Hot freaks, girls with perfect indie style, and T-shirt’d dudes with that 70’s hair – it was a raveup at Chicago’s Abbey Pub, with Spoon as the main attraction. “Thanks for coming out on a Sunday night like this,” main Spoonman Britt Daniel said. “This is a great place.” Daniel was referring to the packed house and gorgeous new sound system at The Abbey. But he could have been summarizing the twisting road that led he and his band to the stage Sunday night.
Spoon began in 1996, on Matador, with Telephono. The record drew dizzy comparisons to The Pixies and Wire, with tight, controlled bursts of guitar surrounding Daniel’s gritty corkscrew of a voice. Tours with Guided By Voices, Apples In Stereo, and Archers of Loaf followed, and soon Spoon was officially on the indie rock table. But then a man came to the stage one night. He smoked a big cigar and drove a Cadillac car, and you know the rest. Spoon signed a deal with Elektra Records, and released the powerful, slick A Series Of Sneaks. Four months later Elektra and A & R man Ron Lafitte stuck a fork in Spoon, and kicked them to the curb.
Getting worked over by the majors manifested itself in a kiss-off EP (featuring the snarky “Lafitte Don’t Fail Me Now” B-side), and some “Why me?” soul searching in the lyrics of Girls Can Tell, Spoon’s next proper LP. But Tell was released on Merge, a successful independent label without need of A & R reps in snakeskin boots. To wit, main Merge man Mac MacCaughan simply called Spoon’s Daniel and asked to put the record out. Which proves the point about indie rock. After all the posturing about whose glasses are geekier, whose pants are tighter, or whose clear vinyl 7″ is the rarest, the network of labels, clubs, bands, and fans that support the entire process do so because good music deserves to be heard, not dropped.
And so back to the Abbey Pub on a Sunday night in Chicago. Configured as a quartet with Daniel on guitar and vocals, supported by keys, bass, and drums, Spoon performed with a fluid, easygoing air that suggested they’re happy with where they are today. Not letting technical difficulties with the synthesizer bother him, Daniel led the group through an efficient set that showcased Spoon’s economy in songwriting. In their world, songs never go on for too long; indeed, Spoon songs often don’t even require trappings like a bridge or gratuitous solos. Built around Daniel’s heartsick growl and wry, sometimes harrowing lyrics, the songs dwell on simple, repeated guitar and keyboard lines. Comparisons to Wire or even The Pixies are still valid, but Spoon also incorporates Jonathan Richman, Elvis Costello, and on the new Kill The Moonlight‘s “All The Pretty Girls Go To The City” – I swear – the keyboard line from Hall & Oates’ “Family Man.” All influences aside, Spoon’s music is full of the promise and swagger that makes independent music truly something to believe in.
Opening for Spoon at The Abbey was San Franciscan John Vanderslice. Seen most recently on tour with The Mountain Goats, Vanderslice writes hooky, well-mannered pop music that wouldn’t be out of place on Slumberland Records, the little Berkeley, CA label that could. With bleary-eyed Bowieisms winking here and there in his lyrics, and awesome, crunchy tone coming from his Telecaster (maybe a Tele copy?), Vanderslice and his pals kept the crowd thoroughly entertained. Life And Death Of An American Fourtracker, his new LP, is out now on Barsuk Records.