The month-old “They Want My Soul,” the eighth album of Spoon’s 21-year career, is the band’s most burnished release. The quartet, long known for its musical crags and cavities, has added a fifth member, guitarist-keyboardist Alex Fischel, to plump its lean sound. On Tuesday night, at the first of three sold-out shows at the Lincoln Theatre, the band visually announced its revamped approach by taking the stage while two spotlights projected blue and then red rays from the stage.
It was a spectacle, but a minimalist one, which suited Spoon’s only slightly prettified new style. Singer-guitarist Britt Daniel and his cohorts were dressed all in white, which gave the impression of a crack team of technicians. Yet the band’s songs remained ragged, jumpy and noisy.
With the addition of Fischel, Spoon can offer dual-guitar vamps, as well as interlocking synth parts that occasionally recalled “Don’t You Want Me”-era Human League. The 95-minute set’s first few tunes, which included the walloping new “Rent I Pay” and the older but just as muscular “Don’t You Evah,” were tightly focused. The latter even closed with a Daniel guitar solo that was surprisingly arena-rock-ish.
But things soon became more relaxed, and Daniel turned chattier and more spontaneous. The light show didn’t stop, but it became less integral as the group took requests and inserted plenty of its back catalogue amid the “They Want My Soul” selections.
The informality wasn’t all to the good. The show ran a little too long, and the pacing sometimes seemed random. But randomness is part of Spoon’s charm. Instruments drop out, musical payoffs never quite arrive and songs end abruptly, often with an instrumental bleat or snarl. Dub reggae and its influence on 1980s British post-punk came through in Spoon’s sudden shifts, open spaces and emphasis on bass and percussion. (That last element also reflects drummer-producer Jim Eno’s central role in shaping the group’s style.)
For all its punky starkness, Spoon is also a roots-rock band of sorts. That could be heard in the band’s roadhouse rhythms: Most of the songs were either strolls or struts, although pushed to breathless tempos for such tunes as “You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb,” a thrillingly skeletal romp. More traditional were such near-ballads as “Black Like Me,” the final encore, and “I Summon You.”
If the former’s plea for “someone to take care of me tonight” skirted singer-songwriter territory, Daniel and company are great at skirting. As the Tuesday show demonstrated, Spoon’s ingredients are familiar, but the band engineers an exquisite tension by never assembling them exactly as expected.
Spoon performs Thursday at the Lincoln Theatre, 1215 U St. NW. The show is sold out. Jenkins is a freelance writer.