Will the real Spoon fan please stand up?
Spoon was … good.
It’s always difficult to review a show or a concert because you can almost never speak for the collective body of people that were there. All you can do is describe the atmosphere, but what does that really mean? You can’t honestly do that, so you physically describe the set up, the players involved, and inject your opinion into this formula and grovel at the feet of the writing gods that it comes out seamless and people will hopefully see you’re not the fake you believe you are.
Caveats aside, I will now show you what the Spoon concert was like, an attempt at humility, as I know I was just another face in the crowd.
We rushed in as The Walkmen was three songs away from wrapping up its opening set. An increase of last minute work as well as the two and half hour drive to Pittsburgh set us back a bit and we were late, hungry and on edge. Luckily the skies were opening up in the small theater as The Walkmen frontman, Hamilton Leithauser, was belting out "What’s In It For Me?" from the 2004 album, "Bows and Arrows." Having never witnessed The Walkmen in person but considering "Bows and Arrows" to be in my top 10 albums of all time, the performance was really well done. Leithauser has a quality about him that makes you feel like he’s reaching for something during his songs, a sort of loftier purpose. He stares at the far right balcony and almost directly into the spotlight that hides him from the shadow of the rest of stage. It’s both eerie and calm, and the audience fell for him instantly. It should also be mentioned that at this point in the night, lack of food for the day has caused me to lose sight of rational thought. I’m just saying.
The Walkmen left and people rose to use the restroom or what have you and I was finally able to see the theatre in the lights. The layout was typical at the Carnegie Music Hall of Homestead, with a horseshoe balcony and a raised lower section packed with rising seating. Two rings of lights draped the ceiling as these semicircles gave the theatre a classic feel and I couldn’t help but feel like these bands were out of place here. It’s not a bad place, don’t get me wrong, but there seemed to be something off, something missing from the location that would have made me believe Spoon was here without actually seeing them first.
Nonetheless, Spoon finally took the stage to thunderous applause and yells of the masses. People sprang to their feet and Britt Daniel jumped right into a song from their 2005 indie rock success, "Gimme Fiction." Daniel’s stature and charisma was something I’m not quite sure I was ready for. Standing tall and lean, his guitar sort of hung from him lifelessly, while his voice was as dynamic as any vocalist I’ve seen in a long time. He was (italics) Spoon, and now there was no doubt in my mind that his band members owed everything to him for their fame.
After the opener, something strange happened that changed the course of the show for good.
There was part of me that wish they’d stop jumping up and down. I mean come on, didn’t they understand they were wrongly embarrassing themselves? At least, that was my first impression and it only lasted for around five seconds. Eight rows back, the row in front of us, two 20-somethings were having the time of their lives, moving to every beat and every chord and literally shocking the woman seated beside them. Yes, seated. Sprinkled in a crowd at The Carnegie Music Hall of Homestead in Pittsburgh, Penn., people were actually sitting during the Spoon concert. It was a small venue with assigned seating, but this was the band that released one of (if not the best) album of 2007. People shouldn’t be taking that sitting down and sitting was never something I’ve understood at rock concerts. Why? Is it because you paid for the seat and by golly you’re going to do what you’re going to do? Are you tired from the day and decided to relax with a nice raucous indie rock concert? Well, whatever the sentiment is, I don’t understand it. Now, if no one was standing then I can see how the Spoon show could have evolved into a sitting mood, but the audience had already made its choice and we were standing. An audience should move and feel like a collected person and the vast majority of people had chosen to stand. Granted, no one was really dancing as much as the two fellows in front of me, but they were funny and harmless enough not to matter.
The concert, like a two act play, felt a bit divided by Spoon’s chronological life. The first half Daniel spent howling songs from "Gimme Fiction," "Kill the Moonlight" and their EP, "Soft Effects." They were very systematic with their approaches to "I Turn My Camera On," "Jonathan Fisk," and "Paper Tiger." In a way, Daniel seemed to be testing the crowd to find the devoted fans first, people that were with them during "The Nefarious EP." He would wait between the applause, check with his band mates after a two-three-song stretch, and play off the volume from us. He was very personal and allowed himself to look past the fog lights and microphone to individuals’ faces. With what seemed like a sendoff to Act I, Daniel leapt into "The Way We Get By" as Eric Harvey slammed the piano keys and the drum machine, Jim Eno, nodded to bassist and "expressionless-extraordinaire" Rob Pope. That song threw me back in time and I saw a couple old friends and a bunch of stupid things done. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one.
Act II, as I like to call it, started when Spoon dished out "Don’t Make Me a Target," their first track off their 2007 mega album, "Ga Ga Ga Ga." For perhaps the first time in the show, I saw the band experiment a bit with their music, changing the sound from the album to incorporate more of a free-style to their concert. Previously, their music had sounded, with a couple riffs here and there, almost identical to the studio versions of the songs. "Don’t Make Me a Target," complete with an elongated middle section and some serious syncopation by Daniel and his mates, shook the place and caused the man directly in front of me to stand, nod his head, and say something like, "Well, all right!" Yes, it was that awesome.
Spoon proceeded through their new album in a sideways fashion, playing "Don’t You Evah," "Eddi’s Ragga," and "Finer Feelings." Within the last couple tracks of its set, Daniel heaved out "You got Yr. Cherry Bomb," and "The Underdog." It would be a lie to say that the horn sections on both songs were not incredibly missed. The songs were still high energy, but they lacked the fullness without horn accompaniment.
After an encore that featured, "My Little Japanese Cigarette Case," Spoon finished, we clapped and then we quickly exited the theatre. It was a great experience seeing a budding indie rock icon play in such a small place, but I couldn’t help feel perhaps a bit underwhelmed by the entire thing. Some stood while others sat, some moved while others rested motionless, and Spoon, as entertainers, didn’t live up to expectation. Don’t get my wrong, the music was great and the sound clear and strong, but as entertainers they lacked emotion. Daniel has an element of inherent charm that you can’t escape, but Pope, Harvey and Eno seemed unpleasant and worrisome. I’m not expecting a band I see to be jumping up and down nor is that stereotypically the kind of music I listen to, but something about their music didn’t match what happened on stage. In a way, almost, I blame the people. For instance, there was an older couple in front of me a couple rows who had earplugs as she asked the man in front of her to please be seated. It just so happens that everyone was standing except for weird pockets of reality where people were adamantly seated, resting to a sound so loud that it nearly blew apart my eardrums.
So yes, Spoon was … good. Daniel’s talent is unquestioned as well as his bands’, so please don’t think I am not completely in love with the sound. Remember, I am just another face in the crowd, a young hipster who wants every concert to crack my music foundation. It’s true, I wanted to see the band experiment a bit more with its live sound and cut the strings of formula a bit. I’ll chalk this one up to the venue and make sure to buy another ticket when the band comes around. I mean, it’s Spoon.