House of Blues
October 15, 2017
There are two remarkable things about Spoon that are easy to overlook. The first is that they’ve been together for 25 years, a notable feat for any band — let alone one of the most accomplished rock groups to come from Texas in the past two decades. The second is that over those two and a half decades, they have strung together one of the most consistently impressive discographies of any of their peers. Compared to groups like Wilco or Arcade Fire, they never had that one huge album that cemented their slot in the indie-rock canon, but they also never fell off into a mediocre version of their former selves. Sunday night at House of Blues, as they put together a blistering set that featured at least one song from each of their last seven albums, Spoon showed Houston why they’re one of the best rock bands we have.
Rock critic Steven Hyden wrote a piece earlier this year revisiting the “five-album test,” a term he once coined that expressed if a band or artist puts out five great albums in a row, it cements their status. His latest thesis posited that with Hot Thoughts, which came out this March, Spoon was on an eight-album run. Now, regardless of your thoughts on 2010’s Transference, Spoon clearly never released anything less than a very good album. The argument isn’t whether they’ve put out a truly great record, but which of the many they’ve released is their best, (For me, it’s either 2002’s Kill The Moonlight or 2007’s Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, depending on the season.)
When Spoon plays a set in 2017, they’re well aware of their history, drawing from each of their various eras with a clear vision that keeps everything part of the same cohesive tapestry. Spoon understand their fan base, that dipping back to a rousing take of “The Underdog” can have as much meaning for younger fans as playing a fast-paced version of “Anything You Want,” from 2001’s Girls Can Tell, has for the audience members who have been around a bit longer, devoted enough to stick it out until nearly 11 p.m. on a Sunday night.
Though they were promoting the funk-filled psychedelic energy of their latest record, Spoon did a good job of both digging back throughout their past in the set list and updating those songs to match the frantic squalor of their newer material. “My Mathematical Mind,” a live staple from 2005’s Gimme Fiction, was imbued with pure chaos as the song’s noisy bridge cascaded into a thrilling conclusion. In another throwback from that album, “The Beast and Dragon, Adored,” they filled the spaces in between each line break by stretching out the riffs, vamping with a playful spirit that expanded the occasionally insular nature of their material.
For their part, the new songs sounded great too, seamlessly interwoven alongside the others. Raucous opener “Do You Have To Talk Me Into It?” had a surprising number of people singing along, and the cheers for the latest album’s title tracks were as loud as any of the deep cuts throughout the night. What struck out about these new songs were the band’s physicality, as frontman Britt Daniel threw himself around the stage with vigor. Bassist Rob Pope and drummer Jim Eno built out the low end, making each song sound massive, and keyboardist Alex Fischel, a recent addition from 2013, helped the band fully indulge their psych tendencies as he switched between keys, synths, and extra guitar. Even new touring member Gerardio Laris had his time to shine with “Via Kannela,” an instrumental interlude that was essentially an extended ambient break where the rest of the band left the stage while Daniel laid flat on his back on the floor. After a few minutes, it segued into a stark take on “I Ain’t the One” that Daniel turned into a powerhouse.
Led by Daniel, Spoon has transformed wholly from their minimalist indie roots into a full-blown rock band worthy of the canon. All talented musicians, they’ve truly come into their own as a cohesive unit, with Daniel fully in charge. Whether he was crooning the initial set closer “Black Like Me” (secretly a top five Spoon song) or forcefully strumming through a solo version of “I Summon You” to kick off the encore, he was always welcoming yet poised, approachable but not in the way some artists are where they act like anyone in the audience could be up there. No one can replace Britt Daniel.
Overall, Spoon’s set was remarkably tight yet made way for plenty of fan-pleasing moments. They played a handful of tracks from 2014’s They Want My Soul with remarkable ease, having nailed their arrangements the last time around. “Got Nuffin” and “Small Stakes” made appearances, and in an exciting twist for fans of 2001’s Girls Can Tell, they went back to that classic record twice with “Anything You Want” and “Everything Hits at Once.” Two of their strongest deep cuts, they were a reminder of how far Spoon has come without having to drastically reinvent their sound. They’ve evolved organically from their indie roots into a thunderous rock band, the kind where they can hit with an onslaught of noise and immediately pull into a soft riff. They’ve figured out a way to make their songs heavier, putting on a show without sacrificing the essence that drew fans their way in the first place. Spoon’s extended run of consistency has been thrilling to observe, and Sunday night proved as much.
Personal Bias: As noted above, Kill The Moonlight has a strong case for Spoon’s best album, a masterpiece in indie-rock minimalism. While they played opener “Small Stakes” and turned it into a powerhouse during the encore, it made sense that they didn’t spend too much time with the album beyond that, even if it would have been welcome.
Overheard In the Crowd: “It’s a little pretentious, honestly” — after the ambient break that led into “I Ain’t the One,” a massively off-base comment that misread one of the most thrilling moments of the evening.
The Crowd: The audience trickled in early, to where the room was only half-full for Mondo Cozmo, though many of the sparse crowd sang along to the opener’s songs. It filled out for Spoon, a pretty wide range of fans that skewed older. Most exciting was the couple who seemingly got engaged at the show, whom Britt lovingly shouted out.
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Random Notebook Dump: I hadn’t heard of Mondo Cozmo before the evening, but found their set endearing even if they had their missteps. Moments where they indulged funky riffs and disco beats were more engrossing then their penchant to pull big U2-style anthems out of synth-backed Mumford style folk. They showed up with some Astros merch onstage and played an amenable “Bittersweet Symphony” cover, which helped make up for the song where they interpolated “Hey Hey, My My” and “Born to Run” into a listless ballad.
Do I Have To Talk You Into It?
Everything Hits At Once
The Beast And Dragon, Adored
Don’t You Evah
I Ain’t The One
Anything You Want
Can I Sit Next To You?
My Mathematical Mind
Don’t Make Me A Target
Black Like Me
I Summon You
Rent I Pay