Spoon's indie rock makes easy 'Transference' from album to stage at 9:30 club

Dynamic: Britt Daniel offered big melodies on Monday.
Dynamic: Britt Daniel offered big melodies on Monday. (Kyle Gustafson For The Washington Post)
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By Chris Richards
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Spoon doesn't harness the chaos of rock-and-roll so much as tuck it into a straitjacket.

The Texas-born indie troupe zipped it up plenty tight on Monday, strutting through the first of two nights at the 9:30 club in support of its splendid new album "Transference," the leanest, most compelling effort in the band's lean, compelling, 14-year discography.

Frontman Britt Daniel kicked things off by his lonesome, his blond haystack of hair tousled as if he had just fallen from his bunk on the tour bus. He ambled onstage wearing all black -- leather jacket, jeans, even an acoustic guitar coated in raven lacquer -- and immediately transformed 2001's buzzing, sinister "Me and the Bean" into a jingling-jangling showstopper. Who cares if it was the first song?

"I have your blood inside my heart," he growled, already drunk on the sound of his own melodic rasp. It was only six strings and a pair of vocal cords up there, but Daniel unlocked their potency with enough gusto to make you wonder how a world of coffeehouse troubadours could ever sound so boring.

At first touch, Spoon's stately rock tunes seem hyper-cool to the point of innocuousness. But let them course through your bloodstream for a spell and they reveal themselves as tightly scripted, expertly controlled masterstrokes.

On Monday, the best of them came from "Transference" and were executed with a surgeon's precision. Every sonic detail was just so -- from the clanging piano lines to sandpapery guitar riffs to the carefully regulated gradations reverb that shadowed Daniel's every syllable.

The power-pop grit of "Got Nuffin" and the tumbling abandon of "Trouble Comes Running" proved just how well Daniel can build a song, delivering big melodies in economically packed bursts. But during the latter, his bandmates -- keyboardist Eric Harvey, bassist Rob Pope, drummer Jim Eno and moonlighting member Steve Patterson -- loosened the screws, playing fast and free during the song's galloping finale. Daniel let out a cathartic howl, as if losing his viselike grip over the proceedings put him in some kind of physical pain.

Nearly all of the show's clunky moments felt purely intentional. Daniel's solos on "The Beast and Dragon, Adored" and "Don't Make Me a Target" were choppy little exercises, played as if he were testing out his Gibson archtop at a guitar shop.

But there were some real accidents, too. As Harvey thwacked his keyboard during the opening bars of "Written in Reverse," Daniel was forced to bail. "Hold up!" the lanky frontman declared. "I can't start this song when I break a string in the first few seconds." Later, a flubbed guitar line during the taut funk of "Nobody Gets Me but You" served as another reminder that these meticulously crafted songs were being played by real live humans.

The most gratifying moment in the band's 23-song set came when the capacity crowd began clapping along to the easy gait of "I Summon You." For a performance where every aural detail was so painstakingly considered, the reverent audience seemed to understand its role, trading sounds with the band as if forging some sacred sonic pact.

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