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Spoon Benders

Spoon fans binge at the band's intoxicating shows.

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Last September, the four members of Spoon took the stage at the Bowery Ballroom, an acoustically splendid venue near the famous tenement district in New York City. Accompanying them to their positions was the phantom opening of the Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter," which played over the PA system, eliciting a double take from at least one learned hipster in the room.

"The Stones?" he sneered, clearly of the belief that something more obscure should act as the night's musical red carpet for a band at the top of that amorphous category called indie rock. It was an obnoxious gripe, assuming erroneously that Spoon carries the indie torch by choice. Hell, the band tried the major label thing, signing with Elektra in 1998. They just got dropped.

That Elektra dumped Spoon just four months after the band released A Series of Sneaks, an album that earned numerous comparisons to the Pixies and Pavement ... well, that's turned into one of those career-defining stories that Spoon hasn't quite been able to shake since.

The experience left the band -- composed of longtime collaborators Britt Daniel (guitars and vocals) and Jim Eno (percussion) with a rotating cast of bassists and keyboard players -- in the unusual position of having recorded a follow-up, Girls Can Tell, with no label to press it. Eventually, Chapel Hill, North Carolina-based Merge Records took the band on, and the subsequent success of Girls Can Tell turned Spoon into yet another symbol of major-label idiocy. That symbolism continued to linger through the release of 2002's Kill the Moonlight, sneaking into many of the record's rave reviews.

Then a funny thing happened: Last year, Wilco emerged as the all-time poster band for artists screwed by music business execs. A full-blown documentary even captured the screwing as it occurred.

How was it for Spoon, which shares its manager with Wilco, to witness another high-profile breakup between band and label? From his home in Austin, Texas, Eno says that even though he didn't pay much attention to the business fiasco behind Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, he feels a certain connection with that band.

"We're at a much better place, being on Merge and having the freedom to put out good records when we want," he says. "And I know Wilco feels they're in a better position now, too."

Fans eager for Spoon's next good record will have to wait a little longer while the band tours again, making its second stroll through Lawrence to support Kill the Moonlight.

"We've been working on some new stuff," Eno says. "Britt's been writing, and we've been getting together periodically to work on some things. But after this tour is when we'll probably hit it hard."

Eno modestly claims ignorance about any anticipation for the next Spoon album, which seems unlikely considering the praise his band has received for its past three records. On each, Daniel and Eno have taken their sound in a new direction, A Series of Sneaks being the most punkish, Girls Can Tell the most polished and Kill the Moonlight the catchiest.

Such album-to-album variety might suggest a lack of identity, but Spoon continues to carve out a sound of its own, thanks in part to Daniel's identifiably garbled voice.

"You can see songwriting progressions from album to album," Eno says. "I think one of the reasons it does still sound like Spoon as it moves ahead is just because me and Britt have been in the band, playing together for a while now. So you have those elements, and we're coming from the same direction. My playing is pretty similar and maybe evolving. But then, his guitar playing and his singing is still the Spoon sound."

Last September in New York, the Spoon sound was so tight that the band seemed to have sonically renegotiated the Bowery's lease; by show's end, Spoon owned the place. The blistering live set, capped by the Kill the Moonlight track "Jonathan Fisk," came as a wowing complement to the band's proven studio skills.

Yet, somehow Eno remains as modest about his band's live show as he is about its records. "The recordings are going to be around forever, so we want to make those as interesting as possible," he says. "For the live show, we have to take the songs and see how they're going to work."

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