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Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

Transference

Spoon, Deerhunter and The Strange Boys at The Sound Academy in Toronto

Photo By Frank YangFrank YangAs of Monday night, it had been four and a half years since I saw Spoon live and just over four years since I’d been to The Sound Academy (nee The Docks) for a show. One of these streaks I was anxious to break; the other I was not. To be fair, I only missed one of their Toronto shows – a 2008 appearance at the Kool Haus in support of Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga – but apparently that was the one where they officially crossed over to “rock star” status. That last time at The Phoenix in November 2005, it felt like a show for Spoon fans – this time, at a room three times the size but just as full, it felt more like the show was simply the place to be that night. That’s not intended with any snarkiness, just an observation.

This tour saw the band bringing two others on tour with them – one who surely benefited from being shown off in front of such-sized audiences and another that probably could have packed a respectably-sized room all on their own. The former of these were The Strange Boys, who hailed from Austin, Texas and proudly carried on that city’s tradition of psychedelic-garage rock. Granted, they weren’t overly trippy, preferring focused pop structures over sprawling jams and weren’t above injecting some twang into their sound, but their roots and skill at said stylings were clear. A little more energy or stage presence wouldn’t have been unwelcome, but still a solid start to the evening from a band making their first visit to Canada.

Deerhunter, on the other hand, were probably responsible for drawing no small percentage of the audience, if not just for themselves then for tilting the decision of whether to see Spoon in one the city’s least-favoured venues into the “yea” column. Though their psychedelic/shoegazing/pop affinities would make them seem the sort of thing I’d really be into, I had not listened to Deerhunter much before and certainly hadn’t seen them live. And now I wish I had, because their set was pretty superb – musically, they were far more direct (read: less wall of noise) than I’d expected, but with enough bludgeoning volume and droning excursions to keep it sufficiently trippy and the show itself was livened up with Bradford Cox’s space cadet stage banter, an unexpected stage invasion from one of The Black Lips (or perhaps expected considering that before they began the song, Cox dedicated it to his fellow Atlantans) and another guest appearance from Spoon’s Britt Daniel, who took over on guitar from Cox while the gangly bandleader engaged in some on-stage shenanigans I couldn’t actually see from my angle – see the eye review for specifics. As far as their recorded works go, I’ve only really spent time with Microcastle – further recommendations are welcome.

I don’t, however, need any help getting acquainted with the collected works of Spoon, having followed them attentively since 2001’s Girls Can Tell, and if there’s a downside to their consistently excellent output over this decade – hell, century – it’s that it can cause one to take them for granted a bit. Some have criticized this year’s Transference as being less focused than its pop-friendly predecessor Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, I – for reasons I can’t quite articulate – prefer it. Both sides of the argument would have been perfectly happy with Monday night’s set list, then, as it opened with Transference’s sublime closer “Nobody Gets Me But You” and drew heavily from both records – seven tracks from each – while also hitting most of the essential notes from all the other Merge releases, even going as far back as 1997’s Soft Effects for the unexpected, “I Could See The Dude”.

In total, they ran through an impressive 25 songs over an hour and forty minutes, aptly showcasing the band’s unique sound and dynamic. Britt Daniel – he of the scratchy voice and stabby six-string – is front and centre, dancing around the stage in his herky-jerky manner as if pulled uncontrollably by his guitar but the contributions of his bandmates can’t be overstated, even if they seem perfectly happy to stay in the background. Eric Harvey’s keys provided the melodic underpinnings that allow Daniel’s guitar lines to wander while he impossibly tight and just funky enough rhythm section of Jim Eno and Rob Pope were omnipresent on this night – possibly because the Sound Academy’s acoustics leaned way towards the bassy. And don’t get me started on the sightlines – it’s a sad situation when you find yourself pining for the environs of the Kool Haus.

In my comments from that Phoenix show in 2005, I noted that ‘I will have to amend my one-line synopsis on Spoon live from “they put on a good show” to “they usually put on a good show, but sometimes they put on a GREAT show”. If Monday was a proper indication of how far they’ve progressed as a live act in the past half-decade, then their work on stage is almost on par with in the studio and I’ll have to update my notes to read, “they put on a great show” – no qualifiers.

Westword, NOW, CBC, The Quietus, The Toronto Star, The Chronicle Herald,NPR, The Toronto Sun and The San Francisco Chronicle have feature pieces on Spoon. Spin has excerpted this month’s feature piece that puts Britt Daniel in conversation with Ray Davies and New York Magazine talks to him about the art of the set list. Chart, The Globe & Mail and Exclaim have reviews of the show. The Fly profiles The Strange Boys.

Photos: Spoon, Deerhunter, The Strange Boys @ The Sound Academy – March 29, 2010
MP3: Spoon – “The Underdog”
MP3: Spoon – “I Turn My Camera On”
MP3: Spoon – “The Way We Get By”
MP3: Spoon – “This Book Is A Movie”
MP3: Spoon – “Mountain To Sound”
MP3: Spoon – “Chips & Dip”
MP3: Spoon – “Idiot Driver”
MP3: Deerhunter – “Wash Off”
MP3: Deerhunter – “Rainwater Cassette Exchange”
Video: Spoon – “Written In Reverse”
Video: Spoon – “The Underdog”
Video: Spoon – “Don’t You Evah”
Video: Spoon – “The Two Sides Of Monsieur Valentine”
Video: Spoon – “I Turn My Camera On”
Video: Spoon – “Sister Jack”
Video: Spoon – “Jonathan Fisk”
Video: Spoon – “Small Stakes”
Video: Spoon – “Everything Hits At Once”
Video: Deerhunter – “Agoraphobia”
Video: Deerhunter – “Strange Lights”
Video: The Strange Boys – “Be Brave”
Video: The Strange Boys – “Woe Is You And Me”

The Line Of Best Fit and Montreal Gazette have interviews with Jonathan Meiburg of Shearwater; The Gazette has also posted the full transcript of their interview. Shearwater play Lee’s Palace tomorrow night, April 1.

Also on the bill for that show are Wye Oak, who played a Tiny Desk Concert for NPR.

Daytrotter is featuring a session with Richard Buckner.

Paste reports that Tift Merritt will release a new record entitled See You On The Moon on June 1. The Fayetteville Observer has an interview with Merritt.

Pitchfork has details on Blitzen Trapper’s new album Destroyer Of The Void, due out June 8.

MP3: Blitzen Trapper – “Heaven & Earth”

Jeff Tweedy of Wilco is interviewed by The Miami Herald, Palm Beach Pulse and The Weekender while Le Blogotheque has a Take-Away Show with the band.

The Fly talks to The National frontman Matt Berninger about their new album High Violet, out May 11. They play Massey Hall on June 8 and 9.

LAist and The Dallas Observer chat with Ted Leo, who’s released a new video from The Brutalist Bricks. A Toronto show has also finally been announced – Ted and the Pharmacists will be at Lee’s Palace on June 26, tickets $15.

Video: Ted Leo & The Pharmacists – “The Mighty Sparrow”

Spinner, Prefix and Blurt have features on the Drive-By Truckers, who bring their new album The Big To-Do to Lee’s Palace for two nights next week, April 6 and 7.

Their respective members have moved on to new projects for the time being, but that hasn’t stopped Monsters Of Folk from releasing a new video from their self-titled album.

Video: Monsters Of Folk – “Dear God”

Crawdaddy profiles John Vanderslice.

NPR is streaming the entirety of Joanna Newsom’s concert in Washington DC last week.

Under The Radar talks to School Of Seven Bells’ Alejandra Deheza about their new album Disconnect From Desire. She says it will be out this Spring; it now being Spring, I am less confident than her about this point – it will be out this year, though.

Phantogram have released a new video from Eyelid Movies. If you’ve been having trouble finding in stores in Canada, there’s a reason – apparently it’s not out here until April 6, their deal with Barsuk not counting north of the 49th? Don’t know, but it’s worth seeking out wherever you have to go to do it. Playtonic Dialogues has an interview.

Video: Phantogram – “Mouthful Of Diamonds”

Portland atmospheric electronicist Eluvium will be at the Drake on May 22 in support of his new album Similes; tickets $12 in advance.

MP3: Eluvium – “The Motion Makes Me Last”

tUnE-yArDs brings her much-feted (but not really understood by me) debut BiRd-BrAiNs to the Horseshoe on June 13 – tickets $12 in advance. I tried, really I did.

MP3: tUnE-yArDs – “Sunlight”
Video: tUnE-yArDs – “Real Live Flesh”

Blurt, Pitchfork and Paul Westerberg – via The New York Times – eulogize Alex Chilton of Big Star.

By : Frank Yang at 8:04 am
Category: Concert Reviews

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

RSS Feed for this post9 Responses.
  1. danieljosef says:

    Frank, with regards to tUnE-yArDs, it’s all about the live show, I really can’t get into her album either. I saw her open for Think About Life at OTT last year, and her set was probably one of my favuorite live shows of the year. She’s incredible.

  2. Paul says:

    Frank great review of the Spoon show. I had skipped many, many shows at the Sound Academy because I hate the venue so much, but I just couldn’t not attend this – Spoon AND Deerhunter! I was sold. They were both incredible, but I am back to avoiding this venue at all costs. It was awful. I can’t believe that this place is used so frequently these days. I gave it another chance this time because I hadn’t been since they renovated it, but I’ll never see another show there.

  3. M.M. says:

    re: Deerhunter – i’d say start with Microcastle/Weird Era, then Rainwater Cassette Exchange, then work back to the Fluorescent Grey EP and Cryptograms (and if those last 2 don’t do it for you, switch to Atlas Sound instead).

  4. matt says:

    did spoon play “the way we get by”?

  5. Frank Yang says:

    yup – second song. It was really a near-perfect set list as far as covering their “hits” or “shoulda been hits”. Pure pop.

  6. Luke Andrews says:

    It was my first time at the Sound Academy and, aside from the physical location itself, I don’t really get all the complaints. For one, I thought the sound quality was very good (for Spoon’s set anyway — opening bands never have good sound). Are there other similarly-sized venues that are really that much nicer? It seems to me any big venue is going to have bad sight lines unless it’s got seats and a sloped floor, which is a different beast altogether. Also, the beer wasn’t a total rip off. Am I missing something?

  7. Bruce says:

    Really wanted to see Spoon, really don’t like the Sound Academy. This time, hate won over love. Good to hear the band was great, so, sorry I missed it, but according to Paul, the venue doesn’t seem to have improved much from my last time there (and from the sound of Luke’s experience, either he lucked out with a great spot, or is just incredibly easygoing!) And I don’t believe there is any other similarly-sized venue in Toronto, except maybe the under-renovation Sony Centre (where I would have gone to see Spoon in a heartbeat). After that, I think it’s a big jump to the ACC, with nothing really in between.

    Frank, you imply that you weren’t loving the venue and its sightlines either, but it looks like you were shooting from the pit, no?

  8. Frank Yang says:

    yeah, was shooting from the pit so for the first 3 songs of the set, the sightlines were great. Unfortunately the pit exits to far house left, and the crowd was so thick there was no real way of fighting my way into a better angle. So basically I was at maybe 15-degrees from the face of the stage, pretty poor line of sight. Sound isn’t really optimized for that space either, obviously. If they closed that area off so that everyone was directly in line with the stage and maybe raised the stage, it’d be better but they haven’t so it’s not.

    It’ll take something pretty awesome to get me back there – Jonsi will probably do it. But will skip The New Pornographers there.

    There really is a dearth of venues in this town between ~2000 (Kool Haus) and Ricoh (~6000). SA @ ~3000 is basically it.

  9. Bruce says:

    So, what, they kick you out of the pit after a few tunes? Shameful!

    Yeah, between KoolHaus and the ACC, I’d forgotten about the Ricoh, but it’s rarely used — maybe not a favourite of promoters. And the less said about the dismal Arrow Hall, the better.