Once upon a time, Spoon were poised to be that Next Big Thing. First, it was when their first release Telephono jet screamed out of Matador in 1996. Critics pegged the band as the Pixies’ incarnate, which was good or bad depending on how fond of the Pixies you were (It was what originally introduced me to the band, but the stark contrast actually drove me away). Major label Elektra snapped up the Austin, Texas group, only to drop them unceremoniously after the 1998 release of A Series of Sneaks. But you’ve read this story before—if not particular to Spoon, then some other “NBT” status band. Things were hazy for a bit as the band stayed under the radar until, in 2001, they joined up with Merge Records, current home of the Magnetic Fields and Superchunk. It was with Merge that the band released Girls Can Tell, which garnered widespread praise, and propelled the band to further buzz among music critics and fans alike. Their fourth full-length, entitled Kill the Moonlight, was released by Merge in August.
It was as a Spoon virgin that I attended the sold out show at the TT The Bear’s, a 300 capacity club that offers close proximity to the stage at the price of less than optimal acoustics. Sure, I had some records but I’d never seen Spoon or the oft-touring Daniel in person before. (Daniel has steadily made the rounds the past couple of years playing solo acoustic shows).
The club begin to fill up as openers The Natural History, from New York City, took the stage. I noticed that as their set progressed, the rate of alcohol consumption by persons around me did as well. Subsequently, the crowd appeared to be pleasantly toasted by the time John Vanderslice, former front man of the San Francisco-based MK Ultra, and his band mates took the stage. Vanderslice is currently on tour promoting his third full length record, the irreverently-titled Life and Death as an American Four Tracker.
About halfway through the Vanderslice set, Spoon’s merchandise man fulfilled my earlier request for a Spoon set list. Yes, this was before the show began. I took the thick folded white paper and was immediately met with a harsh look from said merchandise man. “Don’t you look at it..” he warned me. Then he smiled slyly and scooted away. I back-pocketed the set list and stole a guilty look around—here I was, a mere music fan surrounded by Spoon fanatics at a sold out show in a tiny club. And I had the knowledge of what the night might bring, what songs might be played, what encores would be possible . . .
As the clock struck 11:35, I bristled with the angst of important questions unanswered. Could I overcome the urge to share my treasure with a fellow concertgoer, a friend and enormous Spoon fan? Would I finally be able to reassess the band in spite of their constant Pixies/Wire (mis)associations? And finally, would the drunk guys behind me quit poking me (accidentally, they claimed) with their appendages?
My anxieties were quickly allayed as Britt Daniel and the band took the stage within moments of my revolving introspection. I had seen photos of Daniel before; rarely do they convey his true Midwestern, boyish good lucks. Daniel was joined by Spoon’s other principle, drummer Jim Eno. Bassist Josh Zarbo has joined up on this recent tour (he played on the most recent record as well as on A Series of Sneaks)
They launched straight into “Small Stakes”, the opening track from their latest release. Other tracks from the new record included “The Way We Get By”, “Something to Look Forward To”, and “Paper Tiger”. They also played a healthy selection from Girls Can Tell. Among these was one of the show’s highlights—“Everything Hits at Once”—which sounded tremendous. “Me and the Bean”, “Lines in the Suit” , “Fitted Shirt” and “Anything You Want” were also played. From A Series of Sneaks, they performed “Utilitarian”, then launched straight into “Minor Tough”. They also played “30 Gallon Tank” and the crowd-pleaser “Car Radio”. Unfortunately, they ignored the catalog of great songs from Telephono, but such is life. Rumor is that Daniel has pulled some out during his solo shows.
Daniel and co. left the stage only to return for two stupendous encores (one containing a solo acoustic rendition by Daniel of “Agony of Laffite”). The last song of the night was the rockin’ “Jonathon Fisk” , from the new record. And, despite my best intentions, that night started a love affair. Spoon clearly rocked my socks off . When Girls Can Tell first came out, I read something that is truly a fitting description. Spoon is, according to this writer, an indie rock band with a rock and roll soul. Such a coupling makes sense in light of the rock revival of 2001 when those two seemingly disparate realities came together—but Spoon has been there all along.
And before I knew it, it was over. I was no longer a Spoon virgin. And it’s true that you may want to read more about Daniel’s ‘80s-style guitar licks or his frequently alluded-to nasal, vocal snarl. Or perhaps you were pining for some commentary on just how cirtical Eno’s percussion style is to Spoon’s sound. Well, I’m sorry but I can’t comment on any of that. I was smitten and sometimes, when you’re smitten you forget the specifics.
The downside to nights spent jumping up and down in tank-topped musical bliss is the smoke stenched, worse-for-the-wear after affects. Ah yes, this is where the age and crankiness of said concert reviewer become crystal clear. In my hastiness to wash my cut offs the next day, I managed to forget about the set list. My one tangible piece of my first night with Spoon was turned into pulp.