Concert Review

Spoon Turn SXSW Into A Huge Homecoming Party

Today, Spoon release their excellent new album Hot Thoughts, an occasion they celebrated with a three-night residency during SXSW 2017 at a venue currently known as the Main. This is the venue that used to be the old Austin establishment Emo’s, and for the duration of Spoon’s hometown takeover they rechristened the space Eno’s in honor of their drummer, Jim Eno. They curated a lineup each night, each one culminating in a surprise opener right before Spoon — New Pornographers on Tuesday, !!! on Wednesday, and Hamilton Leithauser last night.

Supposedly something like half the capacity of the venue was taken up by Spoon’s guest list, giving last night the vibe of a large party of friends and family coming out to see the band and celebrate the new album. Spoon came on around 1AM and launched right into new material with the one-two of “Do I Have To Talk You Into It” and “Hot Thoughts.” The latter in particular was already stunning live, with the band cloaked in darkness and then backlit in flashing orange lights as the song’s simmering intensity boiled over. The synth-driven funk-rock of Hot Thoughts finds the band pushing further into experiments from their last album, 2014’s They Want My Soul — songs like “Outlier” and “New York Kiss” were more glistening than what we’d come to expect from the band, especially after the dusty, ramshackle qualities of 2010’s Transference. When they played “Inside Out” right after the two new songs, or an emphatic version of Kill The Moonlight classic “Small Stakes” towards the end of the set, Spoon offered up a vision of how their increasingly deep back catalog could fit into their new aesthetic. And when they lined up the gloss of “Do You” into the slinky sleaze of “Can I Sit Next To You” into the sinuous Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga standout “Don’t You Evah,” it was a convincing depiction of through lines in their career that might’ve been less evident through the years.

There was a bit more whiplash when “The Underdog” appeared — though in a lot of ways that song is sort of a strange outlier in their songwriting despite it being one of their calling-card tracks — and that emphasized something that’s cropped up in a few of the Hot Thoughts reviews so far. For years, we talked about Spoon as a band that was beloved by critics but hard to find a story for, exactly. There isn’t much narrative to a group churning out predictably infectious and tightly crafted music every three or four years. Yet there’s more diversity in their career than they’re given credit for, especially after they found a sort of platonic ideal of their ’00s selves on Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga and subsequently wandered down new avenues on the following three records. Hot Thoughts is still more of a left-turn than they’ve often embarked on, and still one of their weirder records, but overall it was semi-surprising to see how seamlessly this stuff already fit alongside songs we’ve known for 10 or 20 years.

Then again, any time Spoon surprises you, it’s usually accompanied by a reminder like, “Oh, yeah, these guys always know exactly what they’re doing, of course this all sounds incredible even before the album’s out.” It was reminiscent of when they were on the festival circuit during the They Want My Soul album cycle and “Do You” and “Rent I Pay” already came across like classic Spoon songs indistinguishable in legacy or quality from more aged warhorses like “My Mathematical Mind.” Maybe it’s because I’ve been listening to Hot Thoughts constantly, but seeing this stuff live for the first time had the feeling of seeing something new, but also something I’ve known for a long time.?

Because of their ridiculously consistent career and the lack of a narrative or whatever, Spoon are constantly in danger of being taken for granted. But seeing all this stuff live never gets old. Hearing Britt Daniel’s weathered bark, the band’s insane (and overlooked) penchant for perfect percussive arrangements in their songs, or the way they make every big riff or synth flourish precisely just a bit more muscular onstage — none of that ever gets old. Whatever new or old sounds or predictably strong songwriting comes with a new Spoon record and tour, that’s the main takeaway: It’s always good to have them back. 

Tags: Spoon, SXSW, sxsw2017