Smile Politely

Spoon beats the devil

Can we depend on anything in this fallen world? Constitutional rights get revoked, lakes dry up, and an endless succession of economic disasters have forced countless local joints to shutter for good.

In an era where instability has become the norm, the rock band Spoon is a salve. Never one for meteoric rises and falls – nor the misguided belief that equates bigness with growth – the Austin-based outfit’s two-decade plus career of consistently great music turns steadfastness into a virtue. Their reliability is as close to a scientific fact as one finds in the arts: the statistically-minded website Metacritic deemed Spoon the best reviewed musical artist of the 2000’s.

Photo by Mitchel Civello.

The group brought their trademark brand of Chaotic Good to Canopy Club on Saturday night in support of their snarling and – what else? – excellent tenth album Lucifer on the Sofa. After extensive touring following 2017’s Hot Thoughts, front man Britt Daniel liked the band’s current configuration so much – which includes multi-instrumentalist Gerardo Larios and bassist Ben Trokan joining Alex Fischel and longtime drummer Jim Eno – that he decided to forego overly fussed production and record Lucifer as a series of live takes.

The band’s swagger was on full display, snaking their way through four songs – including hip-shakers “I Turn My Camera On” and “Don’t You Evah” – without so much as stopping to say hello. The five-piece is tighter than a tourniquet, and, in addition to being formidable musicians, they are also all seemingly impervious to male-pattern baldness, exuding a sexy professor energy (think Oscar Isaac with the beard in Scenes from a Marriage).

Photo by Mitchel Civello.

When they finally got around to taking a water break, Daniel professed his love for Midwest shows and said that this was his first time playing CU since 1998, when they toured their ill-fated major label debut A Series of Sneaks. (It failed to sell, and they were dropped). Spoon’s sound – blending catchy riffs with off-kilter distortion, set to lyrics equally surreal and heartfelt – was too weird and retro-sounding for the late-nineties, but would find a receptive younger audience in the aughts.

Given that they’re on the precipice of being elder statesman (Daniel is, unbelievably, fifty-one years old), it’s surprising how few bands today ape their aesthetic. Taken as a whole, their albums don’t showcase a recognizable style being repeated to death as much as a restless search to find different ways to achieve that adrenaline-and-dopamine-fueled musical high. When asked if Lucifer is a concept album, Daniel replied that “there’s not enough great rock ‘n’ roll records out there – [so let’s] make a great rock ‘n’ roll record. That’s the concept.”

Photo by Mitchel Civello.

The packed crowd – ranging from undergrads to middle-agers – was more than happy to oblige Spoon’s desires to rock out, throwing up plenty of devil’s horns hand gestures and forming a shifting array of protected dance zones during the groovier numbers. (The audience was so rowdy that an appreciative Daniel even commented on it). Perhaps encouraging the boisterous mood, the Canopy Club’s faint AC created a downright balmy atmosphere. You usually don’t see a swath of people sweating indoors so much unless you’re at a gay club. (Considering Champaign-Urbana is currently without an LGBTQ+ bar, I’m not exactly complaining).

Which is not to suggest that Spoon can’t slow it down. “I Summon You” – a ballad set in a dystopian police state – and “Inside Out” – which uses Einstein’s theory of relativity as a metaphor for love’s reality-warping effects – were setlist highlights and have likely scored thousands of backseat make-out sessions. During the latter track, Daniel held out the mic to a girl in the front row to finish the lyrics for him. When she yelled back the right words, he clutched his chest in delight and fell to his knees, where he sat and sang the next couple of bars as the music orbited around him.

Photo by Mitchel Civello.

But the combustion could only be held back for so long. The proceedings reached a maximum tilt during the encore, when opening band Bodega joined them onstage. (Bodega passed the gauntlet facing any pre-show act, which is to be weird and loud enough to command your attention.) During the closer “Rent I Pay” the stage was so packed it looked like things might spill out of control. An amp could blow, or someone might get jabbed in the eye with a tuning peg. And yet, there was Daniel, standing center stage with his guitar and mile-wide grin, enjoying the three-minute foray into orchestrated anarchy. Would they make it out alive to the end of the song? Bet on it; you can count on Spoon.

Top photo by Mitchel Civello.

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