Spoon, Operators and !!! @ Central Park Summerstage | 9/10/14
On a beautiful, late-summer Wednesday evening in New York City, Spoon brought their no-nonsense blend of blues rock and swirling Stones-pop to Central Park Summerstage. Touring behind their most recent, critically-acclaimed record, They Want My Soul, the group also brought along two of their favorite bands, Operators and !!! (pronounced chk-chk-chk).
Led by indie-rock stalwart Dan Boeckner, Operators started the evening off with a pleasant set of sunny electro-pop. “I’m not going to lie, this is one of those shows we work harder at,” announced Boeckner, who also co-fronts the indie rock supergroup Divine Fits alongside Spoon’s frontman Britt Daniel. With drummer Sam Brown (also a member of Divine Fits), guitarist Dustin Hawthorne, and Devojka on keyboards, the four-piece group–who is about to wrap up its extensive summer tour–relied on its big synth hooks and tight grooves for a generous, if fairly non-descript, opening set. At one point later on during their relatively short set, the group, still playing in the late afternoon sunlight, announced that they “feel like we’re a nighttime group, I hope we make you feel like it’s the nighttime.”
And that was largely the purpose of Operators, who played a smattering of selections from their plainly-titled debut E.P. 1: to serve as as an agreeable, well-chosen first group for the rest of the evening of music.
Next up was the California based dance-rock outfit !!!, fronted by the ebullient, flamboyant lead singer Nic Offer. The six-piece group’s nine-song set showcased highlights from their 2013 record Thr!!!er (produced by Spoon’s Jim Eno), with Offer strutting and sweating around the stage as he thrilled the crowd with his frenetic dancing.
Offer, who comes across as a cross between Mick Jagger and an ’80s aerobic instructor, is a serviceable lead singer, with his vocals shifting from airy falsetto down to an earthy growl, often times from one line to the next. On songs like “When the Water’s Cold,” the group shows off its ability to write a concise, witty, story-driven lyric, but more frequently, on songs like “One Girl/One Boy” and “Slyd,” Offer treats his songs choruses as simple mantras to be chanted repeatedly, or more likely, to be danced to. When Offer, who went into the crowd to dance with audience members on three separate occasions during his set, asked the crowd if he was giving them enough smiles, the answer was a resounding yes.
By the time Spoon took the stage at 8:30, the near sold-out crowd was quite eager to hear the Austin-based group jump into the type of sturdy, dependable sets they’ve been known to deliver for the past two decades. Opening with a one-two punch (“Knock Knock Knock” and “Rent I Pay”) from their latest record, the band showed from the get-go that they’re excited to be touring behind new material, and the group would go on to play more than half of They Want My Soul throughout the set. Of all the new material, “New York Kiss,” the most danceable, geographically relevant tune of the quartet’s set, and “Do You,” which already comes across as a tried-and-true classic, may have provided the biggest highlights. The latter, with it’s infectious backup vocal hook and its yearning chorus, is sure to be a staple of the veteran group’s setlists for many years to come.
One recurring thread to Spoon’s top-notch 90-minute set on Wednesday evening was how many songs are expertly guided by bassist Rob Pope, who has been with the group since their 2007 breakthrough Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. That 2007 album supplied a heavy dose of the group’s source material on stage Wednesday evening. And on songs like “Don’t You Evah” and “I Turn My Camera On,” it was Pope’s driving bass lines that anchored Spoon’s thrusting sound over and over again. More generally, Spoon, with a workmanlike Britt Daniels packing over 20 songs into less than two hours, frequently delivered pin-point replications of their crisp studio productions throughout the evening (The arpeggiated keyboard runs on “Inside Out,” from They Want My Soul, was particularly impressive). Spoon showed off its subtle punk energy on “Got Nuffin,” flared its clear debt to the Stones on “Rent I Pay,” and showed off its prettier, melodic side (with a touch of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers) on “Anything You Want,” which was a fan request halfway through the set.
“Well you call me your baby/when you’re holding my hand/but the way that you hurt me/I just don’t understand,” Daniel sang, in a mix of adolescent naivety and adult pain, halfway through the set during “I Just Don’t Understand.” Then, during the encore, Daniel and company performed another new song “Outlier,” sandwiched between crowd favorites “You Got Yr Cherry Bomb” and “The Underdog,” the former of which resulted in the first genuine, feel good crowd sing-along of the evening.
Indeed, Daniel and Spoon continued to eschew rock and roll theatrics or grandstanding in favor of their straightforward, bare-bones performance Wednesday evening. Although he clearly seemed to be in good spirits (“It’s been a really special night for us,” he told the crowd during the encore), Daniel had little else to say to the crowd, as is typical. And although he is certainly not a magnetic frontman (especially after the intense crowdworking from chk chk chk’s Nic Offer), the singer’s steadfastness provides its own endearing allure. Switching between electric guitar, keyboards, and acoustic guitar, the forty-three-year-old singer worked hard and successfully engaged the large Summerstage crowd by simply reminding them of Spoon’s unshakeable, (and ever-growing) songbook.
Setlist for Spoon @ Central Park Summerstage
Knock Knock Knock
Rent I Pay
Don’t You Evah
Who Makes Your Money
Rhthm & Soul
The Ghost of You Lingers
My Mathematical Mind
Anything You Want
Don’t Make Me a Target
I Just Don’t Understand
I Summon You
I Turn My Camera On
New York Kiss
Black Like Me
You Got Yr Cherry Bomb