WENT TO PLACES UNKNOWN: Spoon, Starlight Ballroom, Last Night
BY JONATHAN VALANIA FOR THE INQUIRER Most bands are lucky to live one nasty, brutish and short life — much of it spent travelling vast distances to play for minuscule audiences, waking up in the back of stinky rental vans and finding breakfast at the bottom of a Budweiser can — but like a cat, Spoon seems to have nine lives.
Spoon keeps coming back from one curiosity-killing foray into the unknown after another — trusting a major label, aping the Pixies, dabbling in white funk, etc. Some religions call it reincarnation, Spoon calls it a career in rock. In the process, they have also produced some of the finest guitar-based rock music in recent memory — a status confirmed by the fact that the band sold out Starlight Ballroom despite not having released an album in two and half years. Unfortunately, Sunday night Spoon was off its game — maybe it was the stifling heat (not likely, the band hails from Austin, TX), or the subpar sound mix (absent certain bass frequencies — let’s call them the “hip-shaking frequencies” — as evidenced by a capacity crowd that did not dance to what is ordinarily eminently danceable music) or a setlist larded with new material from their still-untitled new album, Ga Ga Ga, set for release July 10th.
I’ll blame the muddy sound. Because the new songs sounded of a piece with the old: a boom-boom-THWACK drumbeat, some White Album-style piano chords, and a repetitive, low-down guitar chug not heard since the “Peter Gunn Theme,” singer Britt Daniel’s husky Lennon-esque bleat, and all manner of bubble-gum hand-claps, Josie & The Pussycats tambourine slaps and gang vocal sha-la-las. A typical Spoon song is usually one part ’60s AM radio nugget, one part ’80s British art-punk and one part musique concrete. One new song centered around the phrase, “Don’t make me a target,” delivered by Daniel’s with that mix of anger and fear we are all way too familiar with in the wake of the Virginia Tech shootings. (All that’s missing from these new songs is a personal context for people like you and me, and the ensuing private mythology they become a part of: Remember when we took that road trip through the Rockies and listened to Gimme Fiction over and over? No? Well, I do.)
And yet, despite all that, by the end of the night Spoon landed on it’s feet with powerful readings of the swooning “They Never Got You,” a show-stopping “Two Sides Of Monsieur Valentine” — which starts with the line, “every morning I got a new chance” — and the aptly titled “That’s The Way We Get By.” And so Spoon lives to die another day.