Playing their first ever headline show in Dublin since supporting Interpol at The Olympia in April 2005, Spoon have since been the subject of massive critical kudos (Music review aggregator Metacritic declared Spoon “Top Overall Artist of the Decade’ based on critical acclaim) matched in America by sales, partly due to “The O.C. Effect” that saw 2002 single ‘The Way We Get By’ featured on the show with cover features in Spin Magazine following shortly thereafter. On this side of the Atlantic, they remain the interest of Wilco/Bright Eyes/Death Cab for Cutie fans and a best kept secret amongst other music fans.
Tonight, they draw from their seven studio albums, chiefly this year’s Billboard Top 5 record Transference. Front man Britt Daniel and keyboard player Eric Harvey are first to take to the stage, opening the evening with an acoustic version of ‘The Mystery Zone’, which is tonight transformed into a heady, psych- folk song. Backed with keyboards that Air would kill for, Daniel’s impassioned vocal – reminiscent of Frank Black but a much broader range – is the primary force of the song. He can veer from a tenor’s roar to an angelic falsetto that looms in the background and, like Thom Yorke, Daniel generally uses his voice as another instrument within the band.
With clear roots in classic rock, garage rock and post punk, Spoon never really play into the genres that have influence them but rather make them fresh and new by refusing to appropriate the genres as so many bands have. Instead, they mix and match. ‘Someone Something’ feels like a song off The White Album but when played in the context of other Spoon’s songs tonight, it feels unmistakably like a Spoon number; it has Daniel’s ragged vocals, harmonious handclaps, pulsating bass lines and drummer Jim Eno’s largely conventional but equally unpredictable and shifty drums, all of which can be found in many a Spoon song.
On ‘Written in Reverse’ that they seem as if they are loose, chaotic and playing off the cuff but really are an incredibly tight band that give themselves room to take the song into other places. Harvey’s bar-room piano is the focus of all the song’s rhythm, which has every limb in the audience moving from side to side. Never does the band lose sight of the rhythm and beat of the song, generated chiefly by piano rather than the bass and drums and capitalized on by Daniel’s terse, cutting guitar playing. At some points during the show, it’s hard to believe Daniel is the only guitar player on stage as he riffs and solos over wall of distortion. Followed by crowd pleasers such as the sleazy, slow- burning, soul- funk of ‘I Turn My Camera On’, fan favorite ‘I Summon You’, breakthrough ‘The Way We Get By’ and The Supremes-meets-Teenage Fanclub of ‘You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb’, Spoon reveal themselves not only as a pop band, but a throwback to many bands from 1990s (of which they were one having formed in 1996), a time when some alternative rock bands seemed to have an endless list of either singles or potential singles in their canon.
The band’s encore is explosive with a three shot combo. First is ‘My Mathematical Mind’, which builds and builds for all of five minutes, the band keeping the tempo steady and allowing Daniel to take chunks out of his guitar. This is followed by Spoon’s most infectious pop song, the mariachi pop of ‘The Underdog’, the hook of which has the humming and hollering at every chorus and finishes with an equally rousing ‘Rhythm and Soul’.
As the band leaves the stage and the lights come up on a dazed and delighted Dublin audience, the strains of ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ can be heard blaring from the PA. One can’t help but feel that Spoon are still America’s best kept secret.
Photos: Damien McGlynn.