A u g u s t   2 0 0 5

Aural Report

Worth another look ...
Can't stop listening to Spoon
by Kurt Dahlke

t's hard to hang onto that rock 'n' roll thing. Sooner or later common sense seems to seep in and ruin it all.

The days – for example – when you'd rush to the store to drop a buck and a half on a 45 of Devo's "Whip It"?

Rock for real: Spoon's Gimme Fiction (visit the Web site).

Those days are gone y'all. But, if you don't remember, 45s were little mini-records, disks of hardened petroleum that played two or three songs via a vibrating needle. I still don't get exactly how it works. But I've spent many an hour trying to get rock 'n' roll.

It's easy to lose touch with that rebellious vibe, if you (like me) just aren't "flinging mad skrilla" toward the purchase of a lot of rock these days. Only three CDs in the last year have gotten me jazzed up, causing me to lose sleep like when I was a little kid. And of the three, only the last is really a rock album: an old Phoenix recording – United – the new one from Beck – Guero – and the latest from Spoon – Gimme Fiction.

Can't stop listening to Spoon. The new album is one of the most self-assured, nothing-out-of-place gems going, full of great, smart rock and grace notes. Been losing many nights sleep owing to the sticky sweetness of a few choice tracks, including the killer "They Never Got You," plus slow burners like "My Mathematical Mind" and slyly portentous vamps like "Was It You?"

And we get to see them live at the good ol' Crystal Ballroom this fine June evening.

So the rock journalism thing is finally creeping into my M.O., and with it is the true knowledge that those who can't, teach ... or whatever. What I'm saying is, tonight I purposely show up at such a time as to completely miss the opening act, the Clientele. It may be because I wish I were up there on stage instead.

I know ... not cool.

Spoon in the flesh is nothing like what I expect. That is, on record you hear a singer who should be a Rock Star: raspy voice with a trill and a quiver and a disaffected slur.

But onstage we witness this entirely ordinary-seeming crew (albeit one that can slay on cue): the affable, approachable bass player, some unassuming dude on keyboards, a guy on skins that I can barely see and singer/guitarist Britt Daniel, a lanky, awkward-looking guy who should be getting ribbed as a substitute math teacher.

Daniel is no math teacher. He instead writes songs like the instant classic, make-you-giddy anthem, "Sister Jack," from Fiction.

[Side note to the couple in front of me during the show: There are better places to hold a fairly lengthy conversation than during a song that you will never hear performed in the same way again. It's loud and you paid at least 15 bucks to be here. Save your thoughts for between sets.]

"Sister Jack" combines "Summer Of '69"-style lyrical poignancy with a much better tune that takes Whiskey Town strummery and opens it up into hemispheres of thunderclouds before uncannily shifting into 9/4 time that you might never notice due to the song's totally unhealthy catchiness.

Taking a dip: The live show features songs from the back catalog, which includes 2001's Girls Can Tell.

Spoon exhausts most of the new album (with good reason) while taking a big dip into back-catalog numbers that only get better in the live, anything-goes atmosphere of the show. Teenyboppers to grown-ups (all of whom seem deeply acquainted with Spoon) lap it up with gleeful cheer.

The crowd is whipped into a lather by the opening strains of "The Beast and Dragon, Adored," the song that leads off Fiction and tonight's show. An ominous basso-piano takes us down into rocking-introspection-hell before drummer Jim Eno lets loose with the purist of heavy-hitting funk drum lines (and one that skips up to an assured, sassy and syncopated mid-tom hit, too). Daniel paints a scenario of eerie self-knowledge that highlights a songwriter who knows he's got the world in his palm and that the world might be an empty oyster shell containing a holographic pearl.

"When you don't feel it, it shows, they tear out your soul," he sings, "but when you believe they call it rock and roll."

Then he convulses into a spastic, shattering burst of cavernous pent-up guitar anger. Goddam, he feels it, alright.

That sums up the brilliance of Gimme Fiction and the way Spoon tosses out tuneful gems – part acid, part hope – like a clown with a pocketful of candy facing down The Kids. Daniel knows he's hanging from a limb, trying to best each prior song about unrequited love and alienation, for a crowd that's seen and heard it all yet still demands the best. Nothing less than total sincerity.

Spoon retabled: Find last month's look at Daniel's band in tripewriter. ["Spoon Man," by Mary Bergherr]

Tough job.

Or is it all just an illusion? How much do we as listeners bring to the table? How much are we willing to believe, to call it rock 'n' roll?

One last bit of live show instruction: believe enough to never leave until the lights come up (and sometimes not even then). The night's final rockin' laugh comes after Spoon's second encore, when the lemmings suddenly start bum-rushing the door.

This tidal outflow sucks the rest of we wise ones up closer to the stage – where we should have been all along – for one final brilliant encore that starts about 60 seconds after the inexplicable exodus.

For those who believe in rock 'n' roll, sometimes the rewards are instantaneous.

E-mail Kurt at orangeandorange@msn.com, and don't miss his previous reports.

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