PopMatters Associate Music Editor
All things considered, my friend and I got off pretty easy.
At the last minute, we’d found out that Spoon was coming to the area for a one-off show sponsored by Jack Daniel’s. After we got through the obligatory, incredulous cries of “Jack Daniel’s!?”, we set to work. Spoon is such a rarity in these parts that, even if the devil himself sponsored the show, we’d still have pondered making a deal for passes.
Infernal contracts aside, there were only three ways to get tickets to the show. The 50 sets of passes available on Spoon’s website had disappeared almost immediately. The Jack Daniel’s street team also carried passes, but reports were already filtering in from the front lines that in order to get those tickets you had to dance and drink like an alcoholic monkey for the street team’s pleasure. Plus, the notion of actually trolling the bars and comedy clubs of Columbia to find the Jack Daniel’s street team made us queasy to begin with. So that was out.
Our last option, entering a daily drawing with the local free paper, was also our last hope. And, as time grew short, my friend finally scored tickets. Woo hoo!
So, there we were on the road to the show, feeling pretty darn good about the whole thing. We were armed for the road trip with CDs, and most importantly, I’d taken a nap (hey, I’m in my 30s and I’d never have survived the return trip otherwise).
Once we made it to the venue, we witnessed branding in its most aggressive state. Our passes, handsome though they were, looked like Jack Daniel’s labels. To get in, we walked a gauntlet of gravity-defying Jack Daniel’s girls, and the bottom halves of our tickets were taken for a raffle of assorted Daniel’s swag.
The venue was one of those warehouse-type bars with one section separated into a dance floor, one section acting as a drinking area, and one section a tiny concert area. The walls were label-black, with Jack Daniel’s logos projected on them. Banners were hung everywhere. Two life-sized statues of Daniel himself flanked the stage. And there were the ever-present Jack Daniel’s girls handing out necklaces of glowing Jack Daniel’s bottles and jumping on stage between sets to throw Jack Daniel’s t-shirts to the crowd. Everyone who ordered a drink drank it from a plastic cup emblazoned with the JD logo. Each cup came with a stirrer holding a Daniel’s figure on its top, so that when a drink was full, it looked like he was walking on “water”—when drinks were empty, it looked like he’d been impaled.
None of this made me the least bit thirsty for a shot of ‘ole JD. I’ve been unable to even sniff the stuff (or any brown liquor for that matter) since June 4, 1987—it’s a long senior trip story that should, out of respect for my own dignity and the dignity of others, never be told).
But despite the fact that we were walking around in a teetotaler’s nightmare, there was a show to be seen—marketing be damned. The crowd area on the floor was maybe 30 feet deep, and part of that was taken up by a bar. The worst spot in the house was right on top of the band. This promised to be good.
The first of two opening acts, the Specs, did themselves proud with a high-energy set that relied on unrelenting riffs and some impressive Iggy Pop moves. It made me realize how long it had been since we’d seen a frontman who wasn’t anchored by a guitar, one who had the guts to throw it all out there.
Then came the Rosebuds, from Raleigh, North Carolina. I didn’t know what to expect from them. Reviews of their albums indicated a delicate power-pop sound, and when I saw keyboardist/vocalist Kelly Crisp walk out in her best Adam Ant scarf, I thought we were in twee trouble. Truth is, the Rosebuds kicked butt. They were loud, aggressive, and in top form. A raucous rendition of “Leaves Do Fall” was, for me, the highlight of the set, and a great call-and-response version of “Shake Our Tree” closed things out. Between me and my friend, the Rosebuds sold four CDs and two EPs on the strength of their performance alone. (Those discs, now that I’ve listened to them, come highly recommended). The band did what few opening acts manage. They put pressure on Spoon to come out firing.
Of course, Spoon did just that, playing a set that drew nicely from Girls Can Tell, Kill the Moonlight, and Gimme Fiction (in fact, I can’t think of a single song—barring one new effort—that didn’t come from one of those three discs). The band played things pretty close to the vest, staying true to recorded versions (although a highly syncopated version of “They Never Got You” was a highpoint). If the set held any surprises, it was in how muscular Britt Daniel’s songs are live. “The Two Sides of Monsieur Valentine” crackled with energy and subtle guitar flourished as the Zeppelinisms lurked in.
But despite the live edge, Spoon were able to maintain the spacious, dry sound that marks their work (and makes them so dang hard to describe to people who haven’t heard them). Daniel (the man not the alcohol), for example, is the picture of control; he stays within the songs’ minimalist framework and never gives into the temptation to needlessly crank things out. A short encore—only two songs—ended the night earlier than expected.
On the way home, after stopping for our caffeinated beverages of choice, we agreed that it had been a solid night: three good bands, each—at the very least—holding their own. As opposed to shows that merely have corporate sponsorship in the background, the implication of this show was clear: Spoon was there only because of Jack Daniel’s. But that didn’t stop the reminders from being reduced during their set—the projectors were cut off, the statues of Daniel removed from the stage (presumably at Spoon’s request, but no way of knowing for sure)—leaving the band to do their thing. A night—and a struggle for tickets—well spent. Now, if only I could go to sleep without seeing that logo