This year's SXSW had, as previously noted by this and other TW writers, no shortage of outstandingness. A perennial highlight is seeing Spoon and/or lead singer/songwriter Britt Daniel perform in front of a hometown crowd. Indeed, the august institution Austin City Limits has recognized the appeal of Spoon in front of an Austin crowd--the group's debut on the live music show, recorded early last year, was a triumph for both Spoon and ACL.
So it was with great anticipation that we attended Daniel's showcase performance at the Red-Eyed Fly in Austin. It was well-known going in that Daniel would be performing material from Spoon's forthcoming The Beast and Dragon Are Adored, which is to be released at an undisclosed time in 2004.
Regrettably, we were unaware at the time we'd be writing about this particular event--we're writing about it now, because he'll be appearing solo at Tucson's Solar Culture Gallery on tax day--and we took few notes, so we're going on beer-addled memory.
Our first observation was that Britt Daniel may be vying for the appellation "The Man in Black," now that Johnny Cash is gone. Britt, keep up the awesome songwriting, marry a fundamentalist Christian, and maybe. He loves the black shirt, that Britt. But we don't blame him.
Daniel took the stage armed with only an acoustic guitar and some kind of crazy Radio Raheem-style "ghetto blaster" (although in the Red-Eyed Fly's rocky, partially outdoor layout, it was more of a "grotto blaster"). He does this during solo performances, playing primitive "audio cassette tapes" with beat-box loops that he strums over. Somebody call El-P! We got some unrecognized hip hop ova heyah! What this technique recalls is the beat-boxing Britt did for the "Stay Don't Go" demo, which wound up being the actual percussion track on the album. The technique is effective, sparse and interesting all at once.
Everybody in Spoon (except for former keyboard player Kevin Lovejoy, poached last summer by Michelle Branch) was at the show (as were Mark Eitzel, Bob Weston and Matador Records/12XU's Gerard Cosloy, a lesser "holy trinity" of indie), and of course, we wondered whether they would suit up, put on their game faces and get everybody on the same page, er ... stage. But this was Britt's show, and he proved it without resorting to grandstanding antics like claiming, "Spoon's not gonna play," and then having them play anyway. Good on ya, Britt.
So a relaxed, confident Daniel took the stage at 11 p.m. The anticipation of the by-then-capacity crowd was palpable. Daniel began with Kill the Moonlight's "The Way We Get By," we think, but we know it was in there somewhere. The new material sounded strong, particularly a song we believe might be called "The Two Sides of Monseiur Valentin." Apologies if we're incorrect. Another song that will likely be a soulful rocker on the album referred to "nickel bags" repeatedly, and we infer it's about somebody's problem with drugs. It was particularly poignant that we then noticed all the fans/industry scum surreptitiously puffing tuff on their one-hitters. We overheard a heckler shouting "Nickelback! Nickelback!" and Britt obligingly played some strains of "How You Remind Me." Or at least we wished he had. But he did chuckle at our (OK, so it was us heckling) "wry" remark.
The set was uniformly strong, and at no point did we say to ourselves "Damn! Why couldn't Spoon have played?!" The new songs were totally consistent with Britt's evolution as a songwriter, evoking Kill the Moonlight, but rocking harder. We remember thinking, "This is what we seek in rock music!" The consummate gentleman, Daniel stayed (as did we) to see the other acts that played this showcase, even down to the bitter end, when only 20 or so people remained for Thalia Zedek.
The Beast and Dragon Are Adored will undoubtedly be the album that catapults Spoon and Britt Daniel into the orbit of MTV and KFMA, which is regrettable. But Britt 'n' 'em are ready.