Spoon/Ha Ha Tonka; June 29, 2009; Summerfest
My previous assessment had been that Spoon is just not good outside, but after seeing them put on a convincing rock & roll show on an unseasonably cool night at Summerfest I made need to change my conclusion. Apparently Spoon is not good when it is hot outside. Which doesn’t really make sense for a band from Texas, but I don’t know how else to explain a band that has been good (tonight, at the Pabst) to brilliant (at the Annex) at times but completely uninspired three times at ACL (which is without fail torturously hot) and Pitchfork in Chicago (which felt like Texas with more humidity).
To be honest, there isn’t really anything special about them, all of their keyboard heavy, mid-tempo songs kind of sound the same. But as it turns out, I am a sucker for that sound, and through the course of four full length studio records and a handful of EPs they have perfected it. They hit all the high points of their catalog, from opener “The Beast Adored” (from 2005’s Gimme Fiction) to 2002’s “That’s the Way We Get By” (from Kill the Moonlight”) as the first song in the encore that caused a few excited fans to topple off the benches we were all standing on. The newest song in the set was “Got Nuffin’” from a three song EP released this year, while “Fitted Shirt” from 2001’s Girls Can Tell was the oldest I believe.
It certainly doesn’t hurt their appeal that frontman Britt Daniel has a gangly, geeky handsomeness that could only work on a musician. His protruding ears that peek out through his artfully messy blond hair, not only make him look like a long lost brother to Conor Oberst, but also easily identifiable. In fact in the boring hours between Ha Ha Tonka’s rain-dampened set at 6:30 and Spoon’s 10 pm headlining show when I was roaming the grounds I instantly recognized him walking toward me through the crowd. I smiled as he passed, and he smiled back, knowing that I knew who he was. It was a sweet moment.
Suspecting what I did about Spoon, the fact is I wouldn’t have even been at Summerfest today if it weren’t for Ha Ha Tonka who I know to be awesome under any circumstances. The fest gods certainly weren’t smiling on them today. First disadvantage, the sky spit rain intermittently throughout their set causing many people to don their beer emblazoned ponchos or raise their umbrellas. Additionally, they played on the Rock Stage, currently under the sponsorship of Potawatomi Bingo (apparently in times of economic hardship gambling does better than ever), which is as unobtrusive as a major stage can be. Not only is it located at the far north end of the grounds, but it faces the lake, thereby eliminating the “hey, these guys sound cool, let’s stop” factor that the other stages have.
Which is too bad, because this is a band that needs to be seen live to be fully appreciated. Once you see these four charming and ridiculously good-looking boys playing a kick ass rock show, whether for a packed house in a tiny bar or a soggy Summerfest crowd, you can’t help but love them. Since security wouldn’t let everyone come up on stage where it was dry, in an admirable goodwill gesture they played their last song “Twelve Inch Three Speed Oscillating Fan” in the middle of the crowd. And that’s the kind of thing that guarantees a bigger crowd next time.
Ha Ha Tonka