Last Night: Spoon and New Pornographers at Warehouse Live

The New Pornographers
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Spoon, New Pornographers
Warehouse Live
November 1, 2007

Better Than: Listening to either band’s new album at home, lamenting the fact that I didn’t have my shit together enough to actually get into the show.

Download: Emma Pollock’s driving piano vamp “Adrenaline” and New Pornographers’ slow-burning “My Rights, Versus Yours.” Apparently, Spoon is somewhat stingy with downloads, but many songs are available to stream at www.spoontheband.com; I recommend the horn-drenched “You Got Yr Cherry Bomb.”

Apologies to opener Emma Pollock. If you play any earlier than about 9:00-9:30, there’s very little chance I’m going to catch your set. Man, I really need to find a reliable babysitter.

I have never seen a venue with such pointless security. There were plenty of guys there for that purpose, but they were all congregated on the corner at the end of the block, leaving the actual entrance to the club completely unattended. In retrospect, I wish I hadn’t bothered standing in line for five minutes to claim my tickets. I also wish that the Proletariat would farm out their security to these guys. . .

Pushing through the completely unguarded front door, I was met with a mass of humanity that truly exceeded my expectations. The place was filled to capacity, and I actually suspect a bit of overflow. The New Pornographers, well into their set, provided me a nice welcome with the opening contrapuntal guitar line of “Twin Cinema.”

I know this is silly, but I noticed and appreciated the fact that A.C. Newman wears his guitar slung high across his chest instead of down around his knees. I can’t help but dig when musicians, particularly rock musicians, eschew bullshit rockstar posturing in favor of comfort and utility. Immediately after I noticed this, though, the band launched into “Sing Me Spanish Techno,” and the huge “New Pornographers” light display behind the band started flashing to the beat, just in case somebody there didn’t know who those yahoos up onstage were. It was just kind of silly, and definitely unnecessary.

Photos by John Van
NP's Dan Bejar

As soon as the melodica came out, the crowd went nuts. I’m talking, of course, about that funky mouth-accordion thing used to great effect during “The Bleeding Heart Show,” a great song, to be sure. I’ve always been a sucker for voice-as-instrument scat-sung rave-ups, and this one’s no exception. Huge energy. The band was clearly having as much fun with the song as its sonic brightness would indicate.

The only problem I have with this song is that, whenever I hear it, I can’t think of anything except middle-aged, middle income, middle-management yuppies yearning for their weekend MBS. Thanks, University of Phoenix.

Between sets, the sound system seemed to have a preponderance of reggae music. I’m not complaining – I love the Specials’ cover of “Pressure Drop” as much as the next guy, it was just an interesting choice for this particular show. My brother shed some light on this when he mentioned that SoCal reggae wannabes Slightly Stoopid are playing Warehouse Live tonight (and Fishbone). Thanks for being on the ball, Brendan.

It may have taken Spoon a long time to get onstage (nearly 40 minutes), but once they did, it was all business. Britt Daniel sauntered to center stage, strapped on his guitar and launched directly into a set of tight, staccato guitar and piano attack, even as the loose and liquid reggae faded out.

It’s always interesting to me when you find someone whose musical taste is generally informed and expansive, yet discover occasional glaring gaps in their musical knowledge or experience. Like when you realize that the guy you routinely go to for musical suggestions has never heard an entire Yo La Tengo song (hi Cramer, you douche bag).

For me, Spoon has always been one of those gap bands. I know of them, and have heard enough of their music that I have a good general idea of what they sound like. There are the ubiquitous songs that everybody knows, and I know too, in a sense of general existential awareness. I’ve just never invested much time in exploring the band much more deeply than KTRU and Jaguar commercials. I’m just not that conversant with their material, so please excuse me if I can’t ID most of the songs played.

The first couple of songs were all fiercely punctuated, rhythmically, yet still maintained a strident melodicism reminiscent of ‘90s power pop acts like Fountains of Wayne and Matthew Sweet. The relatively simplistic arrangements and wide use of space as a structural element in the material lent itself quite nicely to the space and sound system of Warehouse Live. To a certain extent, Spoon sounded better than the NPs, and I think that had a lot to do with the fact that the latter’s lush arrangements and widely ranging instrumental approach diametrically opposed the basic, tight, slightly claustrophobic sound Spoon brought to the stage.

Spoon's Britt Daniel

In fact, the band misstepped slightly when they deviated from this formula on songs like the R&B-influenced “You Got Yr Cherry Bomb” and ska-tinged “The Underdog.” On record, these are both great songs, and a nice change of pace for a band whose music all seems to follow a fairly strict formula. On stage, the band brought out a horn section comprised of baritone and tenor sax, trumpet, and trombone.

I am a brass player myself, so I would ordinarily love to see some former band geeks get a change to play with a great act like Spoon. Unfortunately, it just didn’t work. As I said, it’s not the songs, it certainly wasn’t the players. Some combination of acoustics, sound engineering and poor mic placement conspired to muddle the horns, even as they swallowed the rest of the band. When they played, not only could I not hear the rest of the band, but I couldn’t even make out what the horn parts were – it was like brass buckshot.

The rest of the crowd seemed to love it, though, based on the singalong that erupted with “Cherry Bomb,” I think that had more to do with a predisposition to those songs than to an appreciation of how they actually sounded. In response to this enthusiastic crowd participation, Daniel declared that Houston had provided Spoon’s biggest (and loudest) crowd ever.

After the first of the horn numbers, the band spaced out for a while with an atmospheric, meandering number. Everyone took the chance to hit the bathrooms, the bar, and their cellphones. Over the top of the swirling guitars and keyboards could be heard drifts of 1,000 conversations. I took the opportunity to hit the restroom, and was rewarded with a five-minute wait for a free spot.

The main restroom was out of order due to flooding, and a line was queuing up outside the smaller restroom in Warehouse’s studio area. I have never had to wait in line for the men’s room before in my life, and while waiting, I was fortunate enough to hear a few guys behind me lamenting the fact that a) they were they only, as they put it, “brown” guys there; and b) there wasn’t any coke available. Apparently, these guys don’t spend enough time reading Racket.

The rest of the set was very solid, and featured standby favorites such as “I Turn My Camera On” and “Everything Hits at Once.” I recognized more of the songs than I thought I would, and enjoyed all of them. Next time they come through town, I think I’ll have a more detailed knowledge of their material.

Personal Bias: I prefer the New Pornographers to Spoon, by a pretty wide margin, and missed over half their set. That being said, I welcomed Spoon with open ears, and thoroughly enjoyed their performance.

Random Detail: Throughout the show, a seemingly endless procession of janitors with sloshing mop buckets pushed their way through the throng. My guess is that one of the band members accidentally beat a roadie to death with a bottle of Jack, and management sent in the cleaning crew to mop up all the blood. The body should wash up along the banks of Buffalo Bayou in a few days.

By the way: Some dude in front of me must have bought concert shirts for each act, and proceeded to put them on over his other two shirts (that’s five total, for those keeping score) and proceeded to dance like a fucking maniac. Props, five-shirt guy. – Nicholas L. Hall

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