Spoon are no nonsense. It takes less than a minute for them to remind you of this. After walking out and jumping right into “Knock Knock Knock”–a standout from their new album They Want My Soul, one that seems to yield more surprises upon each listen–they reached the chorus. Frontman Britt Daniel bark-growled it in a way where, sure, the words were still kinda there, but they’d become percussive elements on their own. His movements were wire-y and jagged as always, his head bobbing like a machine stuttering into its own rhythm. The overall vibe he exuded could be summed up along the lines of “Yeah, let’s get this started, goddamn it.”
Having seen Spoon a handful of times, this is an aesthetic I know well, though it occurred to me this was my first time seeing Spoon at their own show, not as an opener or at a festival. They had a bit more stage production. A conical mirror light thing hung above them like some kind of occult mirrorball, and five screens flanked the band in a pseudo-half circle, becoming tapestries for colors and super-sized shadows of each member. The cumulative effect was something that seemed to vaguely point towards the themes and imagery of They Want My Soul. Shadows on the wall, spirits, something or another. Also, Daniel, never quite as spiky as you’d expect, was still more affable than I’d seen him in some time. He seemed psyched to be in New York, and at one point asked the crowd what they’d like to hear, which resulted in the Girls Can Tell track “Anything You Want.”
Otherwise, it was a Spoon set similar to anything you might’ve seen in the last several years. “Small Stakes” was dutifully present, tagged with one brief explosion of a jam that the studio version always seems to promise but always denies. There were a ton of Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga tracks. Seven, in fact, which meant they played as many songs from their 2007 album as they did from their 2014 album. There was “I Turn My Camera On,” a song that harkens back to a time when faux-falsetto and disco rhythms were something of a novelty or a put-on for a rock band like Spoon. In the more free-for-all genre landscape of 2014, the song no longer sounds like the quirky outlier, especially alongside some of the synthier, more rhythmically focused They Want My Soul tracks. (I fully realize that suggesting a band with the immortal swagger and groove of Spoon wasn’t rhythmically focused before is, uh, mislead, just saying that a new song like “Outlier” has a different sense of rhythmic focus.)
That’s the refrain about Spoon, after all–they are inhumanly consistent, for a time cranking out indelible indie rock, making it a real head-scratching effort to identify the peaks and valleys in their career, if they even exist. This has been one unfortunate element of the good press around the excellent They Want My Soul–everyone’s suddenly decided to write this narrative like the still-positively-received Transference was somehow an unmitigated disaster, a signal of a band burning out. Well, the sound of a band burning out can produce some fascinating music. And it’s disappointing to read the band members somewhat writing off that record, because it’s bleariness and raggedness makes it special amongst the Spoon catalog. Thankfully, unlike the two festival sets I saw the band play this year, Transference was represented a bit last night. “Who Makes Your Money” was a welcome surprise, and “Got Nuffin” was a welcome relief. Seeing that song live back in 2010 was part of what took me from “Spoon appreciation, you know, casual fan” to “I’m addicted to all these albums and I’m not going to listen to anything else for a few months, call me later.”
“Got Nuffin” roars onstage as much as it did when it was new, but what really stood out was how seamlessly the new songs have already woven their way into the set. “New York Kiss” got a huge cheer when it began, because of course/why not. “Rent I Pay,” in particular, already came off like a classic Spoon song. (It also struck me last night that it’s kind of a straight up Rolling Stones song in a way that Spoon often seems too art-kid to fully embody. Whatever, not complaining, because none of that’s a problem.) This is the upside to having that sort of unchanging excellence that can dampen critical fervor in a taking-it-for-granted kind of way: your shows will feel like an incredibly cohesive whole even when you’re jumping across a fifteen year span of material. Intellectually, I still knew where “Don’t Make Me A Target” and “My Mathematical Mind” hailed from, but in a live setting it all comes off as one big Spoon party, unshakeable vocal hooks or guitar lines with ten years between them dancing together, clearly not giving a damn about their generation gap. There’s no problem with being workmanlike when you’re this fine of a craftsman, or when you’re this good at selling your wares.
Random Notebook Dump: The Rolling Stones’ “Heaven” played over the speakers after the show was over. I also once saw Daniel’s other band, Divine Fits, cover “Sway.” Daniel has impeccable taste in Stones deep cuts.
Critical Bias: I’m convinced that it’s biologically impossible, as a human with a human body, to see a Spoon show and not enjoy it.
Knock Knock Knock
Rent I Pay
Don’t You Evah
Who Makes Your Money
Rhthm & Soul
The Ghost of You Lingers
My Mathematical Mind
Anything You Want
Don’t Make Me a Target
I Just Don’t Understand
I Summon You
I Turn My Camera On
New York Kiss
Black Like Me
You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 11, 2014