another look ...
stop listening to Spoon
hard to hang onto that rock 'n' roll thing. Sooner or later common
sense seems to seep in and ruin it all.
The days for example when you'd rush to the store
to drop a buck and a half on a 45 of Devo's "Whip It"?
for real: Spoon's Gimme Fiction (visit the Web
Those days are gone y'all. But, if you don't remember, 45s were
little mini-records, disks of hardened petroleum that played two
or three songs via a vibrating needle. I still don't get exactly
how it works. But I've spent many an hour trying to get rock 'n'
It's easy to lose touch with that rebellious vibe, if you (like
me) just aren't "flinging mad skrilla" toward the purchase
of a lot of rock these days. Only three CDs in the last year have
gotten me jazzed up, causing me to lose sleep like when I was a
little kid. And of the three, only the last is really a rock album:
an old Phoenix recording United the new one
from Beck Guero and the latest from Spoon
Can't stop listening to Spoon. The new album is one of the most
self-assured, nothing-out-of-place gems going, full of great, smart
rock and grace notes. Been losing many nights sleep owing to the
sticky sweetness of a few choice tracks, including the killer "They
Never Got You," plus slow burners like "My Mathematical
Mind" and slyly portentous vamps like "Was It You?"
And we get to see them live at the good ol' Crystal Ballroom this
fine June evening.
So the rock journalism thing is finally creeping into my M.O.,
and with it is the true knowledge that those who can't, teach ...
or whatever. What I'm saying is, tonight I purposely show up at
such a time as to completely miss the opening act, the Clientele.
It may be because I wish I were up there on stage instead.
I know ... not cool.
Spoon in the flesh is nothing like what I expect. That is, on record
you hear a singer who should be a Rock Star: raspy voice with a
trill and a quiver and a disaffected slur.
But onstage we witness this entirely ordinary-seeming crew (albeit
one that can slay on cue): the affable, approachable bass player,
some unassuming dude on keyboards, a guy on skins that I can barely
see and singer/guitarist Britt Daniel, a lanky, awkward-looking
guy who should be getting ribbed as a substitute math teacher.
Daniel is no math teacher. He instead writes songs like the instant
classic, make-you-giddy anthem, "Sister Jack," from Fiction.
[Side note to the couple in front of me during the show: There
are better places to hold a fairly lengthy conversation than during
a song that you will never hear performed in the same way again.
It's loud and you paid at least 15 bucks to be here. Save your thoughts
for between sets.]
"Sister Jack" combines "Summer Of '69"-style
lyrical poignancy with a much better tune that takes Whiskey Town
strummery and opens it up into hemispheres of thunderclouds before
uncannily shifting into 9/4 time that you might never notice due
to the song's totally unhealthy catchiness.
a dip: The live show features songs from the back catalog, which
includes 2001's Girls Can Tell.
Spoon exhausts most of the new album (with good reason) while taking
a big dip into back-catalog numbers that only get better in the
live, anything-goes atmosphere of the show. Teenyboppers to grown-ups
(all of whom seem deeply acquainted with Spoon) lap it up with gleeful
The crowd is whipped into a lather by the opening strains of "The
Beast and Dragon, Adored," the song that leads off Fiction
and tonight's show. An ominous basso-piano takes us down into rocking-introspection-hell
before drummer Jim Eno lets loose with the purist of heavy-hitting
funk drum lines (and one that skips up to an assured, sassy and
syncopated mid-tom hit, too). Daniel paints a scenario of eerie
self-knowledge that highlights a songwriter who knows he's got the
world in his palm and that the world might be an empty oyster shell
containing a holographic pearl.
"When you don't feel it, it shows, they tear out your soul,"
he sings, "but when you believe they call it rock and roll."
Then he convulses into a spastic, shattering burst of cavernous
pent-up guitar anger. Goddam, he feels it, alright.
That sums up the brilliance of Gimme Fiction and the way
Spoon tosses out tuneful gems part acid, part hope
like a clown with a pocketful of candy facing down The Kids. Daniel
knows he's hanging from a limb, trying to best each prior song about
unrequited love and alienation, for a crowd that's seen and heard
it all yet still demands the best. Nothing less than total sincerity.
Or is it all just an illusion? How much do we as listeners bring
to the table? How much are we willing to believe, to call it rock
One last bit of live show instruction: believe enough to never
leave until the lights come up (and sometimes not even then). The
night's final rockin' laugh comes after Spoon's second encore, when
the lemmings suddenly start bum-rushing the door.
This tidal outflow sucks the rest of we wise ones up closer to
the stage where we should have been all along for
one final brilliant encore that starts about 60 seconds after the
For those who believe in rock 'n' roll, sometimes the rewards are