Spoon

[18 November 2007]

By Megan Milks

In strict, chronological order, Spoon played 21 songs in 80 minutes. You can work out the average and imagine, based on the calculation, how swift, seamless, and exhilarating this concert was. Spoon put on one of those shows where every new song topped the last, and then got topped itself. Frontman/utensil-master Britt Daniel, enchanting as ever in tight white slacks, fitted shirt, and cowdude boots, grew more animated as he dug into the set, and the crowd grew more animated with him—whether because a) more and more people recognized the material as the concert progressed into the new stuff, b) they got looser as Daniel got more in the zone, or c) both. It doesn’t matter why: Spoon sold out the Riviera, and the crowd gelled with the band like…gel.

It should be said that Riviera Theatre is a concert hall proper, and a fancypants one at that—that is, if one were to block out all the plastic beer cups. The crowd was 1) predominantly, nearly totally white; 2) unusually mainstream; and 3) intergenerational—from the seven-year-old crying in the bathroom to Scenesters: The Next Generation and thirty and fortysomethings dressed to go out. I’d never thought of Spoon as a bourgie band, but, suddenly, it was obvious. After all, they play tight, melodic rock that’s just a little bit uppercrust: they’re an Adult Band, one of the few indies who’ve graduated from angst, tossing off melodies that are smooth and sophisticated despite a near-parasitic catchiness, melodies that sound easy. They’re like a politician. Or maybe James Bond. Yes: Double-Oh-Seven. Everything about Spoon reads: class act.

There weren’t a ton of diehards in the house, or so it seemed. The first third of the set, consisting of songs from the band’s first two albums, got some loud whistles and cheers from a small population of apparently longtime Spoon listeners; the rest of the crowd remained sanguine until tunes from Kill the Moonlight kicked in. If you will, let me operate a somewhat curious metaphor: We were like the layers of a Tootsie Roll pop, just waiting to be licked. We’d only dance and scream when licked with the songs that we knew—leaving different folks to start moving when their layer came up. Okay, variation on the onion. That doesn’t actually make sense? How about a more tangible example? Older fans roared with the first two songs; they were joined in enthusiasm by some other small contingents for the songs off Girls Can Tell. With “Small Stakes”, “Jonathan Fisk”, and “Vittorio E.”, the band broke through to the majority of the audience, and by the time “The Beast and Dragon, Adored” kicked in, followed by three others from Gimme Fiction, the theater went buck.

The licking motif does seem somewhat (slightly?) apt considering Britt Daniel’s peculiar enunciations. I’ve spent many a train ride trying to figure out what exactly makes Daniel’s speech patterns so singular, and I think it’s that, among other things, he sometimes puts an ‘l’ before his ‘n’s. (“Doln’t You Evah”, for instance). Plus, we cannot overlook in Daniel’s delivery the idiosyncratic combination of ragged vowels with the nasality of the common cold. In fact, Britt Daniel’s vocal style is one of the more recognizable in indie rock, and his delivery—teasing the beat; dancing around the beat like he’s checking it out—is what makes a Spoon song so interesting, despite what might be or could seem like simplistic and even repetitive song structures.

Nor can we overlook that slinky, slippery bass, the key to many a Spoon song, or the lightness, the springiness, of the drums. It’s all a delicate balance, and all tightly—veering on oppressively—controlled. Naturally, the overcontrol makes for one smooth, seamless ride. But on the other hand, a woeful few of the songs evolved or expanded from their album versions live: “The Ghost of You Lingers” came off as starker, more pared-down than on record due to the absence of the backing vocals; “Black Like Me” seemed to have more space to grow. On a related note, we got treated with a trio of local jazz musicians backing the band on a couple of songs, including local-celebrity trumpeter Jaimie Branch. Awesome, right? But they weren’t given any opportunity to let it rip. I know, I know: Spoon songs are not structured for improvisation. But come on, you invite some locally known musicians on stage, you give ’em a few bars for themselves, eh? Don’t you? I think you do.

By the set proper’s end, after we’d heard “The Underdog” and “Black Like Me”, arguably the best songs on the new album, and the band had stalked off into the wings, it seemed the encore could go nowhere but down. But we got a song just for Chicago (Daniel used to live here in the early days), “Chicago at Night” off of Girls Can Tell, followed by “Someone Something”, “Rhythm & Soul”, and finally “The Way We Get By”, Spoon at its more-than-the-sum-of-its-parts best.

All said, a rocking good time, despite, or perhaps because of, Daniel’s increasing megalomania—if such a diagnosis can be made from observations that he was doused in one to three spotlights something like sixty percent of the time. Band? What band? This was Britt’s show, baby. And rightly so: he is the brainchild, sidekicked only by Jim Eno. If Daniel seemed a little too Rock Star, that’s only because he is now, in fact, a Rock Star. Welcome back to Chicago, Britt.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/spoon/