Saturday, July 19, 2008
Evoking the Senses with Spoon in Providence
Spoon, Merge Records
Under a reddish-pink tint of light, everyone's profile looks like someone else you've known or met in your life. There isn't enough light to be sure, but just enough to fool you for a second that the guy second from the left was in your Friday discussion two years ago. Eventually though, when the lights change to a blue tint, you can see better and realize that you actually don't know anyone there. You're all just strangers who've come together to see the same band. To hear the same music.
On Thursday, July 17, Spoon played at Lupo's Heartbreak Hotel in Providence, across the street from the URI Providence campus buildings. Spoon is one of those bands that has been around for a long time, but most people don't know about. Their following is loyal, however, and as of late you would recognize some of their songs appearing in mainstream media. "My Mathematical Mind" appeared in a car commercial recently, and "The Underdog" was played in the beginning of the movie, "Cloverfield."
Back when the movie came out, my buddy Goldberg leaned over to me and asked what song it was. He said he knew the band and just couldn't place it. I had no idea. Later that night he realized it was Spoon and told me to listen to their newest CD "Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga." Right as he usually is, I liked the band, and over the last few months, they've worked their way into the few top spots of my favorite bands.
So on Thursday night Goldberg and I headed down to Lupo's to see the show, and even though I was exhausted from working a full day, aware of having another full day of work the next day, I was excited to see the band play.
As I mentioned, the following for Spoon seems to be pretty faithful, even with the influx of new fans from the mainstream exposure (myself included). I was surprised, however, to see a mix of mostly white fans in ages from what seemed to be early teens (mostly girls) to early 40s. Goldberg pointed out that it's a good sign for a band that can draw fans of many age groups, showing that the music is something that can be appealing to everyone. Still, I always find it a little awkward to be at a concert with younger and older fans. I don't know why that is.
Lupo's is set up as a two-floor night club with a stage in the back. Right before the pit area is a step up, and we were lucky enough to land standing spots right by the step. Probably for the first time in my life I was actually able to see the stage clearly. At 5'5, I was so happy that I could finally see the band I was hearing that I started to think about all of the senses and how they each play a critical role in the concert experience. I used to tell myself as a consolation that all you really need is to be able to hear the music, but now I see that that's just a bunch of malarkey.
Let's go over the five senses and how they all increase, or decrease if it should happen, the enjoyment of the show.
Sight is one of the most important senses for judgment. As soon as you look at someone, even without thinking about it or trying to, you're judging them. When Spoon came out on stage, I could see that they were having a good time and glad to be at the show. Unlike some other bands I've seen that have come out on stage looking pissed off, Spoon actually looked cool and composed. Points were immediately awarded.
Lead singer and guitarist Britt Daniel looked like he was a bit European with a faux-Flock of Seagulls-do. The body language spoke volumes, and as the members joked around on stage and got the feel for the instruments, the fans were getting ready for some good music.
At this point in time, a middle-aged couple started to make their move into my line of sight, getting closer and closer to blocking the band with every passing minute. I was getting nervous. Would my perfect view be ruined? They kept turning around to talk and make out, making the corner of my eye twitch with disgust. It sounded like they were speaking French, and I wondered if they thought this PDA was acceptable at a concert. Typically, I go to shows to hear the music and not be distracted by anyone else.
After about 10 minutes they finally started to notice my dirty looks and took off for some other part of the club, leaving a nice view to be admired. I've got to say, once you've seen the band playing, and I mean actually seen them, you always have something to think of when you listen to the music on your computer or in your car. It adds another component to the music that wasn't there before.
Obviously, just seeing the band isn't enough. You need to be able to hear them. And I don't just mean be deafened by too much bass and treble or horrible acoustics. Lupo's had very good sound quality, so that while the music was loud, you could still hear every individual instrument and the vocals, not just a mesh of noise making you bleed from the ears. My friend Elyse once said, "Music is better loud." That simple statement is incredibly true. However, you don't want to overdue it and miss the music that's there. Spoon has all of the elements of music like any other band: guitars, drums, vocals, and on top of that, a brass section with saxophone and trumpet for certain songs.
Perhaps one of the most important aspects of seeing a band live is seeing how they actually play together and on the fly, not just in a recording studio with the ability to lay down a new track if it didn't play well. As much as I love the songs that I've heard on the CD, nothing beats seeing a good musician actually freestyle and try something new. I can't imagine the kind of monotony of playing the same song night after night, each new crowd demanding the same thing. That's what got Jimi Hendrix into trouble as he tried to change his songs with each show, the crowd unaware of the talent he possessed, only wanting to hear the radio versions. In the end, Hendrix was disheartened with playing big shows because of this.
Spoon, however, was able to play their same songs, yet change up parts of the vocals or guitar solos that weren't too far away from the original so that the fan was left wondering what they just listened to. It was perfect, really. You get to hear the song you like, but get something new at the same time.
For one song, the band played a different version of "The Way We Get By" and afterward requested that if anyone in the crowd had recorded it to send it to them. You're hardly ever allowed to record a concert, let alone have the band ask you to send it to them.
This change of pace demonstrated not only the ability of the band to improvise, but how talented they are at their respective instruments. Even when some of the music was changing, Daniel would get down on the ground and bend the notes until he eventually got to where he wanted it to be.
The music touches and gets inside of you at a show. Even if you're far back from the woofers, you feel the vibrations in your bones. Your heart starts beating to the bass. With every pitch change and new beat, you find yourself moving differently. It's amazing how the only sensible thing to do at a show is nod your head. The louder and better the music is, the faster and harder you will nod, giving your approval to the band. A crowd at a good concert winds up looking like a cluster of chickens and roosters.
People keep walking by you, rubbing and pushing, stepping on toes and spilling drinks. If we are to believe that everything is made up of matter and tiny little atoms, each one not actually a solid, but just creating a larger thing that appears to be solid, then a concert must too be a living thing. Each person, drink, and instrument is just another little atom moving in unison. Some are positive and some are negative. You might be drawn to stand close to the attractive girl. You might be repulsed by the annoying kids trying to mosh. But if you pulled back and saw the whole thing from Space, you might just see one solid concert, just a mass of something listening to the same music, becoming a whole. For in that time period, you cease being one person, but become one group, all following along to the same thing for two hours.
Taste is one of those funny senses. It's dependent on smell. Without the sour, the sweet just isn't as nice. So what do you taste at a concert? A lot, really. You taste the drinks, if you're having them. With every beer or mixed drink, you numb your taste buds further, and sometimes this makes you ignorant to the fact that you're hearing crap. Other times it only enhances the good music you're listening to. When you're crammed into a small club with hundreds of other people, you start to sweat a bit. You soon might get some sweat on you lips. It tastes strong and sour, and it reminds you of physical activity, humid nights without air conditioning, and nervous situations. So you taste a bit of the atmosphere in the room, like a snake tonguing the air. But then you hear the music, and if it's good, it relieves you of the lousy tastes. It brings back the sweet to the experience. So even though the sweat is sour and unpleasant, the music sweetens the deal, and you're much more appreciative to be hearing it at that moment.
Smells often take over a concert, even though you don't think about it as you focus on your sight and sound. Your olfactory sense, or sense of smell, is most commonly associated with memory. If you walk into a bakery, you might suddenly be reminded of your grandma's kitchen for no reason at all, so you think. What's really going on, however, is your memory recalling sitting at the big table as your grandma made you your favorite cookies, and of a simpler, happier time.
At the show, the smells were varied and diverse. A girl would walk by and I'd suddenly smell some fruity shampoo or an overpriced perfume. Then a guy 10 feet away would fart and the disgusting methane smell would linger for 15 seconds before fading. Another man would walk by reeking of Axe body spray, clearly not having enough time to spring for a full on-5 minute shower.
After a while, you get jaded to the smells, and stop noticing every little thing, unless it jumps out at you as so distinctly that it puts all of the other senses on hold. One more sniff confirms that someone has lit up a joint, and as a mini flashlight from a security guard shines into the crowd, you can see a small cloud of smoke hovering above just about everyone in the pit.
By the time you leave the show, you're ready to sneeze and expel everything that was just crammed up your nose. You get outside and breath the fresh, semi-polluted city air, and get a clean slate.
At the end of the night, exhaustion was setting in. It's a lot of work to stand there and have your senses take over without your consent. Spoon came back out to play an encore with beers in hand, and I thought about how awesome it must be to be in a rock band. It's the only job where you can go to work with a beer in your hand and get cheered on for it. Daniel had a Corona in his hand and spit up a mouthful on stage in preparation for more songs.
I wonder if at some point down the rock and roll line, there was a legitimate reason for encores. I wonder if bands would say, "Thank you, good night!" and leave, the fans happy with the show. At certain shows, there certainly must have been a performance so good that the crowd wouldn't leave because they were so happy with the show. Eventually the band would pay them back with a couple more songs. Now, however, the encore is worked into every show, to the point that they shouldn't even leave the stage. Still, Spoon earned that encore.
Few things are important enough to evoke the full onslaught of sensory overload to most people anymore. For some people, music can do that. You can talk to someone with hardly anything to say, a dullard really. Then once you start talking to them about their favorite music, their eyes light up and they actually get excited. They want to share their feelings on the subject with you. Music is one of those things that just gets inside of you where no one else can do anything about it. As long as Spoon keeps playing great sets like Thursday's, they'll be doing the same for me for years to come.
The utensil, not the band.