The characters in Spoon songs balance precariously between getting exactly what they want and losing everything that matters to them.
The Austin, Texas quintet's first of two sold-out shows at the Palace Theatre Friday night lingered in those same fraught margins, teetering between stylish pop that expresses a tender vulnerability and experimental excursions that illuminate the frustration of making bad choices.
While the band's captivating 100-minute set focused on their recent output, leaning heavily on new Hot Thoughts material and digging deep into their catalog only once for "Anything You Want" from 2001's Girls Can Tell, Spoon’s raw edge and energy showed just how far they’ve come since their early days. Britt Daniel and his cohort played with the cocksure swagger that comes with the confidence of two quick sell-outs in an area that clearly adores the band.
New keyboardist Alex Fischel featured heavily in Spoon's live arrangements, his vibrant pulse and refined swing complementing the band's guitar-fueled garage rock. Fischel's keys launched the show, laying out atmospheric strains as the rest of the band eventually joined him for a feisty take on "Do I Have to Talk You Into It." A spare backdrop of rectangular lighting gave off warm hues of pink, green, and purple to match the mood of each song while bathing the band in elegant shadow, which made the music the focus rather than the performers.
"St. Paul, good to see y'all!" Daniel exclaimed following a lengthy early ovation. "You sold this one out fast. Thank you." The band seemed comfortably settled in and in great spirits from the start, churning through raucous takes on "I Turn My Camera On," "The Beast and Dragon, Adored," and "Don't You Evah." But then a simmering, keys-laden mid-set interlude showed that Spoon are willing to take a risk and slow things down rather than burning through high-octane hits like they have in the past.
The somber instrumental "Via Kannela" had a vibe that recalled the patient beauty of Bowie’s "Warszawa." Daniel was laying flat on his back on a riser toward the back of the stage, soaking in the mercurial grandeur of the track, which gradually blossomed into a plaintive version of "I Ain't the One," an unguarded revelation.
Those type of numbers epitomize the tension and release threaded throughout Spoon's best work. It's like Daniel is balancing on the edge of an abyss, calling out in a lonely echo. These songs suggest rainy city streets viewed from the back of a dirty cab as you’re either heading to reconnect with someone who holds the key to your heart or you’re leaving behind a love who doesn't fit into your life anymore. Heavy stuff if you dig deep enough, set to a boisterous backbeat by Jim Eno to make the pain sting a little less.
The motorik charge of "Can I Sit Next to You" eventually bloomed into a disco jam, while "My Mathematical Mind" turned the space between the notes into sonic weapons that Daniel wielded like a mad musical alchemist. "Don't Make Me a Target" fluctuated between buoyant pop and untethered discord, satisfying both fans who are more familiar with Spoon from airplay on stations like the Current as well as longtime supporters who like it when the band’s sound gets dirty and weird.
"It can't all be wedding cake," Daniel intones on "The Underdog," an anthem for those of us who’ve ever been underestimated or cast off as disappointments. Life can't always be filled with triumphs, and Spoon songs speak to what can be learned by our failures more than they celebrate moments of success. Selling only 2,000 copies of your debut album will do that to a band.
The night ended with "Rent I Pay," another hymn for the overworked and underpaid. But if Spoon can stick with it to eventually become critics’ darlings who sell out theaters around the world, that gives hope to the rest of us that we can set our sights higher and achieve our own dreams as well. Until that happens, we can just keep singing right along with Britt Daniel and his army of underdogs and outcasts.
Do I Have to Talk You Into It
I Turn My Camera On
The Beast and Dragon, Adored
Don't You Evah
Via Kannela/I Ain't the One
Anything You Want
Can I Sit Next to You
My Mathematical Mind
Don't Make Me a Target
Black Like Me
I Summon You (Daniel Solo)
Rent I Pay