SPOON WITH TENNIS, HOUSE OF BLUES, MAY 2
Spoon have proven to be a model of success in management of both art and career, no small feat for a lifer indie band. They've come an extraordinarily long way from a playfully weird and spiky '90s guitar band to a contemporary, arena-sized alternative-pop sensation (the massive synth rig of their current setup is proof of that mileage). Somehow, they've managed to not just last but also navigate an incredibly dramatic metamorphosis with quality and soul intact.
It's been 10 years since they were last here, at the Anti-Pop Music Festival. They were already indie-big then, enough to be a festival headliner. Well, look at them now. They've returned to the spotlight of a prime venue with swank, primetime stage production before a big, buzzing crowd – all earned on sheer merit.
Back in my 2007 interview with band co-founder Jim Eno, we discussed the upending tectonic shifts happening in the music industry and how Spoon were maneuvering the uncertain ground on the cusp of a new paradigm. They were making it work pretty well then. Still, they probably thought the stratosphere of their brief but ill-fated dalliance with the major labels back in the indie-rock sweepstakes of the '90s was a dream aborted. Little did anyone know that – through good, hard work – they'd ultimately chug their way back and ascend to the heights they're now enjoying via the indie circuit. But Cinderella stories do happen. And if anyone deserves this royal treatment, it's these guys.
As if Spoon's first Orlando show in a decade weren't enough, the bill was even more exceptional with the inclusion of Tennis, who are one of those acts that are as much a state of mind as they are a band. Their music – or more precisely, the microcosm it conjures – is its own beautiful world of tuneful nostalgia. It's a blend of indie and oldies forever adrift and romanticized in a womb perpetuated by the frequent and well-documented sailing junkets at sea of married collaborators Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley. Between their perfect pop facility and the golden rays they invoke, it's all air and ease.
Still, Tennis' records are meticulous with vibes, precision and specificity. So it's to their considerable credit that their live performance glowed with such fidelity, stroking their intimate but rich lovers' songs with vivid exactitude. It was a showing worthy of the particularly good reception they received from this crowd. Seriously, people actually threw flowers onstage.
LILLIE MAE WITH BEN HARPER & THE INNOCENT CRIMINALS, HARD ROCK LIVE, MAY 1
Nashville's Lillie Mae is emerging into the world packing a lot of honors. In her native country circles, the young musician already has a long history in family acts, most notably Jypsi, an all-sibling group that charted on country Top 40. Outside that, she's a Third Man artist and known as Jack White's violinist, so she also comes tall with indie cred. And she arrived in town on the sails of a debut full-length album (Forever and Then Some) – a star-spangled, White-produced work featuring notable guests like Old Crow Medicine Show, the Dead Weather and the Howlin' Brothers (who were in last week's column) – that was released just a couple weeks before this show.
Lillie Mae's music is a modern Americana sound that's a blend of tradition and edge. Despite some of her past in mainstream country, though, her solo material doesn't resort to dumb young-country sass to prove it's legit. Instead, it's a dance of guts and grace that pairs folk fineness with some genuine honky-tonk step. Her voice – the clear jewel in the mix – is that balance embodied, lining its loveliness with just enough steel. And even though she's stepping out on her own passage, the family bonds continue to endure in studio and on stage with some siblings still by her side.
Apparently, headliner Ben Harper is not just something that everyone graduates from after college. Still, he's nothing if not reliable. But even though the guy's soulful, he's too often content to groove with a soft, gooey sensibility, which is really only good when talking about a candy bar.