Neil Young was right. “Rock and roll will never die.” And no, that’s not an allusion to the seemingly myriad musical festivals or anniversary tours featuring reunited elders of sound like 2016’s Desert Trip — affectionately dubbed “Oldchella” — or most recently, the bicoastal weekend-long fêtes Classic East and Classic West last month. “Rock and roll is here to stay,” thanks to bands like Spoon (whose title is not a reference to the culinary utensil, but an homage to the 1970s German avant-garde collective called Can #themoreyouknow). These indie musicians heralding from the capital of the Lone Star State embody the notion that evolution is a form of revolution.
With the March 2017 release of their ninth studio album, Hot Thoughts, a promotional tour was sure to follow and it did. Their July 30 appearance at the newly renovated Merriweather Post Pavilion was not a solo headlining gig, but they most certainly performed like it was.
Spoon teamed up with Scottish chamber pop group Belle and Sebastian, who have been hitting the summer circuit road testing new material since June. And if that wasn’t already awesome, add folk rock violin-playing singer songwriter Andrew Bird and local garage rock female trio Ex Hex into the musical mix. Any of the aforementioned acts could have sold out shows on their own. The all ages affair truly had something for everyone and the unique lineup was specific to this location and unlike any other summer stop. For the social media savvy, there was even a specific hashtag that concert goers were encouraged to use when posting photos and other related material online: #bellspoonbirdmpp
The festivities kicked off at 6 p.m. with Ex Hex, followed roughly an hour later by Andrew Bird. The efficiency in set transition was impressive. Prior to arriving on stage, the crew pulled back black drapes that had been visibly hanging over much of the Texan band’s instruments and equipment since the show’s commencement. Following their performance, fans bore witness to the fact that the stage revolved with Belle and Sebastian’s setup on the opposite side. Five rectangular columns with the tallest at the center served as the backdrop. During the performance the bars of light emanated an alternating kaleidoscope of color corresponding with overall mood of each song. Smoke permeated the airspace, creating an effect that almost seemed to be in direct correlation to the bright watercolor-like design featured on the newest album cover.
A little after 8 p.m., the overhead music was replaced with a low hum, reminiscent of droning guitar feedback. Blue light broke through the darkness as the quartet turned quintet (following the recent addition of guitarist and piano player Gerardo Larios) appeared, opening with “Rent I Pay” from the 2014’s They Want My Soul, which celebrated it’s third birthday Saturday, August 5th. The band’s co-founder and frontman Britt Daniel stood statuesque in front the microphone and said, “Thank You!” before beginning “Inside Out,” the group’s top track on Spotify. Drummer and other co-founder, Jim Eno sat dutifully behind a drum kit emblazoned with Little Richard‘s grinning face.
Given the tight schedule, there wasn’t much time for elaborate back and forth with the audience, outside of his gestures and singing, of course. About 20 minutes in however, Brett did make it a point to check in with the crowd. “Thanks everybody! You guys doing alright? You get to see Ex Hex?” Everyone cheered.
He followed that with what seemed like statements then questions. “Alright! We love those guys — Ex Hex. They’re from right around here. Andrew Bird. An old friend from way back. It’s a good night. We’ve got a new album called Hot Thoughts. This is a song called, ‘Hot Thoughts’.”
Watch Spoon perform “Hot Thoughts” and “Don’t You Evah” live at Merriweather Post Pavilion on Sunday, July 30, 2017.
It’s difficult to put into words the enthusiasm and ferocity with which these musicians play — especially multi-instrumentalist Alex Fischel. He alternates between guitar and keyboard, sometimes flinging the former on his back before attacking the keys with such intensity it begs the question, “What did that instrument ever do to you?” In all seriousness, he amazed, especially when he incorporated part of Bach’s Toccata and Fuge in D Minor into an extended intro of a powerful rendition of 2007’s “Don’t Make Me a Target.”
Britt’s voice could easily be regarded as a sixth member of the band. His ability to almost effortlessly go from zero to 60 and back again, delivering breathy whispers into the microphone one second and yelling with gritty force the next is remarkable. His power stances as he mysteriously moves around the stage and his triumphant wielding of his Fender Telecaster Thinline in the air might be considered rockstar-like, but this man is 100% pure musician and he knows it.
Great artists of all genres and fields are constantly challenging themselves with change. It represents growth and helps maintain relevance. People — especially this day in age — bore quickly with repetition. Stagnation is the enemy. There are no dull moments for a bathroom break or a beverage run. Britt and his crew consistently maintain your attention in a way you don’t often see nowadays. If only the coolness that exudes from their every pore was contagious.
They played 14 songs total, selecting tracks from five of their nine albums, with the deepest cut being “Anything You Want” from 2001’s Girls Can Tell. Other two notable highlights included a somewhat-stripped down sing-a-long version of 2007’s hit single “The Underdog” and their rousing choice for closer from 2005, “My Mathematical Mind.” The entire setlist can be found here.
Britt did and will continue to “change your mind” about the state of rock and roll. It’s 24 years old and only getting better with age.
Here are some more photos of Spoon performing at Merriweather Post Pavilion on Sunday, July 30, 2017. All photos copyright and courtesy of Theresa C. Sanchez.