Spoon, Broken Bells massage mathematical minds at Stubb's on the first night of SXSW
Image Credit: Whitney Pastorek/EW.comThe top of Spoon’s set list for their headlining slot in Stubb’s chilly backyard Wednesday night read, “Last SXSW Ever.” Was it? Well, we’ve got a call in to find out. But if that was the end of their relationship with this monster of a music festival — Britt Daniel has moved to Portland, after all — it was a damn fine exit interview.
On a stage festooned with old-timey lightbulbs and packed with vintage gear, the foursome (and their friend Jordan, on percussion) made their metronomic way through the hits. They didn’t dip too much deeper than Kill the Moonlight, but fresh-off-the-vine tracks like “Written in Reverse” matched up nicely next to beloved old friends like “Vittorio E.” and the poignancy of “Black Like Me,” with a cover of the Damned’s “Love Song” thrown in for good measure. Spoon may be one of the most consistent bands in all indie-rockdom: Though Daniel seemed in subdued spirits — the typical jerking and slashing of his guitar kept to a minimum save for the break in “My Mathematical Mind” — he was cheerful and yelpy. Jim Eno was his usual brilliantly steady self behind the kit, and Rob Pope’s bass echoed through the Stubb’s sound system like boulders. Even though “The Underdog” suffered from lack of album production (okay, horn section), undeniable pop gems like “I Turn My Camera On” had the crowd up front engaged in a total dance party by the time the band laid into a fierce three-song encore: “Is Love Forever,” “Rhythm and Soul,” and “Finer Feelings.” The latter’s lyrics about seeking “commercial appeal”: pointed commentary on latter-day SXSW? Only the enigmatic Mr. Daniel knows. (You can stream the full set on NPR’s website right here; recommended!)
Speaking of enigmatic: Broken Bells. Dude, what the eff? Listless, dark (literally — there were no lights on), sullen, and downright snoozy, the James Mercer/Danger Mouse collaboration could not have been less engaging if they’d just put a boombox down on stage and pressed play. With crowd interaction that failed to go much beyond Mercer’s parting wish that the crowd drink until they “pee green,” there was very little musicality or passion to be found — just sonic trickery and mumbled lyrics. “Mongrel Heart” and “The Mall and Misery” closed out the set on a somewhat more active note — the latter’s guitar line has the potential to sound great live — but this was not good. (Stay home and listen to the album; recommended!)
[Note: Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings — the third band on this bill, along with the Walkmen (strummy) and Viqueen (didn’t see ’em, stuck at Nas) — will be addressed as a later date, as the force of nature that is MISS (horn blast) SHARON (two horn blasts) JONES (entrance music) is playing about 15 times over the next couple days.]