If I were Britt Daniel I would love to kick Coldplay’s Chris Martin in the face. This may seem a bit excessive but I certainly could grab some steel wool and scrub that pretentious equal sign off his hand until it scabbed. Somebody needs to.
Daniel, the lead singer and trademark nasal voice of Spoon, produced one of the year’s best records in Gimme Fiction and yet everyone can’t stop talking about Coldplay’s latest effort, X & Y. While Martin’s lyrics are ubiquitous and elementary—“does anyone else feel lost and alone”—Daniel laments about how shirts made today don’t fit as comfortably as the hand me downs from his old man.
Both men scrapped many tunes during the final cuts of their respective albums, aware of the fans’ expectations and the needs of a musician to continuously evolve. But in the end, Martin decided to play safe, producing an uninspired carbon copy for his 10 million best selling sophomore release, while Daniel can’t seem to sleep at night unless he is constantly reinventing himself. And while Martin is overtly concerned with his positioning in his “Best Bands of the World” list, like it’s his standing in a fantasy baseball league, for Daniel and the rest of Spoon, it is, and always has been, about the music.
The moment that the first notes of “Metal School” screech through the crowd to a prong of applause, the band seems content to be in their own shoes (and shirts) as they settle into the second of consecutive sold out nights at Webster Hall.
After “Metal School”, the band segues serenely into Gimme Fiction opener, “The Beast and Dragon, Adored”. Its slinky groove immediately takes hold of the crowd, as Daniels spits at his mic, pulling off a very convincing vocal impression of an American bred Beatle. Pianos trickle along and give a pop to Daniel’s guitar diddles, as drummer Jim Eno keeps a cool pace and an ice cold composure.
“I Summon You” finds new life in a live setting. Perhaps the most intimate song off the last album, Daniel, eyes closed tight, sings to his imaginary muse, pleading as much as accusing when he interrogates an anonymous lover with a jarring, “where were you tonight?” The beautiful, clattering keyboards subtly add depth to the jangly guitar counterpart and the room begins to dance.
Eno begins cracking his sticks against one another and “Paper Tiger” is introduced with a couple minutes of drum chops before the keyboards poke holes through the stifled air. It is extended much longer than its album version and despite its sparse sound and almost anti-pop ingredients, is one of the most inventive and beloved songs in their catalogue.
After a tight jam kisses the finishing touches of “My Mathematical Mind”, the band exits to a fury of applause before Daniel comes out a few minutes later with just an acoustic guitar. He breaks into a heart-breaking version of “The Agony of Laffitte”, penned after their infamous bastard of an A&R rep from Elektra. “You’re no better than Sylvia…” he croons and the audience embraces the pain in his voice and immediately hates this bitch Sylvia and the no good tricks she’s almost certainly been pulling. The band comes out and they finish with a stomping version of Wire’s “Lowdown”. Fans hang around for five minutes after the lights turn on in hopes of one more curtain call. Their wish is not granted but nobody leaves disappointed.
A friend and I stop for some noodles at a small Vietnamese restaurant in the East Village. We discuss the setlist and the highlights of the evening. We both agree that a musician’s work becomes timeless only by consistently recreating your sound while letting your music age as gracefully as you have, in a natural, organic means. By stripping away the unnecessary gloss and high tech productions, less immediately becomes more. This is the spice that makes music intimate. Because when music is really intimate the audience isn’t just buying only the record but the sincerity, intention and love put into it. Spoon is one of those rare bands that still understands that.
When the check comes and we each read our fortunes, mine reads, “If you must choose between two evils, pick the one you’ve never tried before.” I will toast to that. Now if I could only get my hands on Chris Martin’s cell number.