The term “indie” is one of the most open-ended, nebulously defined terms in the musical lexicon. But regardless of your own personal definition, there’s a decent chance your first exposure to the term came via the music of Belle and Sebastian or Spoon. Though vastly different in sound, the two bands became touchstones of the genre as they (and the term itself) were breaking through in the late ‘90s. Last night at their co-headlining gig at the Hollywood Bowl, both groups proved that regardless of semantics, they remain vital artists two decades into their careers.
Following an opening set from Kristin Kontrol, Spoon took the stage first and the group was locked in from the opening notes of “Do I Have To Talk You Into It” through their closer “Rainy Taxi.” Spoon is a unique band: The Austin-based five-piece has several albums worth of classic material but no defining album; if you polled five fans on their favorite Spoon album, you might get five different answers. Outside of the Beatles, there are very few bands you could say that about and in a lot of ways, Spoon could be called the indie rock Beatles; just as the Fab Four introduced millions of kids to the power and wonder of rock ‘n’ roll, Spoon similarly pulled back the curtain on indie.
Perhaps owing to their remarkably consistent discography, Spoon played songs from across their catalog, not just their recent (and typically great) album Hot Thoughts. “My Mathematical Mind” from Gimme Fiction was one of the standouts, a perfect showcase for all that makes Spoon great: Britt Daniel’s raspy yelp, their stabbing guitar solos and the group’s impeccable, fluid songwriting. Spoon are also seasoned performers and Daniel is an impressive frontman, whether he was hunched over his guitar for an impassioned solo or singing flat on his back during the intro to “I Ain’t The One.” It speaks to the band’s sustained quality that their set didn’t even feature anything off Kill The Moonlight; in fact, the only criticism one could have leveled was that their hour-long set didn’t give them nearly enough time to perform all of their classics.
The same could have been said about Belle and Sebastian’s set, which included just 14 songs from their nine albums, plus the new single “We Were Beautiful.” But when the music performed is as timeless as theirs, it feels greedy to complain. The twee sound of iconic early albums like Tigermilk and If You’re Feeling Sinister was undercut by Stuart Murdoch’s bleak and ironic sense of humor but since the turn of the millennium, the group has expanded their sonic palate to include synth pop and dance rock.
All of those styles were on display at the Bowl, as was Murdoch’s wit. His stage banter was top-notch, whether saluting the Dodgers ahead of the baseball-themed “Piazza, New York Catcher” or running into the crowd to recruit audience members for a dance party on “The Boy With the Arab Strap.” Following the immortal “Judy and the Dream of Horses,” Belle and Sebastian closed the show with an encore of “Lazy Line Painter Jane” from their ‘97 EP of the same name.
More than a genre, Belle and Sebastian make music-to-fall-in-love-to and for fans who hadn’t listened to the band in a while, it was like falling in love with them -- and indie rock -- all over again. Belle and Sebastian have a few August shows left before they head back to Scotland, while Spoon will be touring all fall. Click here for tickets to Spoon’s Oct. 5 show at Red Rocks Amphitheatre with The Shins.