All words and photos by Francis Chung.
Special thanks to Josh from the 9:30 Club.
Spoon have been so good for so long that it could be easy, and perhaps understandable, to start taking them for granted. Clearly, though, the band is in no danger of going underappreciated amongst DC’s rock enthusiasts, as their two-night stand at the 9:30 Club on Monday and Tuesday apparently sold out in record time, frontman Britt Daniel announced on stage. Anticipation was certainly high, but Spoon likely exceeded even the most ardent fans’ expectations with a pair of indelibly memorable performances that reaffirmed their longstanding place at the forefront of independent music.
Monday’s headlining set began with Daniel taking the stage alone for a solo-acoustic version of “Me and the Bean,” before bandmates Jim Eno, Eric Harvey, and Rob Pope joined him partway through “Before Destruction,” the haunting opening track from Spoon’s excellent new album, Transference. The group was in fine form, locking tightly into their trademark grooves on songs like “The Beast and Dragon, Adored” and “Don’t You Evah,” but what was even more immediately striking than their inspired musicianship was the remarkably impressive quality of the sound engineering, which was presumably under the auspices of Spoon’s regular soundman, Jeff Byrd. Daniel’s voice (which ranged from a gravelly snarl on “Don’t Make Me a Target” to a sharp falsetto on “Who Makes Your Money”) was featured prominently in the mix, but not at the expense of the instrumentation, every beat, note, and chord of which was delivered with impeccable, crystalline clarity, and at a formidable, but not overpowering, volume. “The Ghost of You Lingers” was a tour de force in this regard, resonating melodramatically as Daniel’s vocals echoed eerily over his own sparse bass notes, Harvey and Pope’s droning keyboards, and Eno’s thundering, reverb-drenched drums.
The set lists for the two shows spanned much of Spoon’s career, showing a definite emphasis on the band’s last two records, but also delving as far back as “I Could See the Dude” from the 1997’s Soft Effects EP. Monday’s offerings leaned a bit more heavily on newer material, while a greater number of older songs were brought out at Tuesday’s performance, which opened evocatively with “Everything Hits at Once” from 2001’s Girls Can Tell, and concluded rousingly with “Small Stakes” from 2002’s Kill the Moonlight. The band’s cover of “Love Song” by The Damned (recently released on a Starbuck’s compilation) was played both nights, as were perennial crowd-pleasers “I Turn My Camera On,” “You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb,” and “I Summon You,” all of which were as satisfying as ever. Notably, many of the concerts’ best flourishes occurred during songs from Transference, many of which feature raw, somewhat unconventional structures that lend themselves to live embellishment and reinterpretation. Sounding at times as if they were channeling the house band at Max’s Kansas City circa 1968, Spoon cut loose on some of the instrumental sections of songs like “Written in Reverse” and “I Saw the Light,” launching into lengthy, almost ostinato-like vamps punctuated alternately by melody and dissonance.
In addition to Spoon’s brilliant efforts, the concerts were enhanced by the presence of Deerhunter as a supporting act. An accomplished headliner in his own right, Bradford Cox seemed to enjoy his opening slot, leading his four-piece group through well-crafted art-rock songs like “Never Stops” and “Nothing Ever Happened” while bantering affably with fans before, during, and after his sets. Of course, Cox had ample reason to be in good spirits, as Deerhunter will be touring with Spoon through mid-April, affording him an enviable chance to watch them play every night for the next few weeks, while fans in DC eagerly await their next opportunity to see one of the best bands in the business.