When Singer and Players Go Their Separate Ways
By KELEFA SANNEH
[O] ne of the best things about Britt Daniel is that he seems to be in the
wrong band. While his three bandmates keep the songs short and cold, Mr.
Daniel adds heat, belting out the lyrics in a slippery voice that suggests
an English accent filtered through his hometown of Austin, Tex.
Mr. Daniel's band, Spoon, has been combining cold and hot for years, and it
perfects this approach on its new album, "Kill the Moonlight" (Merge),
which squeezes a dozen stripped-down songs into half an hour. On Sunday
night at the Bowery Ballroom, the group put on an impressive show with
enough swagger to make their choppy, abstract songs sound like hit singles.]
The concert began with the drummer providing a hard, basic beat. Then the
keyboardist played a staccato chord progression, and Mr. Daniel sang the
first lines: "Small stakes give you the blues/ But you don't feel taken,
don't feel you've been used."
Soon Mr. Daniel had added some guitar, and the bassist was playing, too,
and for a while it sounded like a fleshed-out rock song. By the end,
though, Spoon had returned to a more abstract sound: the whole band was
playing the same note, and Mr. Daniel was singing, "C'mon! C-c-c-c-c-c'mon!"
Mr. Daniel's brash delivery is what turns these sketches into songs, and
even when his lyrics are formulaic his voice makes them memorable. Never
underestimate the power of an accent ? Mr. Daniel has clearly learned
important lessons from great British frontmen like Elvis Costello, Paul
Weller and Mark E. Smith. When he sings "That's the way we get by," it
comes out as, "Oh thus ooh ae-wuh goodbye"; for some reason that's much
The band used a number of tricks to make sure the backing tracks stayed
energetic; sometimes the drummer would play in one time signature while the
rest of the band played in another. On a few keyboard-driven songs the band
achieved a herky-jerky melodicism, as if they were playing Beatles songs
with all the silences spliced out.
For a slower, weirder song called "Paper Tiger," the keyboard provided a
metronome beat, and Mr. Daniel used his guitar to add some noise. The
lyrics, though, were as tender as any he delivered all night. "We could go
kick down some doors together/ Stay out till morning, sharp as knives," he
sang. And then came the refrain: "All right."
At the end of the regular set, after a vigorous song called "Jonathon
Fisk," Mr. Daniel said thank you and walked off. He must have bumped the
microphone stand as he left, though, and as he disappeared the microphone
hit the stage, making a sound as sudden and as sharp as one of his songs.