Digging Deep With Spoon At The Palace


A bunch of bad went down in the Twin Cities music scene in the last couple days.  When you pile those on top of the anniversary of Prince’s death, it’s not cool.  But maybe it’s appropriate.  Maybe 4/21 is the next thing to 9/11.  So who could be surprised when Spoon had to cancel their first of two Palace shows?  (Rescheduled in First Avenue’s Mainroom on Sunday). If you’re someone who normally finds a lot to like in what’s going on around here, all that crap likely knocked you for a loop.

It’s not as if the loss of Britt Daniel’s voice is something that just happens now and again.  He mentioned during tonight’s show that it was the first time in a three decade career this has been the case.  Remind me to hunker down someplace safe next year when the 21st of April rolls around.

So I’ll confess that as walked in the light rain down St Paul’s monochrome streets toward The Palace, I was not as excited to take in a show as I normally am.  Had we been able to simply jump from the celebratory 4/20 to 4/22, it would have helped.  Had some springtime sunshine illuminated the walk, I’d probably have skipped to the door.

A big piece of that is because I wasn’t a Spoon fan.  Not because I didn’t like the band.  I really didn’t know the band.  Some real big time bands manage to go careers without me really connecting.  Most of my friends look at me like I’m daft when I point to something like this.  But I’ll also point out that I likely connect with a lot more young striving bands around town than the average bear.  And my brain remains cluttered with stuff I was digging before Spoon was ever contemplated.

That’s why I’ve been keen to see this one since it was first announced.  I enjoy jumping on the right bandwagon as much as I enjoy pointing a friend to something new that knocks off their socks.  People I respect had always told me I better jump on this one before they left me in the mud at the side of the rock and roll highway as a fully considered cast off.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from Margaret Glaspy when she kicked things off at 8.  She’s a headliner in her own right.  Filled First Ave’s Mainroom on a couple occasions.  But it seems as if it’s been a bit quiet of late.  And that’s what I was a bit concerned with ahead of time.  I really just wanted some rock and roll to ease some of the pain. I wondered if she’d drift toward a more acoustic singer/songwriter presentation.  Not to worry.  Power trio tapping into some really deep sources.

I was quite impressed with the way she dug in on that guitar.  It got heavy.  It got sludgy.  Hints of Crazy Horse.  Chatting with a long time musician friend toward the back, he was filling me in on Spoon between Margaret’s tunes.  He described early Spoon records as coming about during that mid 90s period when most bands were leashing their electric guitars.  We both shook our heads at what a stupid thing that was to do.  And then Glaspy powered down into an opening riff.  “That’s why it was dumb!  That Telecaster in her hands was created to make some noise!”  Isn’t it wonderful to be dead right with company?

It was a really pleasant surprise.  Glaspy’s smart.  She’s outspoken.  But more importantly she comes across as genuine; the kind of person who mostly just wants to plug in, turn it up and do some rock and roll.  When an artist gets to her level, everybody is good.  I really appreciate the good ones who would show up to play whether there were a dozen people in some backwater venue or a sold out Palace.

I’m not going to try to say anything insightful about Spoon.  Most of the people in the audience were hardcore.  Long term.  I got nothing to add.  And those fans spanned an age.  It struck me how different in age and social structure those friends I bumped into were.  Obviously, from the old guard who diligently purchased all those early CDs.  Yes, CDs because they convinced us all by the mid 90s that the only way to consume our music was on that compact disc.  Yeah, how’d that work out for you?  And then there was the young 20 something who gushed:  “This is the 3rd time I’ve seen them!  I’m so excited.  Later.  I gotta get to the front!” 

There’s a good reason you’ve got that diversity.  Spoon is a band that an early fan could ride with every step of that wandering, sprawling way.  And Spoon is that kind of band some young kid hears years later and then goes digging in the opposite direction.  From back to front.  The point is that Spoon fans dig deep into an extensive catalog.

That’s the case with a lot of really special bands.  They never seem to ever really believe the hype.  They keep playing and experimenting because that’s what they do.  It’s more about the process and the journey than the rock star pay off.  At some point in their career they touch that summit without ever really having a hit.  I think I read one time that when they released a “Greatest Hits” album, it got rave reviews.  Despite not having a single song that had even cracked Billboard’s Top 200!  Isn’t that kind of an oxymoron?  But it was absolutely at the root of what I wanted to discover.

The thing about Spoon for me is that I recognize a lot of songs.  It makes me think of bopping along to one of them and waiting for a DJ to back announce.  Then I’d go:  “Oh, yeah.  That’s cool.”  Here’s a confession: some of the songs I heard tonight made me recall being somewhere or sometime when I’d heard it.  I always flashed on some Scottish band like Teenage Fanclub.  Or World Party.  There was this tremendous sense of power pop beauty that never got too sweet.  It got mixed with this buzzy, trance dance hall thing that felt European to me.  

Until I began doing a bit of prep work for the preview written a couple weeks back, I had it in my head that Spoon was a bunch of UK lads.  Austin.  How did I miss Austin?  The stuff that’s come out of that town over the last 40 years is top quality.  About as unpretentious as you can get.  I think the reason it’s like that is because about the time you start thinking you’re something special, you walk smack dab into 4 other players who’ve accomplished more than you ever will in you career within two blocks.  So just another thing to respect about the band in front of me.

Spoon is a beautiful band.  But they’re never light or fragile.  Each song seems snatched from some entirely different planet.  It’s recognizably Spoon but my guess is that we got samples from a very wide range of their recorded wanderings.  A lot of rock bands let their images dominate the song.  A lot of rock bands take their words or chops a bit too seriously.  The trick is to serve the song and to make people want to dance.  That’s the band’s DNA.

My favorite song?  I have no idea.  I really enjoyed every single one.  That’s a rare thing.  Kind of like a Greatest Hits without any Hits.  Because the fact is that the vast majority of Hits are a bit plebeian.  The lowest common denominator gets the widest spread.  Spoon is always going to bit too smart and musical to fall prey to that.  That’s why all those fans packing the floor love them.  They’ve never sold out.  Never stayed in the same spot.  I think Spoon fans tend to be a bit more serious, and selective, than what we often get.  I like that about them.  They are willing to dig deep and absorb the entire catalog.

Oh, and their fans are inordinately tall.  Kind of like Netherlands tall.  Just an unscientific observation.

Now I’ve some digging of my own to do.  That’s fine.  It will be a fun journey.  And I’d like to thank the band for chasing away some of my 4/21 Blues.  I’m willing to bet the same thing can be said for a lot of people in The Palace tonight.