The Roots beat Spoon. Whether the latter were owned by the former or were within sight of first place is difficult to pontificate on with any shred of objectivity. Spoon were severely outnumbered—11 to 4 if you count The Roots’ brass band and special guest Lupe Fiasco—and outgunned: If you were to place them side by side, there’s no way the average shoe-gazing guitarist could even begin to compete with a dancing tuba player. Aside from such disparities in man- and firepower, the Major Activities Board (MAB) Summer Breeze show in Hutch Courtyard last Saturday left me with the feeling that indie rock in general could stand to take a cue from hip-hop’s stage manner.
The Roots started off with charismatic drummer ?uestlove, explaining in time with the beat that their main MC, Black Thought, would not be performing due to “a medical emergency.” This turned out to be a bit of an overstatement—okayplayer.com revealed that Black is in fact “taking some time off to recover from LASIK eye surgery he underwent to improve his vision,” and that he is otherwise in fine health. Nevertheless, any fan of the group will attest to Black’s essentiality to the group, and by extension, to the Roots’ perseverance and talent for continuing to play successful shows without him.
To fill in the gap, two members of the Roots’ crew stepped up on MC duties, and the brass section took on a weightier role—for example, the set included a wholly instrumental improvisation, and a dance outro in which ?uest took a roll call of both the group members and brass players, giving everyone an equal opportunity to bust a move before they left the open-air stage.
As far as working the crowd, the entire group rose to the occasion with exceptional gusto. Everyone on stage, aside from the seated ?uest, was moving somewhere in the dancing-to-swaying range—and the crowd moved with them. The crew delivered Black’s rhymes competently, and the unusually long span devoted to jazz improvisation segued naturally from the other songs, never once seeming tacked on or like filler material. This writer came to Summer Breeze much more for Spoon than for the Roots; somehow, though, the chant of “hip-hop will never die” that ended one song kind of moved me.
Given all this, it hardly seems fair to call the Roots the opening band; the amateurish connotations of that label stick to the Roots like a desiccated gum wad. The same, however, probably couldn’t have been said of Spoon if they had been the first group on stage. Though every bit as practiced as the Roots, Spoon, as a result of their place on the program, had the appearance of a band just developing their stage legs. It may be true that no one really expects an indie rock band to dance or even attempt to engage the crowd. But it’s worth repeating that if a guy holding a tuba can foot around the stage for an hour and a half as lightly as if he were holding a piccolo, Spoon frontman Britt Daniel’s rare, bland addresses to the crowd fell somewhat short.
Spoon’s new material thus fails to impress. “Don’t Make Me a Target,” for example, a new track off their forthcoming, unfortunately titled album, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga sounded repetitive and colorless. Old songs like “Fitted Shirt” and “Jonathon Fisk” still pack a punch. The relish with which Daniel sings the line, “to him/Religion don’t mean a thing/It’s just another way to be right-wing” from “Jonathon Fisk” is palpable—I swear I even saw a positive expression cross his face as he sang it. During the encore, one couple requested a song they claimed they’d fallen in love to. Daniel asked, “Is that true?” before obliging, and then continued to take requests. After the show, he stuck around to sign ticket stubs and talk to the fans. Clearly, the guy has personality—unfortunately, it doesn’t show through much on stage.
Of course, just because two bands are on the same headline doesn’t make them part of some kind of competition. The show gave me the sneaking suspicion that the average hip-hop concert is several times more exciting than what is generally considered a good indie-rock show. It seems clear that what crossover fans were made during the show flowed from Spoon’s camp to the Roots’. Maybe we should expect a little more out of our indie rock.