Spoon, Crooked Fingers, Palomar

April 1, 2003

BY JIM DeROGATIS Pop Music Critic

From Clinic to the Strokes and Interpol to Hot Hot Heat, the hipster rock underground is awash in a new wave of bands dedicated to reviving the sounds of the old New Wave--that energetic, futuristic and hugely inventive explosion of music that followed in the wake of punk circa the late '70s.

In contrast to the pop-punk movement (which continues with fourth-generation Ramones clones such as Sum 41) or the latest garage revival (led by the White Stripes, the Hives and Mooney Suzuki, among others), the new New Wave seems less retro and more invigorating because the sounds of 1978-79 were always based on innovation and experimentation.

Spoon, one of the best of these bands, seems less like a throwback than an inspired glimpse into the future.

To be certain, the Austin, Texas, quartet knows its musical history. There are significant echoes of the Fall (courtesy of bandleader Britt Daniel's laconic but undeniably compelling vocals) and Elvis Costello and the Attractions (thanks to newcomer Eggo Johanson's insistent keyboards). But the band Spoon emulates above all is Wire, the legendary English art punks who released three brilliant and wildly different albums ("Pink Flag," "Chairs Missing" and "154") between 1977 and 1980.

Daniel and his mates tipped their hand with the title of the 1999 album "A Series of Sneaks" (which reworked the moniker of a Wire EP called "A Serious of Snakes"), and with the propulsive cover of Wire's "Lowdown" that ended their sold-out show at the Abbey Pub on Sunday, the first of a two-night stand. But unlike Elastica (which also had a serious Wire fixation, and which spearheaded the last "new New Wave" back in the mid-'90s), Spoon never resorts to mere musical thievery.

After a brief bit of difficulty with a faulty keyboard that interrupted the launch of Sunday's set with "Small Stakes," the killer opening track from the group's last and best album, "Kill the Moonlight," Spoon proceeded to dish out one beautifully crafted, sharp and angular musical vignette after another, including the irresistibly bouncy "The Way We Get By," the unrelenting "All the Pretty Girls Go to the City" and the vaguely threatening "Paper Tiger" (which was adorned by the wonderfully minimalist drummer Jim Eno with a hypnotic pattern played with mallets on the tom-toms).

No band that writes songs this strong can be accused of being simply revivalist--especially when its distinctive sonic colors (from Johanson's odd keyboard sounds to Daniel's feedback and tremolo guitar to John Clayton's ultra-melodic bass) and its imaginative arrangements seem so unique.

The openers were more of a mixed bag. Crooked Fingers is the new project led by former Archers of Loaf guitarist and vocalist Eric Bachmann, who has taken a sharp turn away from Pavement's ironic postmodern pop toward alternative country and blue-collar Bruce Springsteen bar rock. Unfor-tunately, he has retained the arch insincerity, and it was hard to tell whether the stand-up bass, the twangy guitar solos and the cover of "Promised Land" were subtly nuanced goofs or simply dumb and cheesy.

Faring slightly better was the New York quartet Palomar, which offered its own take on the new New Wave via minimal pop songs (think of a much less cheery Go-Go's meet a much less virtuosic Television) distinguished by three-part female harmonies (which were great when they were on, and annoyingly twee and shrill through the other half of the set).