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Spoon + White Rabbits – My Gigging Year

December 7, 2010
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Britt and his trusty 355

This one-a-day stuff ain’t easy and I’m pretty tired right now, so I’m gunna be more to-the-point this time round. Really. Well, I’ll try.

I saw Spoon play on the 16th of February at the Electric Ball Room, which is a large and likeable, if not particularly memorable. Big venue’s have trouble with that x factor I guess. White Rabbits were the support, and even though I had listened to their first album ‘Fort Nightly’ a fortnight before the gig (no, seriously) I wasn’t overly familiar with their work. I was intrigued by my first listen though, and for good reason it would turn out. Their set had energy to spare: ‘Kid On My Shoulders’ sounded even more zany and over-the-top live as it does on their debut, which is no mean feat.

Most of their set followed suit with high octane drums being a key component of their live sound. The band had two main singers, and one in particular could really let rip with his vocal chords. He must’ve been hurting the day after. I appreciated the passion, and he had a decent voice, but I find myself forgetting his partner in crime. With the high tempo the band set themselves it was always going to be a battle to keep the individual instruments from becoming lost in their busy sound, but the band retained a level of clarity despite the vigorous performance. It was a very enjoyable set, and I felt like I would definitely listen to their album a lot more after the gig and keep track of the bands progress, but somehow it didn’t happen. Maybe it’s not a fair reflection on what was a very good effort on their part, but it’s what happened.

So, to Spoon. The first Spoon album I got hold of was ‘Gimme Fiction’. It was one of the many albums that were lost amongst a sea of garbage that I had downloaded from a friends hard drive (one of the problems of the free music era – diabolical quality control. I am still suffering from an over-bloated iTunes collection, and have been in the process of deleting and refining for almost a year now!). I must have played and enjoyed tracks from the album quite a few times without ever really taking proper notice of them, but one day I heard ‘I Summon You’ and this time, I listened properly. I must have listened to that song twenty times that week. It was one of those ballady rock songs that can really get under my skin, and this one had the unusual distinction of me learning how to play it (I played in a band for over 6 years and yet I still can’t string together more than 4 cover versions). That album got listened to a fair bit as a result, though the rest of the album never quite came as close to affecting me (in hindsight, this was due in no small part to the album not having a proper track listing. And I think it was a bad rip too. Two more problems associated with downloading music).

It wasn’t until a couple of friends starting telling me how good their follow-up ‘Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga’ was that I started to understand just how good this band were. For some reason, when listening to ‘Gimme Fiction’, I always got the impression that this was a band with greatness in them, but they couldn’t get it out in their straight-ahead rock guise. They needed a Kid A, a Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, a White Pony. But I was wrong. There is no shame in doing one thing and doing it well, and Spoon are one of the best examples of this that I know. Sure, they may employ the odd bit of studio trickery to add spice to their albums, and a few special effects creep into their live show too (I reckon there is a guy employed backstage just to control the reverb for Britt Daniel’s vocals) but the basics of this band have never strayed far from good old-fashioned song writing, simple but infectious guitar rhythms and that gravelly, sexy, born-to-rock voice that just gets better the more you listen to it. And, believe it or not, it sounds even better in the flesh.

That’s the first thing that you notice when they start playing – Britt’s voice. It really does make an impression on you – he may not have biggest vocal range in the world or the most imaginative ways of using his voice, but much like his band as a whole what he does do, he does well. While there are so many whiskey-soaked wannabes out there smoking 50 cigarettes a day and eating gravel for breakfast, Britt still manages to stand out from the crowd without having to make much effort – it really does seem natural coming from him.

But it’s not a one man show by any means. I’m sure the band were a well oiled machine long before I saw them, having toured for years and years, but it really did strike me what a well functioning unit they were. Everything seemed so easy: as musicians they could do little wrong, making all the hits from their back-catalogue twist and groove in all the right places, but the downside to their wealth of experience was the niggling feeling that they were just going through the motions. And to be fair to them, it would be difficult to do otherwise, considering their age: the band are entering their 40’s and are on their 7th album. This is almost definitely an overly harsh assessment of a very professional outfit that can play rock songs better than most bands half their age, but still, I thought it so there you go. It’s not as if they were without charm, but perhaps they are too polite for their own good. That voice screams rebellion and rock and roll, yet on stage all we get is a middle aged man performing perfectly but without the recklessness of youth.

That ridiculous gripe aside, they were a great live band. ‘Who Makes Your Money’ was stuck in my head for weeks after that performance, and was one of the many songs that made great use of their limited special effects armory (delayed vocals in this case). ‘Is Love Forever’ was one of their many songs where the insistent guitar strikes kept your head nodding vigorously. Their back-catalogue of songs is so good that I found it hard to pick out any weak spots in the setlist, but what I earlier commended the band for can be another small gripe when watching them live – they pretty much have only a couple of gears, and as they stayed in their beautiful sounding, peaky fourth gear for much of the gig I sometimes wished that they could vary their sound a bit more.

You know what? I’m a spoilt prick. They were great live. Why am I trying to find faults in a band that are patently brilliant? God knows. Maybe it’s because I get ratty when I’m tired. Or maybe I feel it’s now my honour-bound duty as a ‘critic’. Either way, ignore any of my negative comments, and if one of their rare European jaunts happens any time soon you might want to get yourself down to one of the best rock acts around right now, while you still can.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. mDilsh permalink
    December 9, 2010 2:15 pm

    Nice one, you spoilt prick!
    Honestly though, I’m jealous. I don’t know what possessed me to turn down Spoon and the more I delve into their back catalogue, the more I realise that Spoon are one of the few bands doing rock music properly.

    • j-diz permalink
      December 10, 2010 7:59 pm

      Couldn’t agree more. I know it’s totally unfashionable, but I really love rock (and, whisper it, even things that border on metal) when it’s done right. Trouble is, most rock bands are too caught up in ridiculous chiches that turn me off even more than gangster rap does.

  2. j-diz permalink
    December 10, 2010 8:06 pm

    OK OK OK – some great news for rock – Rival School have a new album out March 2011! I can’t wait – they have a new single out, i’m buying it right now. Their first album was probably the slowest and biggest grower of an album i’ve ever experienced.

  3. Chris Bingo permalink
    December 10, 2010 9:19 pm

    I’m certainly interested in this band on that song’s basis and you and Maggles recommendations of them. Can’t say I care for White Rabbits whatsoever though. Really just doesn’t agree with me, can’t say why just yet.

    As for Rival Schools. It’s about fucking time. Jeeeeezus….these guys were touring all last year without any news of a new album. Definitely agree about the slow grow, I only started listening to it properly when Travel By Telephone came on shuffle one day. What a great start to an album!

    P.S. Fuck being fashionable, really good rock is still one of the best types of music out there.

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