SPOON @ Club Soda

By Alex Huynh - Losing My Edge - 11/02/2005

Spoon are in a weird place. That's the conclusion I came away with after witnessing their first Montreal performance in three years. Back then, cramped in the muggy oven that was Casa Del Popolo, Spoon were an underrated indie band that just released their second record in less than 20 months. The 1-2 punch of Girls Can Tell and Kill The Moonlight would forge their identity, which was previously muddled thanks to the weight of their influences such as the Pixies, Hüsker Dü, Archers Of Loaf and Guided By Voices. Fast-forward to a roomier venue, a younger and less sweaty audience and strangely, their new position as quasi-elder statesmen of indie rock. Hell, you now got tepid crap factories like Robbers On High Street shamelessly ripping them off. Anyway, a lot has happened in three years -- hey, isn't The OC in its third season? -- and needless to say, they are no longer the underrated, rather faceless indie band that had just been acrimoniously dropped from Elektra. What they have become, however, is somewhat curious because with the critical acclaim of their latest release Gimme Fiction, it seems that they're like almost the token "intelligent" band that teenypitchforkers will like. I don't want to say that Spoon's recent work is too mature or subtle for such a young audience... but isn't it? Sweeping generalizations aside, it is heartwarming to see that after a long hard road, their minimalist and increasingly experimental power pop sound has found a growing audience almost solely on the strength of the music.

Starting off the set with Girls Can Tell's "Chicago At Night" was a bold move -- and so was singing into an unplugged mic -- as many expected the opening notes of "The Beast and Dragon, Adored" to welcome us. It did follow the set opener and seamlessly transitioned into "Sister Jack". With the next two songs being "Lines In The Suit" and the first real highlight "Paper Tiger", one expected a balanced set comprised of Spoon's last three albums. What followed was mostly Gimme Fiction songs, with notably "I Turn My Camera On" getting an enthusiastic reception. It was astounding to witness the level of tight musicianship that Spoon has reached, especially the rhythm section. Everything was executed flawlessly and in a classic fashion, but whereas the bits of experimentation work on Gimme Fiction, they came off as slightly sterile in a live context. This is a band on top of their game and with a deep catalogue; I was hoping -- perhaps unfairly -- that the songs would resonate more. As it stands, the brain probably enjoyed the show more than the heart.

After that stretch, songs from Kill The Moonlight and Girls Can Tell started to dominate the last half of the setlist, with "Fitted Shirt", "The Way We Get By" (to the loudest ovation of the evening) and the set closer, "Me and the Bean". The encore featured "Small Stakes", "Everything Hits At Once" and "My Mathematical Mind". From a biased standpoint, it was a great end to a very decent performance. Still, it was hard to shake the feeling that this wasn't as great as it could've been. It wasn't their stage presence either, because while Britt Daniel wasn't particularly chatty, he would occasionally flash a boyish smirk that would connect with the crowd. Speaking of which, the audience could have been described at best as polite and respectful. While Spoon isn't exactly "losing your shit" music, they should be able to deliver a transcendental performance that puts the crowd in a collective trance.

Spoon have moved past their indie rock peers by avoiding easy musical gimmickry and mastering their craft to an unbelievable extent. Starting out as a band that wore their influences on their sleeves, they have since managed to carve a sound that is distinctively theirs. Yet, they are not quite on the level of, say, Wilco when it comes to taking that critical and increasing commercial attention, and bringing it to the next level from a live perspective. At heart, they are still a bar band -- and I mean that as a compliment -- with arty tendencies, perhaps more fitting for small to medium-sized clubs. As their changing environment takes them to bigger venues, here's hoping that Spoon will adapt their live performances to match the ambitious music that they put out on record.

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