Spoon at The Masonic, by Aaron Rubin
Spoon (photo: Aaron Rubin)

On Wednesday, January 17, Austin rock band Spoon brought an increased intensity to the Masonic in San Francisco proper.

Hot Thoughts, the band's latest and near-universally acclaimed record, is the first Spoon release to not feature an acoustic guitar. Instead, from the smiles and playful back-and-forth one-upping between frontman Britt Daniel and guitarist/keyboardist Alex Fischel, it appearsd that the once-standard sound of an indie piano band has been upgraded to oscillating synthesizers and quaking bass.

That's not to say that Spoon has ever resisted the avant-garde of noise experimentation — it's present throughout their career, all the way back to even the earliest recordings. But the acoustic guitar, along with Daniel's sharp and angsty bark, was a staple of the sound. Instead, the several back-catalog songs that made the set list on Wednesday were given an updated treatment, and tracks like "The Underdog" featured more bite than usual.

Spoon at The Masonic, by Aaron Rubin

Even though Spoon has been an all-time favorite of mine since 2001's Girls Can Tell, it wasn't until the end of September 2017 that I first managed to see them in the flesh. It was fantastic. I made sure to experience the show as a fan first, opting not to opine a la fanboy, because let's face it, I was having an embarrassing amount of fun (and I recommend you let yourself do the same more regularly!). Needless to say, the excitement of seeing them headline fired me up.

The first thing that struck me once I recovered from the introductory synth-quake from Fischel that kicked off the set was that these songs felt familiar in a strange way, as if I were having deja vu. Beginning with "Do I Have To Talk You Into It," "Inside Out," and "I Turn My Camera On," the set matched up perfectly with the same set they brought to the Greek. In fact, they played all of the same songs that they played at the Greek. They didn't play them in the same order, and this headlining slot allowed them to insert more, at least, but they still covered the same ground.

I'll be honest, I tried to hold that grudge. I wanted to be critical of the set list. But the fact of the matter is, Spoon has crafted a stage performance that makes their song choice almost irrelevant. What really matters is the music, the place it comes from and the emotions that propel it. In that regard, Spoon is on a major upswing.

And then there's the little things. All night long the band was interactive with their space, inserting sharp, dramatic, and angsty accents in their motions and the music. Bassist Rob Pope and drummer Jim Eno were a collaborative rhythmic force to reckon with. They were so in tune with each other, Pope even assisted Eno with quick closing of certain cymbal splashes.

Spoon at The Masonic, by Aaron Rubin

At the end of "I Turn My Camera On," Britt and Fischel traded dance moves and solos. When a band is as entertaining to watch as they are to listen to, it's easy to overlook a lack of variation when the product is so rock-solid.

Daniel addressed the audience, apparently tickled at the reference to the band's first headlining show in San Francisco proper (repeated emphasis Daniel's). But the crowd overwhelmingly approved and welcomed the band, proper.

"WhisperI'lllistentohearit" from Hot Thoughts was the first track to break the mold from Berkeley, but then next six tracks followed suit, down to the order. A timeline of hits, from the 2005 album Gimmie Fiction "The Beast and Dragon, Adored," through Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga's "Don't You Evah" and "Do You" from 2014's They Want My Soul.

Fischel was left solo onstage (or was Daniel laying down on that ledge the entire time, soaking in the sound?) to deliver a bombastic new synth exploration. Dubbed "Via Kannela," it started appearing in 2017 concerts as a precursor to the Hot Thoughts track "I Ain't The One" and doesn't seem to be aimed at the shelf any time soon.

Spoon at The Masonic, by Aaron Rubin

After stumbling through the intro to the now-teenaged track "Everything Hits At Once," the band went off script and really got comfortable within the song. Spoon, including touring musician Gerardo Larios on additional synths and guitar, found themselves loose within the tune allowing it to stretch and breathe, creating a unique interpretation of the old favorite and pairing it with the new track "Can I Sit Next To You."

"My Mathematical Mind" from Gimme Fiction was a welcome treat, unique from the Berkeley set list. The band closed the set with vigor and enthusiasm, choosing three tracks from Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga and the first of only two tracks from 2010's Transference. The set all but closed the show from the Greek, adding "Black Like Me" to end at 10:30pm.

Daniel returned to the stage almost immediately, brandishing a relic of the Spoon discography: an acoustic guitar. A touching solo performance of a personal favorite, "I Summon You," was the icing on the cake, and I would have been extremely satisfied if the show ended there.

Fortunately, the band returned and performed another four songs, with Transference's "I Saw The Light," and Girls Can Tell's "The Fitted Shirt" being unique to the Masonic set list. The show ended with "Hot Thoughts" and "Rent I Pay."

White Reaper at The Masonic, by Aaron Rubin

But this review would be remiss not to mention opening band White Reaper. A rising phoenix from the ashes of Fall Out Boy and pre-Neighborhoods Blink-182, White Reaper made me remember why I used to love pop-punk. All of the band members have an enormous amount of infectious energy and a surprisingly large draw in SF, even though they hail from Louisville. Their songs were all short — even when they broke the punk-rock mold and gave in to the tubular sounds of '80s keyboard or shredding guitar duels, every number maxed out around four and a half minutes. The rest of the sound reminded me of a mixture of Screeching Weasel and New Found Glory. If any of these bands have ever interested you, you'll find White Reaper a refreshing and viable new take on a variety of old sounds.

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