Spoon and Guided by Voices at Irving

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It's rare for a band to emulate their records onstage this precisely and still redefine the songs. At their Irving Plaza show, Spoon provided few diversions from their studio roadmaps, but the songs they were highlighting, from the recent Girls Can Tell, were transformed by the very exposure to open air. Listening to the album for the past few months, it was hard for me to believe that this music could exist outside a pair of headphones; it's so claustrophobic, tightly wound and minimalist. It only took a visual/kinetic manifestation of each carefully considered note to envelop the crowd.

Onstage, frontman Britt Daniels fit into the Texas lineage of sharp-dressed men, but his internalized intensity was miles from the showmanship of ZZ Top. A little more reverb on the drums, a little more delay on the guitar?that was about the only aural proof that this wasn't prerecorded lip-synching. Fresher and cleaner than Milli Vanilli, Girls Can Tell is waist-deep in small-scope high fidelity, like pop music from the class of 1980?think Glass Houses, Look Sharp!, Private Eyes or Tusk. But imagine that new-wave pop thrill filtered through the ears of Steve Albini, where hooks are big but the snare drum bosses everything else around (except for those stray harmonics that fly off the guitars once in a while). When Spoon launched into the "Kashmir"-like riffs of "Fitted Shirt," you had to wonder if this is how Albini tried to make that Page and Plant reunion album sound.

Before leaving the stage, Daniels called Guided by Voices "the greatest rock band in the world," or something to that effect. Though I wouldn't begrudge GBV the high praises they garner with honest, consistent perspiration, I was surprised to see the claim answered with hundreds of pumped fists and yells. In the interim between bands, a guy who looked vaguely like Uncle Jesse from Dukes of Hazzard came out and read two short poems. This was greeted with cries of "GBV! GBV!" and "Show us your tits!"

And then the headliners came on. It had been four years since I'd seen this band, and it seemed their audience had drastically changed. Amid this Woodstock '99-style crowd, Robert Pollard's puckered lips and boasts of cigarette/alcohol intake started to lose their charm. He's getting older, too?fills out the shirt a little more, kicks those legs a little less. Still shits out songs at a liquid rate, though, so every two minutes he introduced another one, each from a different album. Even when the performance overcame the varying quality of the songs, it didn't transcend the desperate feel of the proceedings. Remembering that Pollard's wife recently left him, I thought of an early-90s interview I read with Bruce Springsteen, in which he attributed his endurance-testing concerts to "pure fear and self-loathing," and the inability to find happiness once he got offstage. Robert Pollard seems to be living like that, and cultivating an audience of codependents.

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