There was a time, a decade or so ago, when one could find Spoon albums in the discount bin at the local record store. I know this, because I worked in one of those stores.
This is no comment about the quality of those albums. In fact, the band's early discs were damn good, if somewhat unremarkable in a world overrun by damn good bands signed to big labels that didn't give a shit about them, nor know why, exactly, those bands were signed to their label. Spoon was not only one of those bands; they became an anecdote, a cautionary tale, for other bands of their ilk.
After the release of the Soft Effects EP on Matador in 1997, Spoon signed with Elektra Records, which released A Series of Sneaks. In 1998, after the album's release, the band embarked on what should have been a victory lap. After all, isn't that what bands at the time did: Strive to get signed to a major, then revel in the cash advances and tour support that came along with it? Not so fast.
Spoon was booked to play a co-headlining show on that tour, along with the similarly then-ascendant Creeper Lagoon, at The Rock, back when The Rock hosted those types of shows. But a week or two before the show was supposed to happen, Spoon got the news: Just four months after signing with Elektra, the label had dropped the band and pulled its tour support. Spoon canceled the show.
Rather than evaporate into the ether, as many bands might have, Spoon instead reached into its bag of tricks and released a vinyl single dedicated to its Elektra A&R guy, Ron Laffitte. The fact that I can remember that their Elektra A&R guy's name was Ron Laffitte is proof that Spoon proved its point: The single's two songs were called "The Agony of Laffitte" and "Laffitte Don't Fail Me Now." Suck on that, Elektra!
Their next move was to sign with Merge, the label started by members of Superchunk, which has since become of one of the most prominent independent labels in the country. They released an EP, Love Ways, in 2000, and the LP Girls Can Tell, released in 2001, swiftly became the band's most successful album to date.
But with 2002's Kill the Moonlight, the group moved into another echelon entirely, both in sound and scope. It was that album that established the blueprint for Spoon's albums ever since, right up through this year's Transference: a taut minimalism that strips the songs down to their most basic essentials, most often trading tension for release; it's best demonstrated on that album's "The Way We Get By," while 2005's Gimme Fiction contained the bare-bones disco funk of "I Turn My Camera On," which was heard as background music on TV reality shows and has since become something of a calling card for the band.
Transference doesn't have one of those immediately irresistible songs, but it's got 11 attractive ones, from the Strokes guitar, dubby diversions and British affectations ("Are you quite certain, love?") of "Is Love Forever?" to the comforting strings of "The Mystery Zone."
Despite the fact that they've been treading similar territory for nearly a decade now, none of Spoon's albums seem like a retread. They've just found their strengths and are able to mine them for all they're worth. They've got a sound that at this point is unique, so why not?
Spoon performs at the Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St., on Monday, Oct. 4. Fellow Austin resident Dale Watson performs a set of alt-country to open the all-ages show at 8 p.m. General-admission floor tickets are $28 in advance, $33 on the day of the show; reserved balcony seats are $30 in advance, $35 day of show. For more information, head to rialtotheatre.com, or call 740-1000.
BACK TO CLUB CONGRESS' ROOTS
In the wake of Hotel Congress' recent 25th anniversary celebration and HoCo Fest, we've all heard tales about how Club Congress didn't originally feature live music, but instead was a hub for oddball performance artists and the people who love them. This week, the club devotes a night to getting back to its roots: The Counter Club, which is what these events were originally called before there was a Club Congress, will be revived for one night only on Friday, Oct. 1, and will feature a slew of the performance artists who appeared at the original Counter Club 25 years ago, including Jennifer Urso, Laura Milkins, Jeff Falk and Annie Lopez, Dennis Williams, Joanna Frueh, Denise Uyehara and Dinks, as well as Paul Fisher, Heather Woodwich and Colleena Hake. The night's hosts are Adrian Halpert and, appearing as his alter ego Blind Lemon Pledge (one of the best stage names ever), Daniel Buckley.
Expect the unexpected when The Counter Club returns to Hotel Congress, 311 E. Congress St., on Friday, Oct. 1. Doors open at 7 p.m. Admission is $10. For more information, head to hotelcongress.com, or call 622-8848.
Shock-rockers from two different generations converge when Alice Cooper (sadly, probably best known to the current crop of youth as a radio host—though he's a great one) and Rob Zombie (onetime leader of White Zombie and probably best known to the current crop of youth as a film director—though reputedly not a very good one) co-headline a show at 8 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 2, at AVA at Casino del Sol, 5655 W. Valencia Road. Tickets are $25 to $75, and are available online at solcasinos.com. For more info, call (800) 344-9435.
The eclectic sister duo CocoRosie, which is now rounded out by a full band, incorporates elements of Tin Pan Alley, folk, electronica, jazz and you name it, really, into its seductive cauldron of sound. After a series of albums released on the sadly defunct label Touch and Go, the group released Grey Oceans, its Sub Pop debut, earlier this year. They'll perform an all-ages show at the Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St., on Sunday, Oct. 3. Brian Lopez opens at 8 p.m. Tickets are $18 in advance, or $20 on the day of the show. For more details, head to rialtotheatre.com, or call 740-1000.
Canadian neo-folkie Sarah Harmer headlines a nifty singer-songwriter lineup that also includes Tucson's Andrew Collberg, whose latest album, On the Wreath (Le Pop Musik, 2010), is a stunner, and the brokenhearted country-folk musings of Phoenix's Lonna Kelley, on Saturday, Oct. 2, at Plush, 340 E. Sixth St. The show starts at 9 p.m., and tickets are $19 in advance, or $20 on the day of the show. Head to plushtucson.com, or call 798-1298 for more info.
Similarly lauded soulful singer-songwriter Martin Sexton, he of the gorgeously elastic voice, will also perform at Plush, 340 E. Sixth St., on Wednesday, Oct. 6, along with Leslie Stevens and the Badgers, who get things rolling at 9 p.m. Tickets are $20; 798-1298.
Although it sounds as if it could have been recorded on a Southern backwoods porch, Last Train to Bluesville (Rip Bang, 2010), the latest album from The Nighthawks, was actually recorded live in the Sirius/XM Satellite Radio studios in Washington, D.C. They'll play tunes from it at 8 p.m., Friday, Oct. 1, at Plaza Palomino, 2970 N. Swan Road. Tickets are $20 in advance, or $23 at the door. For more info, head to rhythmandroots.org, or call 319-9966.
ON THE BANDWAGON
Blues Traveler at the Rialto Theatre on Tuesday, Oct. 5; Bob Schneider at Club Congress on Wednesday, Oct. 6; Benise at the Fox Tucson Theatre on Monday, Oct. 4; Prefuse 73 at Club Congress on Saturday, Oct. 2; Rebelution at the Rialto Theatre on Wednesday, Oct. 6; Trevor Hall at Club Congress on Tuesday, Oct. 5; Troy Olsen at Cactus Moon on Saturday, Oct. 2; Nevermore at The Rock on Sunday, Oct. 3; The Quick and Easy Boys at Plush next Thursday, Oct. 7.