The Independence Jam, an eight-hour FM94.9-sponsored festival held on June 10 at a football field in San Diego, was an exercise in ownership. Each of the main-stage headliners -- Spoon, Kings of Leon, and closers Interpol -- had a large crossover appeal to the mostly twenty-something crowd, but at the same time there were certain bands people specifically came to see. What stood out as much as the drastic change in temperature between two o'clock and ten o'clock were the performers' different techniques and the ways each band sought to own the crowd for the eighty-minute set.
The last time I saw Spoon was at Canes, a small club in San Diego, nearly two years ago, about five months after Gimme Fiction came out. With Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga dropping July 15, I expected a few new songs mixed in with crowd-pleasers like "The Way We Get By" and "Stay Don't Go." What I got was essentially the same set from two years back, not at all tailored to the outdoor-festival atmosphere. They played "The Underdog" off the new album, a rolling, Billy Joel-style piano tune that most of the crowd was unfamiliar with. They dressed in black. They wore sunglasses. They ended with Kill the Moonlight's "Jonathan Fisk." Not much had changed.
But to their credit, the members of Spoon have persisted in the music game for so long precisely for this reason: They make fantastic songs and play them true-to-form on stage. They lost a bit of momentum during the abstract rock of Kill The Moonlight's "Paper Tiger," but on the same token, with the expert aide of keyboardist Eric Harvey's sampling and sound manipulation, Fiction's "My Mathematical Mind" retained the headphones-only intricacies while still burning like the straight-ahead rocker it is. Spoon didn't make a concerted effort to own the crowd, but the sheer power of the songs and singer Britt Daniel's infectious voice and manhandling of the guitar drew rapt attention from everyone.
Here's the set list: "The Beast and Dragon, Adored," "My Mathematical Mind," "Stay Don't Go," "Two Sides of Monsieur Valentine," "The Fitted Shirt," "I Turn My Camera On," "Paper Tiger," "The Underdog," "The Way We Get By," "They Never Got You," "I Summon You," and "Jonathan Fisk."
Kings of Leon is still a young band, but all it took for the members to completely hold the entire crowd in their palms -- where did the frat boys come from all of a sudden? -- was a five-second pause before opener "Black Thumbnail," the arena-rock highlight from this year's exceptional Because of the Times. Caleb Followill stood still, faced the crowd, and for five seconds remained silent, looking over the audience with no discernible emotion. And that was it: He was in control.
Standouts of Kings' set were a dynamic "Spiral Staircase," crowd favorite "The Bucket," and Times' "My Party," which at the hands of guitarist Matthew Followill burned with a raucous soul and bouncing funk not as clearly heard on the album.
When I saw Kings of Leon in 2005, they ended with "Trani," which featured a (mock) angry Caleb slamming the microphone stand. This set ended the same way. It was practiced and pre-arranged. And it was still totally awesome.
Here's the set list: "Black Thumbnail," "Taper Jean Girl," "King of the Rodeo," "My Party," "Soft," "Molly's," "Chambers," "The Bucket," "Four Kicks," "On Call," "California Waiting," "Spiral Staircase," "McFearless," "Charmer," "Slow Night," "So Long," and "Trani."
It was (fittingly) dark before Interpol took the stage, and much like Caleb Followill, all head Interpol agent Paul Banks needed was the night sky, a single spotlight, a bit of swirling fog, and a prolonged pause to make believers out of a packed crowd, most of whom were oblivious to the songs on Our Love to Admire, due out exactly a month from this gig's date.
Standouts of the set included "Length of Love," "Evil," and "Slow Hands," from 2004's Antics, which were made even better by guitarist Daniel Kessler's frantic dance steps. They played a great new track called "Mammoth," during which Banks repeated "Spare me the suspense" with all his cool detachment and ennui.
Though the power comes from each song, all three headliners at Independence Jam demonstrated what it takes to truly own the crowd. They posited their set as just that: not just one song after another, but a collection of songs whose cumulative effect was larger than the sum of its parts, and, when successful, as large as the thousands of people standing and cheering and waiting on every note.
Kings of Leon: http://www.kingsofleon.com/
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