In an era where just about everyone in the rock realm has a gimmick that all but ensues a quick rise and precipitous fall, Austin’s Spoon can seem like a quaint anomaly – a band that’s gradually developed and refined its sound and personality over the course of a decade and a half. In that time, their Gotham visits have evolved from living-room intimate gatherings to the full-scale theater show presented here.
While there’s nothing terribly dramatic about Spoon, the band didn’t seem out of place on the grand Radio City stage, nor did they allow the setting to impinge upon their natural less-is-more approach. Frontman Britt Daniel threw down the gauntlet from the onset in a solo version of the amiably loopy “Me and the Bean” – a tune that quickly gave way to the skeletal-but-dynamic “Mystery Zone,” which emphasized the power of the band’s underrated rhythm section.
While an air of intellectualism certainly hangs over Spoon – they took their name from a song by drone-rock pioneers Can, and boast songs like “My Mathematical Mind” (one of this perf’s highlights) – they’re not doctrinaire shoegazers. From the tense , serpentine “Don’t Make Me a Target” to an unlikely singalong on the campfire-styled “Black Like Me,” the band aimed at the heart as often as at the head, an approach that proved mostly compelling.
Equally intriguing was the band’s approach to the obligatory smattering of cover tunes – which not only focused on giving props to their peers, but actually included said peers in the mix. Dan Boeckner of Wolf Parade was hauled out to bolster a cover of that band’s Dan Boeckner, and – even more compellingly – Eleanor Friedberger of Fiery Furnaces joined in on a riveting rendition of her “Waiting to Know You.”
Yes, the band leaned a bit heavily on the horn section that cameod on a passel of mid-perf songs – notably “Don’t You Evah – but for the most part, the sense was of watching the inner workings of what Robert Fripp once called a “small, mobile, intelligent unit,” a bracing spectacle indeed.