Small stakes leave Spoon with the maximum blues.
Some years ago, the Brighton-based band British Sea Power asked, “Do you like rock music?” Responding on an album entitled by the same question, they seemed to suggest that they did, but only when that music was enlarged, grandiose, and Arcade Fire-aping. On Friday, performing at the Kentish Town Forum, the nominally Texan band Spoon presented their own answer, making the case for rock music in a manner enhanced by various tricks, but still definitively in touch with, to use their own phrase, “small stakes”.
Theirs was a theatrical performance, draped in electronic flourishes, and yet it was palpably rock ‘n’ roll. When I last saw Spoon on stage, seven years ago, they were touring a defiantly introspective album, Transference, and its prevailing aesthetic bled into their retelling of older songs. This time round, they were again unafraid to poke around in their back-catalogue, but the outcomes were more varied. “Stay Don’t Go”, from the 2002 album Kill The Moonlight, became more muscular, with Jim Eno’s adaptable drumming augmenting the original beatbox sample. “Don’t Make Me A Target” and “The Underdog”, two of Spoon’s more widely-known songs, were more deranged, and flirted with calamity.
Elsewhere, songs that are usually taut and minimalist became substantial wig-outs, with multi-instrumentalist Alex Fischel leading the charge. The electricity between him and frontman Britt Daniel belies the fact they’ve only worked together for a quarter of the band’s life. It’s the hot flushes of new love, versus the brotherly affection that exists between Daniel and his older comrades, Eno and Rob Pope (bass). For many in the audience, the highlight will have been “I Ain’t The One”, a noir-ish number that features Rhodes piano, a smattering of of Linn electronic drums, and little else. On the night, it was trailed by a lengthy, thrilling intro played by Fischel on synthesizer, which setlists have christened “Via Kannela”.
Throughout, Daniel’s gravelly snarl of a voice cut through the mix, which was urgent and flawless. (No change there from the 2010 gig at Camden’s Electric Ballroom – Jim Eno is a perfectionist recording engineer, and expects his standards in a live setting.) A case in point was the opener, “Do I Have To Talk You Into It?” (which also erupted from a Fischel-manned meandering), a song that revives the chord progression from “The Beast And Dragon, Adored”, narrows the scope of the lyrics, and ratchets up the discordance. Effected keys and caustic lead guitar were layered over bar-room piano chords, and Daniel explored the spectrum between Mick Jagger and Mark E. Smith. And all in a shade under five minutes! “Rent I Pay”, meanwhile, was a three-guitar assault that connected The Strokes with AC/DC, with Daniel practically ripping his throat out in the name of rock ‘n’ roll.
Later in the show, Daniel’s voice got an even more nuanced work-out on a solo rendition of “I Summon You”, toning down the swagger for a lover’s simple yearning in the context of an enforced long-distance relationship. There were similarly mellow moments on “Black Like Me” and “Anything You Want”, the latter of which dates back to Spoon’s 2001 album Girls Can Tell. No matter what the vibe, the band dug out a costume to match, all the while bringing their grounded take on the kinds of lives William Eggleston might once have photographed, down into the belly of NW5.
One garment that didn’t fit was the lighting, which was more suited to an arena show. When the music already exudes such drama, there’s no need for such frippery. Between the sweat and the grit and the spirit-summoning of Bowie, Prince and the Rolling Stones, Spoon serve as a valuable antidote to the notion, as put forward by Dave Longstreth of Dirty Projectors, that indie rock can no longer set the agenda.