Spoon and Guided by Voices at Irving

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It’s rare
for a band to emulate their records onstage this precisely and still redefine
the songs. At their Irving Plaza show, Spoon provided few diversions from their
studio roadmaps, but the songs they were highlighting, from the recent Girls
Can Tell
, were transformed by the very exposure to open air. Listening to
the album for the past few months, it was hard for me to believe that this music
could exist outside a pair of headphones; it’s so claustrophobic, tightly
wound and minimalist. It only took a visual/kinetic manifestation of each carefully
considered note to envelop the crowd.



Onstage, frontman
Britt Daniels fit into the Texas lineage of sharp-dressed men, but his internalized
intensity was miles from the showmanship of ZZ Top. A little more reverb on
the drums, a little more delay on the guitar–that was about the only aural
proof that this wasn’t prerecorded lip-synching. Fresher and cleaner than
Milli Vanilli, Girls Can Tell is waist-deep in small-scope high fidelity,
like pop music from the class of 1980–think Glass Houses, Look
Sharp!
, Private Eyes or Tusk. But imagine that new-wave pop
thrill filtered through the ears of Steve Albini, where hooks are big but the
snare drum bosses everything else around (except for those stray harmonics that
fly off the guitars once in a while). When Spoon launched into the "Kashmir"-like
riffs of "Fitted Shirt," you had to wonder if this is how Albini tried
to make that Page and Plant reunion album sound.


Before leaving
the stage, Daniels called Guided by Voices "the greatest rock band in the
world," or something to that effect. Though I wouldn’t begrudge GBV
the high praises they garner with honest, consistent perspiration, I was surprised
to see the claim answered with hundreds of pumped fists and yells. In the interim
between bands, a guy who looked vaguely like Uncle Jesse from Dukes of Hazzard
came out and read two short poems. This was greeted with cries of "GBV!
GBV!" and "Show us your tits!"


And then the
headliners came on. It had been four years since I’d seen this band, and
it seemed their audience had drastically changed. Amid this Woodstock ’99-style
crowd, Robert Pollard’s puckered lips and boasts of cigarette/alcohol intake
started to lose their charm. He’s getting older, too–fills out the
shirt a little more, kicks those legs a little less. Still shits out songs at
a liquid rate, though, so every two minutes he introduced another one, each
from a different album. Even when the performance overcame the varying quality
of the songs, it didn’t transcend the desperate feel of the proceedings.
Remembering that Pollard’s wife recently left him, I thought of an early-90s
interview I read with Bruce Springsteen, in which he attributed his endurance-testing
concerts to "pure fear and self-loathing," and the inability to find
happiness once he got offstage. Robert Pollard seems to be living like that,
and cultivating an audience of codependents.



 

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