Austin-based indie rock band Spoon is at that stage of their career when a victory lap would be completely understandable. Since the turn of the century, they have released a string of critically acclaimed albums, all the while building their fan base to the point that they eventually cracked the Billboard Top 10 with the wonderful Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga in 2007 and then the top five with Transference four years ago. As its members head into their forties, a mere greatest hits tour would be an acceptable decision.
Instead Spoon has returned with another excellent album, They Want My Soul (released last week on Loma Vista), and celebrated its release with a festival-style show at the Fairbanks Lawn in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. The sun was already setting when I arrived, and half of the grounds were covered in picnic blankets as the revelers enjoyed a warm summer evening in Hollywood with the prospect of seeing one of America’s finest at nine o’clock. When Spoon took the stage, it was with the confidence and slight swagger of a band that has been doing this long enough to not sweat it.
That swagger kicked into overdrive very early in the set with “Rent I Pay,” the Stones-ish rocker whose strident attitude and thumping drum sound opens the new album. As far as where their new material ranks in their pantheon, it’s worth pointing out that, along with the aforementioned track, “Do You” and “Inside Out” already sound like classic Spoon songs less than a week after the album’s release. “Inside Out,” in particular, with its unexpected sweetness, made for a lovely change of pace.
The back catalog is now deep enough that filling an hour-and-a-half set is less about padding out the running time and more about what to leave out. It was intriguing that the band left out most of Transference, an album that certainly didn’t get as much love as previous efforts, but included about half of Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. “The Ghost Of You Lingers” became a swelling, almost Coldplay-esque epic. “The Underdog” was received loudest during the encore, and that horn section was replaced by an equally buoyant Hammond organ backdrop. Kudos to the band for finding ways of making these songs sound fresh live.
It was an immaculate set shot through with absolute professionalism and class from a band that is clearly enjoying the spotlight after years of graft. Their success is built on fundamentals of hard work, attention to detail, literate songwriting, and the kind of economy that makes so many others look indulgent in the production process. Along with The National, they are that rare slow-build success in an era when so many listeners are looking for the instant hit, the viral video, and the next craze. Watching them stride across the stage on Friday night was to witness proof that guitar rock is not dead. It’s just waiting for the likes of Spoon to jolt it from its occasional creative hibernation.
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