Spoon introduces wild new member, strobe light to Pittsburgh


By Shawn Cooke / A&E Editor

After unleashing their psychedelic jam “Who Makes Your Money?” on the Carnegie of Homestead Music Hall last Thursday, Britt Daniel of Spoon took a moment to defend the record that it originally appeared on.

“That one’s from Transference. It’s been taking some hits lately,” Daniel said.

Although it was perceived as a break from the band’s ridiculously consistent run, 2010’s Transference remains the band’s most underappreciated release — and also one of their best. But, more importantly, it has left an imprint on the current tour as much as any of their recent albums. Despite suggestions from some critics of the record, it wasn’t just something Daniel had to “get out of his system.”

Spoon has almost always been tagged as “minimalist,” but Transference took the description to another level, paring tracks away to the scrappy, enhanced-demo state only hinted at in their early days. No polish, no glitz and no finish — this was the rawest they’d been, and it was refreshing. Typical pop song structure all but disappeared completely, with moody, dissonant instrumental sections filling in for second choruses and small bursts of uncaged guitar noise snuck up on otherwise conventional Spoon songs.

When the band toured in support of Transference, there were no fancy lights or backdrops — the setup was quaint enough to match the music. But for their current They Want My Soul tour, Spoon has appropriately upgraded their special effects. Their latest album sported a glitzier, slicker version of the band than we’d seen before. Its spiritual companion, 2007’s Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, still had some ragged edges, but They Want My Soul is almost all gloss — which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. So, naturally, they brought strobe lights to blind everyone during a performance of “Outlier.”

This doesn’t look like the same old Spoon from a production standpoint — or even from a personnel standpoint. Alex Fischel, who also plays with Daniel in Divine Fits, has joined the band as the official fifth member on guitar. While he bears more of a physical resemblance to keyboardist Eric Harvey, Fischel behaves like Daniel’s eccentric younger brother onstage.

While They Want My Soul seems like a reaction to the critics of Transference, the addition of Fischel is a reward to its fans. He amps up the unpredictability and is unafraid to make things sound a little ugly. On “Got Nuffin,” Fischel menacingly hammered away at one chord for half of the song, giving the mostly straight-ahead rocker some tension. When clashing guitar noise bled into the middle of “Don’t You Evah,” it was unclear if it was a genuine mistake or simply part of an organized disruption.

But make no mistake — Spoon is still a well-oiled live vessel. When you consider that they’re still putting out inventive records in 2014, it’s easy to forget that Daniel and drummer Jim Eno have been working together for more than 20 years. Eno’s subtle precision and Daniel’s collected confidence suggest that nothing could go wrong onstage, especially when they’re trading smiles to kick off nearly every song. 

Jack White has been hailed as our “last true rock star” and headlines all the festivals, but Daniel makes a convincing case that he’s the one who deserves those accolades. Since his swagger is mostly understated, it also leaves room for some vulnerable moments. 

He kneeled down for much of “Inside Out,” the recent song he calls one of his most personal. Another song that forced Daniel to hang up his guitar, “The Ghost of You Lingers,” was the most chilling moment of the night. Cataclysmic electronic bursts interrupted the simple piano line and Daniel’s sincere pleas to calm down and ease his mind.

Spoon only extended back as far as 2001’s Girls Can Tell once with “Anything You Want,” and mostly stuck to the three most recent records, aside from a few of their modest hits from Kill the Moonlight and Gimme Fiction. They’ve tinkered with the formula for sure, but “Small Stakes” probably sounds just as good today as it did in 2003. 

Spoon’s commitment to newer material shows that they’re not just going through the motions 20 years into one of the most remarkable runs in American indie-rock. In an era of reunions, indefinite hiatuses and constant rebranding, let Spoon stand as an example for how longevity should be achieved.

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