Phoenix - I had seen the Versailles band at ACL, where they impressed the hell out of me, so I suspected I was in for a treat here. The sextet opened with "Lisztomania," off their latest offering, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and quickly had the crowd in thrall. They mixed in some loud fuzz rock from their previous albums to complement the dancier numbers off Wolfgang. Lead singer Thomas Mars showed his typical humility, thanking the crowd profusely between numbers, but also displayed some swagger, swinging the microphone before catching it. He even dropped the mic on the stage before walking off during finale "1901," before he and the band came on for a final chorus to raucous applause. Phoenix is quickly becoming one of my favorite live acts.
Spoon - I had a thought partway through the set - "Is Spoon cool?" I don't normally think of or care about whether a band is cool, but Spoon begs the question. The quartet showed up clad in fashion boots, skinny jeans, and black collared shirts, played with an absolute minimum of between-song banter, and often unleashed classic rock poses like the pigeon-toed, hunched over thrashing guitar solo. Then there's the music - all distortion and jagged-edges, with Britt Daniel's is-he-British? voice snarling and rasping and throwing class rock-'n-roll ejaculations and affectations everywhere. Spoon is cool.
Except that Spoon is not cool. Spoon has songs like "My Mathematical Mind" and "The Beast and Dragon, Adored." Daniel's lyrics identify not with the cool kid in school but with "the waterboy," according to "The Underdog," the single on their latest album Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. Set with these lyrics and themes, the distorted guitar and intermittent echoes vocals and effects veer to the weird. Spoon is not cool.
Ultimately, of course, it doesn't matter, but from my perspective it seems that Spoon is angling to be the coolest of the dorks, as if to see, "We may not be cool, but we can at least be cool about not being cool." Whatever; they rocked. Sneak peaks into some of the new songs suggest a band more comfortable to let songs stretch out with extended solos and instrumental interplay. The previous times I've seen Spoon, the live show was pretty faithful to the albums, but they showed a willingness to add effects, vocal ticks, and solos to existing tunes. The set, from opener "The Way We Get By" to closer "You Got Yr Cherry Bomb," was well-chosen and terrifically executed. The set made me excited for new album Transference, which drops in January.