Spoon has been a band for so long now that it is legally allowed to drink, and yet before Friday, at no point in their 22 years together had the members crossed the state line into Maine to perform.
Over that time, they’ve built a base of fans that all have an active interest in keeping a certain kind of rock alive – mature, buttoned-up, tuneful rock with a heavy emphasis on rhythm and a dash of sex appeal. On Friday, The State Theatre audience was dotted with faces I see around town, but rarely at big concerts, imbuing the room with a different energy than most concerts.
The band made up for lost time with a generous, career-spanning set that leaned heavily on their middle period of 2005’s “Gimme Fiction” and 2007’s “Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga” and extended to two robust encores – all of this before their now-famous jaunt up the street to Empire to watch and eventually take part in local musician Jeff Beam’s after-party. The crowd was not quite as overtly rapturous as at some State Theatre concerts, but it was clearly on the band’s wavelength.
That may come down to the band’s “average guy” image. Spoon is glam rock without being glamorous – or post-punk without the attitude – and frontman Britt Daniel carries himself less like Iggy Pop and more like the only temp worker who knows how to fix the copy machine – but I suspect that’s part of the appeal, too. When the band played “The Beast and Dragon, Adorned,” it sounded like the best Ziggy Stardust-era David Bowie song not written by Bowie, with Daniel’s down-to-earth demeanor belying the fact that he can also play guitars like that.
Daniel’s singing was also in fine form, even if he seemed a bit protective of his vocal chords at times (with such a raspy voice, it seems sensible). He’s among the best rock vocalists working today, singing with an easy coolness but capable of adding layers of texture and soul when the material calls for it, as on slow-burners such as “Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga” ‘s “Black Like Me” and the brand-new song “Satellite.”
Most longtime Spoon fans, however, understand that drummer Jim Eno is as crucial to the band as Daniel, and those who didn’t know this fact no doubt came away from the concert with a full understanding of it; you can set a clock to his drumming, and his fills add more melodic flourishes than some keyboard riffs. The band’s best work often features Daniel’s guitar and Eno’s drums braiding tightly around each other into lockstep grooves, as exemplified by a funky stretch of the set that included “Don’t You Evah,” “Inside Out” and “I Turn My Camera On.”
Eno’s other major contribution to the band is his finely honed studio sensibility. Indeed, Spoon’s records are so wonderfully produced that their live renditions of songs have a tough time competing with the studio versions. The State Theatre show often shined brightest when the band diverged from the studio compositions, such as when they opened up new terrain in “Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga” toss-off “The Ghost of You Lingers” or surfed on the elegant groove of “Inside Out” until it melted away.
That song, along with the sparkling pop of “Do You” and the Rolling Stones-like rhythm of “Rainy Taxi,” got some of the biggest crowd responses of the night. As these are from their latest album, it’s a great sign – keep in mind that they’re at roughly the point in a band’s shelf life when the Stones themselves were receiving “steel wheelchair” jokes. At one point, Daniel promised they’d soon return to Maine, and when they do, the band should still be in improbable ascendance.
WHERE: State Theatre, Portland
REVIEWED: June 19