While several new songs were welcomed with polite applause, tunes from Spoon’s back catalogue elicited a more raucous response.
Spoon doesn't have a new album out and they don't have one due until 2010, but that didn't stop a large and enthusiastic crowd from coming out to see them play on a Wednesday night. The night started with rapper Black Nasty and his live band, which featured his sister Pink Nasty on bass and backing vocals, as well as a drummer, guitarist, and keyboardist. The band itself was solid, handling funk, R&B ballads, and indie rock styles throughout their 40-minute set. It was Black Nasty himself that turned out to be the main problem. His opening song, "It Wuz Worth It", a profane story about how he had a one-night stand with a woman and ended up with HIV, but, yeah, it was worth it, was quite entertaining. But it turns out that every song Black Nasty performs (aside from "Eazy" a tribute to the late Eazy-E) seems to have the goal of being as raunchy as possible while he boasts about various forms of twisted sex. Despite the fact that the music was decent and Nasty's rhymes are quite nimble, his shtick got old about three songs into the set. Although Black Nasty clearly has skill, his single-minded material makes him and his band come off like a less-fun, less-funny version of the Bloodhound Gang. And that takes into account the fact that the Bloodhound Gang have only ever been funny in fits and starts.
Spoon opened their set with three songs that were unfamiliar to me and most of the audience, although I later found out that the first song was "Utilitarian" off of the band's second album, A Series of Sneaks. They also scattered some new songs throughout the night, but tunes from their last two albums dominated the show. Tellingly, when the fourth song of the night was Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga's "Don't You Evah", the energy level in the crowd instantly doubled. They followed that up with two more from the same album -- a stretched-out, creepy version of the already-spacey "The Ghost of You Lingers" and a pretty standard run through "Rhythm and Soul". From this point forward, though, the audience was in the palm of Britt Daniel’s hand. Every song from Gimme Fiction and Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga received a big reaction, as the audience seemed to get more rowdy (and drunk) as the night went on.
Despite no new album dropping until next year, the band are definitely road-testing new material. Daniel introduced two or three new songs throughout the set, and they all sounded pretty good. The crowd politely applauded these songs, but they were there to hear material from Gimme Fiction and Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, and Spoon indulged the audience. Gimme Fiction songs included a knotty, intense version of "The Beast and Dragon, Adored", and a funky, slightly extended take on "I Turn My Camera On". "I Summon You" showed up late in the set and inspired a big sing-along from the audience. By far the biggest audience sing-along of the night, though, accompanied "Black Like Me". From a completely dark stage, Daniel slowly and softly started playing his guitar, very gradually getting louder as the lights also came up just as slowly as the song had started. When his playing coalesced into the piano-and-guitar riff of Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga's closer, the crowd was ready and in full voice. The singing went on for the duration of the song and Daniel complimented the crowd with a simple, "Great job singing!," which caused another round of huge cheers.
The set ended with a bouncy run-through of "You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb" and "Don't Make Me a Target". The former is still fun with just the four-piece band, but playing the horn line on the piano is a poor substitute for a real horn section. The band left the stage to raucous cheering and came back for another couple of songs, highlighted by "The Underdog", which suffered from the same "great but missing the horns" feeling as "You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb". Still, the crowd didn't seem to care about the missing brass that much. The band was clearly grateful for the wild, energetic audience, and made sure to let us know that several times during the last portion of the show.
Frankly, I was a little surprised by the intensity of the crowd's reaction throughout the night. Spoon has a reputation for not being a great live band, and I think they hurt themselves through their constant use of lighting from below and too much muted blue and purple. It seems like they're trying to downplay the catchiness of their own songs. To top it off, Britt Daniel is not a very personable performer, yet every time he uttered a word to this Houston crowd, they went nuts; even for a simple "Thank you." I thought this show was a lot of fun and well performed, but it didn't quite inspire the wild abandon in me that it did in the bulk of the audience. Still, it's better to be a little bit less enthusiastic in a wild crowd than it is to be one of the few people having fun in an audience full of people standing around.