They almost seemed out of place. A small, beachside San Diego bar, televisions on in the back, well lit, no smoking, people coming and going. And though the Interpol-via-Pedro the Lion sincerity of openers American Music Club wasn’t lost on the crowd, there wasn’t a strong sense of anticipation for headliners Spoon, on the final night of their tour. That sense of electricity, a wire ready to snap, wasn’t there.
It took singer/guitarist Britt Daniel a few songs to warm up. He played it cool, doing his best John Lennon on “The Beast and the Dragon, Adored” (off 2005’s Gimme Fiction), “Someone Something” (off 2002’s Kill the Moonlight) and “The Fitted Shirt” (off 2001’s Girls Can Tell). He seemed reserved, though, running through a playbook. It was a power outage during the fifth song, “The Delicate Place” (off 2005’s Gimme Fiction), that stopped the song mid-intro and served as a jolt to Daniel, drummer Jim Eno, keyboardist/guitarist Eric Harvey and bassist Josh Zarbo. From there, they were looser, less restrained, and – unimportant though it sounds in the world of self-serious indie-rock – they were having fun.
Spoon has a precision to its sparse sound, an aesthetic combining jangly, White Album–era-Bealtes-influenced pop tunes (“The Delicate Place,” “I Summon You,”) with more experimental tunes such as “Small Stakes,” “Paper Tiger” and “My Mathematical Mind.” But the connector throughout is an acute understanding of the basic elements of rock and pop music. What makes Spoon’s albums and live shows so interesting is watching the members take the basic formula – bass, guitar, drums, keys – and filter it through their creative, forward-thinking whim – and a row of impressive effects pedals. Watching Eno add a simple floor-tom rhythm Kill the Moonlight‘s infectious but minimalist opener “Small Stakes” was to see a headphone masterpiece rewritten for the stage, reworked to great success.
Twice, during “Paper Tiger” and “They Never Got You,” the crowd seemed to lose interest in the extended, droning guitar passages. But, again, what puts Spoon above the multitude of indie-rock bands is that although they may stretch an intro or lose themselves in electronic manipulations (sounding not unlike Wilco’s more recent melodic experiments), the members can – and did – go from artsy noise-rock to funk (crowd favorite “I Turn My Camera On”) and back to the Sgt. Pepper‘s infection of “I Summon You” and “The Fitted Shirt.”
The final song in a three-song encore was Kill the Moonlight‘s “Jonathon Fisk,” which saw Daniel with his back to the crowd. The band had left, but Daniel stood alone, head bent, pounding out a fuzz of distortion, a hypnotic one-note chorus that, had it been in the beginning, may have been lost on some of the crowd. But now it held everyone’s attention, and for about a minute it was as if Daniel was saying: “The show may be over, the tour may be done, but, at least until the power cuts out again, I’ll keep going.”
Prefix review: Spoon [Gimme Fiction] by Mike Krolak