May 24, 2017
By Brett Sokol | February 1, 2017 | Culture
After almost two decades of jamming in the Magic City, the Spam Allstars continue to rock on and off the stage even for a new generation of listeners.
Onstage at the South Dade Cultural Arts Center.
In a city where things seems to be in a state of constant flux—from the culture to the amount of coastline still above water—the Spam Allstars are an institution. Eighteen years and more than 3,000 gigs since the band’s founding, their signature fusion of old-school salsa, loose-limbed funk, and bumping bass remains as popular as ever. The main difference, explains Spam Allstars bandleader Andrew Yeomanson, is that those young clubgoers who flocked to his group’s Little Havana concerts nearly two decades ago now have children of their own.
“It’s mind-blowing to see longtime fans who have kids in high school now,” says Yeomanson. “But I don’t think about any of that—how it’s going to be received, where exactly it’s going to go—when I’m working on an arrangement.” The latest batch of arrangements is collected on Trans-Oceanic, the Spam Allstars’ sixth album. The band’s hypnotic grooves are still firmly in effect, but so is a concrete sense of song structure. This is despite an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach: Fuzzed-out guitar riffs sidle up to conga rhythms and voice samples from the National Weather Service.
“‘Trans-Oceanic’ is actually the model of the old Zenith radio my grandfather had. It was a multi-band model with shortwave,” Yeomanson explains. But don’t expect to hear carbon copies of any of the songs being performed onstage. “Playing live is all about creating in the moment,” he says. “I’ll dissect and chop, mixing and changing little things.” And owning his own studio—City of Progress, kitted out with vintage equipment—allows for an endless amount of sonic tinkering. It’s also led to a sideline in archival audio restoration, transferring reel-to-reel tapes into the digital realm and delving into unreleased material from legendary producers.
Recent visitors have included Willie Clarke, the cofounder of Miami’s Deep City label, which issued soul records in the ’60s, and Arthur Baker, who’s digging into his own ’80s sessions with everyone from Afrika Bambaataa to Al Green. Still, the biggest surprise for Yeomanson after all these years? “I can’t believe I can still hear,” he laughs. The Spam Allstars perform in Miami at Hoy Como Ayer on February 9, at Ball & Chain on February 24, at the WDNA Jazz Festival on February 25, and with the New World Symphony on March 3.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY EDWIN CARDONA (BAND); JUAN PEDRAZA (NORTH BEACH). OPPOSITE PAGE:
JUAN PEDRAZA (NORTH BEACH); MELANIE MASTERSON (SOUTH DADE)