant, pounding version of the Spirit classic “Trashcan,” which saw the double drums as the driving force behind a jam that felt like it never wanted to end.
And leave it to Delta Spirit, a thoughtful and well-connected bunch, to bring not just any old opening act on for this tour, but rather Palm Palm — a Richmond-based quartet led by J. Roddy Walston — and the up-and-coming, high-flying group impressed with their own smashing, entertaining set to kick off what would be an unforgettable night of music.
From Now On
Tear It Up
What’s Done Is Done
Into The Wide
Hold My End Up
How Bout It
Here are images of Delta Sprit as well as the night’s opening act, Palm Palm, performing at Ottobar in Baltimore on March 26, 2022. All photos copyright and courtesy of Casey Vock.