They Want My Soul

Spoon, Live at the Crystal Ballroom

After taking a five year break from visiting Portland, Spoon returned last night for their second show in less than six months, but even with the quick turnaround the fans last night were excited to see the one-time locals once again.  Breaking free from the tentativeness of their previous festival-headlining slot at MusicFestNW, the band seemed energized to bring their show back to a more intimate venue with a devoted audience.  It makes one wish that Spoon would stop by every month of the year.

Hopefully we won't have to use this photo for the next concert as well.

Hopefully we won’t have to use this photo for the next concert as well.

It was clear almost immediately that the time spent touring in support of their excellent new album They Want My Soul was well-spent, as the band sounded crisper and more spirited than they did at their show this past summer.  Even during moments when it seemed like not everyone was in sync, there was still a feeling of calm that they would let any temporary road bumps slide and they could line up again soon enough.  This palpable sense of trust in each other allowed the band to flash some showier stage tricks (like Britt Daniel pulling a Johnny Cash and aiming his guitar as a gun to add an exclamation point to some of his licks) or recover quickly from quick fuckups (like Britt dropping the mic in “The Way We Get By”).

At this point it is nearly impossible for Spoon to come up with a bad setlist, considering they’ve released six stellar albums in a row, and as a result the band can choose freely from a deep catalog.  Though it was a bit disappointing for me personally to have Girls Can Tell shut out, that was balanced out by hearing hidden gems like “They Never Got You” from Gimme Fiction and “My Little Japanese Cigarette Case”.  Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga made up the lion’s share of the set, with a punched-up and dramatic version of “The Ghost Of You Lingers” being a standout of the early part of the set.  Driving numbers like “You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb” and “Don’t Make Me A Target” got the crowd bouncing along, with more than a few totally cutting loose during main set closer “Got Nuffin'”.

Britt takes stock of the audience

Britt takes stock of the audience

The encore kicked off with the fantastic “Black Like Me”, though it was a bit disappointing to have the crowd not respond en masse with the “yeah”s and “oh yeah”s.  I suspected that the cover that the band played was from The Cramps, and I was proud to see that my suspicions were confirmed as they indeed played their song “My TV Set” (while I try to be as knowledgeable as possible, my expertise is not perfect, and I only have a rudimentary knowledge of the band).  Spoon finished the night with “a song that I wrote in Southeast”, and the audience was overjoyed to hear that the ebullient “The Underdog” was a local product.  We can only hope that Britt comes back for more inspiration soon.

A Giant Dog were the first openers, and they were an energetic group that kept spirits high; it was nice to hear Britt plug their other show that night at Dante’s, noting though that if you saw him there to not talk to him because he wanted to truly take in their music.  Future Islands, despite all the accolades they’ve received so far, did little to impress despite my intention to approach them with an open mind; instead, I feel as if it may be necessary to note specifically what it is that bothers me about their sound, but I don’t want to take away any more from the main act.  Spoon delivered a superb show, and it’s wonderful to see their career continue to thrive.

Over the Weekend (Nov. 3 Edition)

News and new videos as you adjust to the terrifying new era of reverting back from daylight savings…

The Decemberists have announced that they will release a new album early next year, entitled What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World.  And so we don’t come away with only this announcement, the band also provided us with a new song, “Make You Better”, complete with a “visualizer” video.

Prince performed on Saturday Night Live this past weekend, eschewing the normal two song/~four minute blocks for one eight-minute mega-jam.  It was a memorable performance, and not just for Prince’s third-eye sunglasses or his backing 3rdEyeGirl group.  At the very least, we learned that Prince has spent some time listening to Pantera.

Cymbals Eat Guitars recently uploaded the music video for “Warning”, off their excellent new album LOSE, featuring a very young band (Crosshair) playing the part of CEG.  If you never got the chance to pick up their stellar debut Why There Are Mountains, wait another week for the reissue.

Spoon helped end The Daily Show’s run in Austin in style, playing multiple tracks off their latest excellent album, They Want My Soul.  We would embed the videos here, but Comedy Central uses a screwy system, so either go to The Daily Show website or find all three performances on Pitchfork, since they did the legwork to get the correct plug-in.

Nirvana fans may be intrigued by the recent discovery of a “sound collage” that Kurt Cobain created, illustrating more of a connection with a band like The Olivia Tremor Control than one would have suspected.  Note: this sounds nothing like Nirvana, but have fun with it anyway.  Update: An interview with Cobain’s girlfriend at the time, Tracy Marander, sheds some light on the recording, including that there are two versions of “Montage of Heck” and that Nirvana diehards had known of this for years, and in fact a copy had been circulating for some time.

Wilco had some fun on The Tonight Show last week, though not all the footage was aired during the show.  Check out this acoustic version of the classic Yankee Hotel Foxtrot track “I’m the Man That Loves You”.

And finally, to wrap up our coverage of bands that played on late night last week, there’s The Flaming Lips in full costume performing “With A Little Help From My Friends” (with their “fwends”), and Run The Jewels blasting “Early” with a Halloween-appropriate performance on Letterman.

Review: Spoon – They Want My Soul

We’ll just get this out of the way early: They Want My Soul is a fantastic album, and is a worthy addition to the Spoon canon.  Once again, the band pulls off the incredibly difficult trick of writing a record that is true to their song, without sounding as if they’re recycling the same old ideas.  Each track that reminds the listener of an older Spoon song doesn’t come off as a retread but instead forges new territory, and then the other songs finds Spoon branching off into new and exciting territories while still maintaining their identity for articulate, incisive music.

Each Spoon album reveals itself over time to have certain musical themes–Girls Can Tell focused on quiet, somber reflections, Kill The Moonlight found an edge through its use of piano, Gimme Fiction pulled back with its use of guitar, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga was straight pop music, and Transference deconstructed pop music.  If I were to pinpoint a musical theme with They Want My Soul, it’d be something along the lines of seeking to revive one’s inner spirit.  It seems self-evident if one looks at the album title itself, and the fact that for the first time in their career have a song and album share the same title seems to underline this.  The song itself brings to mind a similar sentiment expressed in Wilco’s classic “Theologians”, but done this time with a bit more aggression and rebelliousness–not just in the lyrics, but in the attack of the guitars.  There similar strains of this sentiment throughout, such as in the swagger of a song like “Rainy Taxi”, or in the defiance of “Inside Out”, with its aversion to “holy rollers”.

Spoon even is able to accomplish something that most rock bands at the turn of the century could only hope to pull off, and that’s to incorporate dance and electronic elements without coming off as gimmicky.  “Outlier” is what Better Than Ezra was trying to accomplish with their album How Does Your Garden Grow? (and that’s coming from a rare fan of that album), in that the electronic percussion and dance beat seem to be an organic part of the song, and the processed guitars and keyboards actually enhance the song by providing both neat-sounding noises and actual melodies.  “New York Kiss”, a collaboration with Semisonic’s former leader Dan Wilson (and the writer who helped Adele into a sensation, most notably with “Someone Like You”; a collaboration that’s hardly been mentioned in most reviews for the record) is an even deeper foray into dance territory, and is an irresistible pleasure to boot.  My only issue is that I can’t think of the specific early-2000’s rock act that it reminds me of, but that in and of itself does not detract from the joy that naturally comes through when bouncing around to its beat.

Considering those two songs, it then becomes extremely irritating when you find critics complain that TWMS sounds like a typical Spoon record; go back and listen to those two songs, and then remind me again where Spoon delved into those styles previously.  And these are people that are actually paid to write about music and presumably have ears.  That said, when Spoon goes into their wheelhouse, they can still pack a punch.  There’s their usual excellent cover, this time a version of Ann-Margret’s “I Just Don’t Understand”, where the band once again adopts that smokey and dark jazzy swing that they do so well, as well as their own brilliant original “Do You”.  I’m glad that radio has switched over to this single instead of “The Rent I Pay” (a song where the previous criticism of repetition was more valid, but a song whose quality is strengthened when placed within the album as a whole than as a stand-alone track), since it’s hard to get enough of that deep groove and those ooh-ooh-ooh-oohs.  Careful listens eventually reveal nifty little details, like the delicate layering of subtle background synth parts or the parabolic nature of the ooh-ooh parts, all while maintaining an infectious melody throughout.

That pretty much encapsulates the album as a whole as well–it’s been playing constantly in my car, on my stereo, and on my iPod since its release, and like all the Spoon albums before it, it’s unlikely to wear out its welcome anytime soon.

The Spoon File, Part 1

With the release this week of They Want My Soul, now is an excellent opportunity to take a look back at the remarkable career of Spoon.  We here at Rust Is Just Right want to give novices a look at the elements that make up the Spoon sound, and how the band was able to become so reliably brilliant over the years that it was named the Metacritic Band of the Decade.  In addition, we want to point out our favorite highlights of each album, so you know what to look for when listening through their discography this weekend.

It’s hard to pinpoint what exactly constitutes the Spoon “sound”, but the band has developed a general style over the years that is identifiable to the trained ear.  I’ve read in a few interviews with the band how critics would deem their music “minimalistic”, but that’s not quite accurate; there are dynamics, melodies, and chord progressions, unlike the true “minimalist” music that’s more experimental in nature.  The better descriptor is “sparse”–Spoon doesn’t load up their songs with a lot of unnecessary filler, allowing the notes that each member plays to have room to breathe.

First, the band uses only a handful of tracks per song; there are not layers of guitars and keyboards and strings in a Spoon song.  Second, as Britt noted in an interview with The Guardian, the band early on took out the rhythm guitar in most songs, so that it doesn’t clog the music, and this philosophy extends to the other instruments as well.  The drums rarely rely on a ride cymbal or hi-hat to keep continuous track of the beat; the groove is felt through the precise emphasis of the rhythms of the bass and drums.  The  rhythms themselves aren’t particularly complex, but Spoon does a wonderful job of varying the way that they’re hit, shifting from drums to cymbals to tambourines to shakers and so on.  As for the “rhythm” guitar, it’s deployed in the same way as the bass and the drums, usually as a counterpoint, with the additional responsibility of providing the occasional burst of color with the odd chord or novel tone; pianos and keyboards are often deployed in the same way as well.  From these basic elements, Spoon has proven that it’s possible to assemble a wide variety of songs without repeating themselves; it also helps that the band also knows their way around a great melody or two.

The Spoon sound didn’t come fully developed; their debut Telephono almost sounds like the work of a completely different band, one that was much more indebted to 90’s alternative rock and 80’s post-punk.   A lot of critics compared this album to the Pixies, but the comparison is really only accurate in describing their emphasis on short songs and oft-kilter stories.  It’s much less oft-putting than the Pixies are on first listen, and filled with catchy hooks.  The band hadn’t developed the philosophy to rhythm guitar as mentioned above, so it’s much more prevalent on Telephono than on any of their later work.  Over the years, songs from Telephono gradually fell out of the band’s setlist, though songs like “Plastic Mylar” and “Don’t Buy the Realistic” still sound great today.  The follow-up Soft Effects EP continued in a similar vein, and “Mountain to Sound” and “I Could See The Dude” get the occasional spotlight in a set, and represent a key point in the early evolution of the band.

The band’s major label debut A Series of Sneaks saw the band smooth out some of the rough edges of their debut, cutting out some of the fat and sticking to the hooks.  It’s an album that still holds up well to this day, though it’s clearly of a different period than the traditional Spoon album.  But you can tell there’s a clear connection between many of the songs on Sneaks and their later work; “Car Radio” or “Utilitarian” can pop up in the middle of a Spoon show and it wouldn’t sound out of place at all, even if the piano player has to figure out something to do for a couple of minutes.  However, due to lackluster sales and turmoil at the record label, Spoon was dropped and left to their own devices to figure out what to do next; part of their thought process is heard on the re-release bonus tracks “Laffitte Don’t Fail Me Now” and “The Agony of Laffitte”, detailing their anger and feelings of betrayal.

The band responded to the lowest moment of their career (and to circumstances which would have killed most bands), with one of the greatest albums of the new millennium, Girls Can Tell.  While Telephono and A Series of Sneaks are fine efforts (especially the latter, which is unfortunately often forgotten when discussing the band’s oeuvre), they are a cut below the brilliant hot streak that would follow in their wake.  In our next and final part, we will discuss each of these albums in depth, which will hopefully serve as a bit of an appetizer to our review of their newest record, They Want My Soul.  But to give a taste of what to expect, here’s the definitive ranking of Spoon albums according to Rust Is Just Right, which should certainly end any such debates from ever occurring again.

1. Girls Can Tell

2. Gimme Fiction

3. Kill the Moonlight

4. Transference

5. Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga

Over the Weekend (June 30 Edition)

Some videos and news as you begin your week thinking about how dumb Penalty Kicks are

Spoon played Jimmy Kimmel Live last week, with tracks from their upcoming album They Want My Soul.  We had previously heard “Rent I Pay”, but the band also debuted “Rainy Taxi” at the performance.  The first is a ragged, stilted rocker that Spoon has perfected over the years, but the second is a groovy, uptempo number that fits in some of the dissonant touches that the band does so well, and should be a live favorite.

Fans in Oslo were treated to a Pearl Jam rarity, as the band performed “Strangest Tribe” for the first time.  It’s a beautiful, somber song that can be found on the Lost Dogs compilation, and was originally released as one of the fanclub Christmas singles.  A hearty thanks to the fan that filmed this special occasion.

Speaking of Pearl Jam, Eddie Vedder recently received an invitation to join the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (you know, the Oscars folks).  Maybe he’ll help clear up the mess that is the nominations process for the music categories.

Rolling Stone has Jack White’s entire Glastonbury set on its site, which included a quick cover of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” (a specific choice that the article has details about), and also a link to a previous performance with some choice covers including a take on The Stooges’ “I Wanna Be Your Dog”.

And we didn’t get a chance to post this in our traditional Friday #longreads roundup, but here’s a link to an extended interview with Dennis Lyxzen, frontman of the legendary Refused and The (International) Noise Conspiracy, who is now working in a new band called INVSN.