There are so many people crammed into the Ogden that it's difficult to see the stage. The guy in front of me is rubbing against me so often I'm wondering if his girlfriend is going to get jealous. If the place is still technically passing fire codes it hardly matters -- if it went up, half of us would be trampled trying to get out. This is relevant because this is day two of Spoon's sold-out stand -- in all honesty the band probably needs to graduate to the Fillmore. More on that in a minute. First, the undercard.
Micachu and the Shapes are getting a lot of good press for their "experimental pop." Okay, whatever. Let's just say a lot of experiments fail. This is a band that looked and sounded like nothing so much as a precocious yet dangerously unskilled junior high school talent show act faking their way through a set of half-formed ideas and poorly known chords.
Discordant, stutteringly arrhythmic and dull, the best thing I can say about the set is that it was short. If I wanted to listen to random-sounding guitar and keyboard meanderings backed by a decent beat (yeah, the drummer was okay) I'd give my nephews a drum machine, guitar and keyboard and pay patient attention. At least then I'd be patronizing family.
Deerhunter was a welcome improvement. I'd never been able to get super into its records, mostly due to a lack of standout songs, but live, Deerhunter is good, with occasional flashes of brilliance. What can I say, there's a special place in my heart for drone-based rock and roll and Deerhunter manages to nod to pretty much all of the great ones at different times -- Spacemen 3, Velvet Underground, hints of Neu! and the Jesus and Mary Chain, maybe even a little bit of Psychic TV (okay, the last bit may have been my imagination).
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It was also just about perfectly timed for an opening set -- by the time I began wondering how long until I got to see Spoon, Deerhunter was wrapping it up with a humorous audience participation bit where we voted on whether Soundgarden's Chris Cornell was a "yarbler." Hard to explain, you had to be there. When the group was done, I was no more likely to return to the its records (the songs still weren't really there), but the act displayed some solid on-stage charisma and a great sound and performance. I'd see them again, at a smaller club show or a festival, without hesitation.
Now on to Spoon. The fact that the Ogden is so packed speaks to the band's popularity. And the fact that it hasn't moved to the Fillmore, or even the Pepsi Center, speaks to its integrity. Because on the heels of the act's most polished, commercial and accessible album (GaGaGaGaGa), a record that raised the group's profile considerably and brought in droves of new fans, the outfit didn't play it safe with a similar follow up to cement their popularity. No, it delivered Transference, possibly the band's least radio-friendly disc in a decade.
Now, it might also be the band's best record, but it takes some balls to take such a hard left turn to follow your muse into some dark, turbulent waters when the safe play is to deliver GaGaGaGaGa Part Two with a few more radio hits like "The Underdog." And then to tour with a set that takes some of the best moments from your past catalog and rearranges them to sound like Transference, all sketchy transitions and odd tangents and locked grooves, sounding like it's all on the verge of slipping into total chaos at any moment, when you know a lot of those newer fans might be a bit confused by all that...
But that's what these guys have done. And it's fucking brilliant.
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Spoon's constant evolution is what makes them such a fantastic band. Take "The Beast and Dragon Adored," for example, which I've seen played as pure, swaggering, essential rock, tonight, Britt Daniel and company have turned it dark, brooding and claustrophobic with an edge that reinforced the Satanic suggestion of the title. A number of the songs here this evening seemed to be nodding toward the band's krautrock roots (you did know Spoon was a reference to a Can song, right?) with throbbing bass rhythms wrapped around motorik beats. "Don't Make Me a Target" got its own little freakout jam at the end.
Not everything gets the treatment, though -- a few tracks such as "The Underdog" are a little looser than the recorded versions, but otherwise faithful. But most of the set does, including the closer, a powerful take on "My Mathematical Mind" that had a tight, intense, pounding groove and made great use of some echoing vocal effects.
The encore throws a few bones to fans that are perhaps less enamored of the new sound than I. The last three songs of the five song encore in particular are great, starting with a solid "Way We Get By," followed by a slightly roughed up but still lovely "Everything Hits at Once" before the band closes with a positively arena-ready "Small Stakes." A sign of things to come? Maybe so, and frankly that's fine. I'm ready to follow this band anywhere.
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK: Personal Bias: Love me some Spoon, and been in love with the new record since before it officially released. By The Way: If it's too crowded to move through the crowd without stepping on everybody's feet you pass, maybe you shouldn't move through the crowd unless it's absolutely necessary. Just saying. Random Detail: Um, $5.50 for a bottle of Miller Lite? Highway robbery.