The mid-90s alt-rock explosion ended with a whimper for most of the bands, and most of those that survived the disappointment retreated to the indies with their tails between their legs. The Austin trio Spoon was one of the many casualties, jumping from Matador to Elektra only to be dropped within four months of the release of the terrific Series of Sneaks in 1998. But front man Britt Daniel didn’t shuffle off quietly. On the 1999 single “The Agony of Laffitte” b/w “Laffitte Don’t Fail Me Now,” released by the tiny Omaha indie Saddle Creek, Daniel bid a not-so-fond farewell to A and R rep Ron Laffitte: “It’s like I knew two of you, man / One before and after we shook hands.” Spoon has since joined the roster of Chapel Hill’s Merge label, which released its third (and best) album, Girls Can Tell, earlier this year, but Daniel is still pissed. In “Lines in the Suit” he sings, “How come I feel so washed-up / At such a tender age now,” and in “Believing Is Art” he wails through gritted teeth, “Take out the trash with one hand / It falls apart just like a band.” Yet the process of getting chewed up and spit out by the machine seems to have liberated him as a songwriter. He no longer sounds like he wishes he were in the Pixies, and he’s learned a thing or two about restraint. His guitar is absent from the mix for long stretches of time, which makes its sudden appearance all the more lacerating. The lean but twitchy grooves of drummer Jim Eno and (since departed) bassist Josh Zarbo convey a precise depth reminiscent of classic soul music, and Daniel’s nasal vocals have never sounded more flexible while darting in and out of the pocket. When the band–now a quartet with keyboardist Sean Kirkpatrick and bassist Roman Kuebler–played at South by Southwest last month, they sounded even more focused and economical than on the album, stretching the catchy melodies over taut rhythms without a wasted gesture. Monday, April 23, 10 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western; 773-276-3600.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Frank Swider.