The word “journeymen” gets tossed around a lot when talking or writing about Spoon. On the surface, it’s something of a compliment: The Austin, Texas band has been at it for more than two decades, releasing album after album of solid, dependable rock and roll. Not one of those albums has been a dud, and the longest draught of new Spoon music has been the four years between 2010’s Transference and this year’s excellent They Want My Soul. But there’s a subtext to that “journeymen” tag: Spoon’s musical output is so good, so reliable, and so consistent that it’s boring. It’s a problem countless bands would surely kill for, but for Spoon, it isn’t exactly accurate. Take the band’s live show: Wednesday night at Riverside Theater, Spoon lived up to its journeymen reputation in all the right ways, with a set that was solid and dependable, yes, but certainly never dull.
Spoon is a band with few quote-unquote “hits,” though nearly every song that made Wednesday’s setlist could be considered a fan favorite; applause and hoisted beers were offered for both old selections and new-album deep-cuts. Following a revelatory opening set from industrial-tinged avant-pop group EMA, frontman Britt Daniel and company launched into an appropriately lean, tightly wound set of lean, tightly wound rock with “Small Stakes,” the first track from 2002’s Kill The Moonlight. In the wake of vague critical indifference to Transference, the new They Want My Soul represents a terrific return-to-form for the band, and tracks from that album were given plenty of attention live: the punch-press precision of “Rent I Pay” was reproduced to a T, and the snaky vibe of “Knock Knock Knock” and “Rainy Taxi” echoed perfectly throughout the theater. A loose mic cord gave Daniel some trouble during two other Soul tracks, “Inside Out” and the unstoppably awesome “Do You” (the latter featuring some nifty lighting tricks via a prism hanging above the stage), but did little to kill the mood. In a show where a fan brought an oversized sign asking for “My Mathematical Mind” (Daniel: “You came prepared, man!”), killing the mood was a near impossibility.
And so went the rest of the night, which included such monster tracks as “Turn My Camera On,” “Rhythm And Soul,” “You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb,” “Don’t Make Me A Target,” and the forever-stunning “The Beast And Dragon Adored.” The only break came during the first encore song: Noting that the last time the band had performed in Milwaukee was with the late Jay Reatard for New Year’s Eve 2009, and that it had been Reatard’s final show, Daniel and the band paid tribute to the musician with an impromptu cover of “No Time.” (“Somebody record this!” implored bassist Rob Pope.) It was a nice moment—similar to one in 2010—that only further cemented Spoon’s reputation as a no-nonsense, decidedly un-rock-star band more interested in making music than in wallowing in the nonsense that often surrounds it. If effortlessly cranking out album after album—or live show after live show—of solid, dependable rock and roll is a crime, consider Spoon guilty as charged.