My favorite artists do not, by most measures, subsist on the fringe, nor do they fly under the radar. Still, I'm often taken aback when they show up in the mass-market milieu, such as slick commercials, network TV shows, major-studio movies, and general interest magazines. Spoon has hit all these cultural landmarks, including one that recently tickled/alarmed me: a profile and review in the New Yorker. My unease was tempered, however, by the band's return to tiny clubs to promote Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga.
Spoon, Cafe du Nord, July 14, 2007: It's been several years since I've felt the need to proselytize Spoon, and I'm glad that their fortunes have changed so dramatically in that time. Through no fault of their own, however, they now inhabit the same territory as another group of recent visitors to San Francisco, the Decemberists. I like both bands immensely, but the venues necessary to accommodate their expanding fan base tend to keep me away. Fortunately, I chalked up plenty of Spoon shows during the pre-blog years, so I'm not lacking in that department. Nonetheless, a part of me feels a little twinge whenever I rule out catching one of their shows for no reason other than venue snobbery.
The only consolation to being a venue snob is that your pigheadedness is sometimes rewarded by bands who seem to enjoy playing to real crowds in minuscule spaces--bands such as Spoon. For me, there's no contest: I'd trade in front-row seats to just about any theater, amphitheater, or festival show for a perch in a glorified bar with a decent sound system, standing less than an arm's length away from a beloved band, even if I have to wait in line for the better part of a day to make the cut.
By now, it probably feels like you've been reading for as long as I was waiting! Of course, you can peek at the setlist below if you want the rundown of songs. Of the older tunes, "Anything You Want" had a slinky, subterranean undertone that felt new to me, while I welcome any opportunity to hear "Vittorio E" or "I Could See the Dude." Overall, I would've liked more Gimme Fiction and less Kill the Moonlight, but I can't complain about the Girls Can Tell love, especially "Everything Hits at Once." Later, it occurred to me that they didn't do "Me and the Bean"--a first for me.
I hadn't spent much time with Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga before the show, but "You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb" and "The Underdog" hooked me right away, and their charms were just as irresistible in the club. I love how the band embraces its pure pop instincts on those two, and when you see them play it live, there's no doubt that the tambourine makes both tunes. In fact, I think that the two songs' detour from the typical Spoon blueprint is what makes them so interesting. The rest of the new songs sort of flew past me, and I'm still taking in Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, but I like how the band has managed to incorporate a wider range of influences while simultaneously honing its signature sound.
As a fan, I know how much of a treat these small shows can be, but almost as satisfying is hearing the sentiment echoed by the band or performer. Toward the end of the evening, Britt even said it was the best show the band had ever played in San Francisco. Otherwise, banter was in fairly short supply, though Britt was more generous with his grins. At the same time, though, he seemed to play to his amp as much as to any human (with the possible exception of the rock-solid Jim Eno).
The very first Spoon show I attended was a major revelation that drove me to urge their music on anyone who inquired into my listening habits. Truthfully, I'm not sure any of the gigs I've seen since then have quite approached that plateau (with the possible exception of the 2003 El Rey gig with the Natural History), not even this intimate show. I can't write off any band that once grabbed me so emphatically, but at the same time, I'd be lying if I claimed they were in the best form I've witnessed.
Rogue Wave opened the show and previewed a bunch of songs from their new album, coming out in September. Their sweet, catchy tunes are intact, and they've apparently picked up a new bass player along the way: Abbey, formerly of Beulah! Graham from the band even joined Spoon for "Fitted Shirt" and "Lines in the Suit," a tradition first established when he jumped in at Britt's solo show at Hotel Utah in 2004.
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