"Hello, brothers and sisters." Just a moment ago, we had been lined up outside Manhattan's McKittrick Hotel to see Spoon's not-that-hush-hush set, to kick off the relaunch of Myspace's Secret Show series. We were guided into an elevator, then abruptly plunged into the pitch-dark before a woman's languid voice (was she an actual person? Was it a recording? Was this an episode of the Twilight Zone?) began explaining to us thatwe were escaping the "upchangers" and "upsellers" on the sordid streets below. Turns out we'd simply exchanged one set of upsellers for another.
For the uninitiated, the McKittrick Hotel is not actually a hotel. It's a performance space, bar, and restaurant perhaps best-known for hosting the immersive theater experience Sleep No More. It's a reference to Alfred Hitchcock's 1958 film Vertigo, the McKittrick has hosted concerts by Band of Horses, Laura Marling, and Jim James, and residencies by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Most of these, however, are held at the Manderley Bar (another Hitchcock reference, to the film Rebecca). The space was... distinctive.
Bartenders in crips white shirts, handlebar mustaches and suspenders served the ever-swelling crowd overpriced Negronis while ladies clad in black feather boas and floor-length skirts glided over the floor, grabbing unsuspecting attendees by the arms, leading them to corners with more "elbow room." "Tonight, we are going to do a cleansing," one informed me and my friends. When I asked her bearded co-conspirator what in tarnation was going on he, instead of answering my question, led me to a tiny, dark room and sat me in front of an ancient typewriter, where he poured me a shot of whiskey and spoke complete nonsense. ("My father made his bed every morning," he said, shuffling a deck of cards. "He was a lucky man.") Soon thereafter I was shephered out the door by a cloaked woman, clutching a three of spades. For some reason. "Now we have a piece of you, and you have a piece of us." He never answered my question. They Want My Soul, indeed.
Heavy red curtains, smoke machines, cryptic answers to basic questions, low ceilings and no windows -- it was all fun and games at first, but by the time Spoon hit the stage 45 minutes late, it quickly became too much. "In order to DISAPPEAR, we must destroy the Ego completely," read a pamphlet handed out to entrants. "We must refocus that energy." Is it not egotistical to take the stage 45 minutes after the scheduled time, when everyone is cramped and overheating and begging for something, anything? The whole operation seemed antithetical to Spoon's spidery, straight-ahead rock, which has remained reliably solid over the band's 20-year career. When figures in velvet robes with thick hoods squeezed through the swell, surrounding a '60s-styled singer who had opened the show with an a cappella rendition of They Want My Soul's "I Just Don't Understand," my friend turned heel and walked straight out of the venue.
Once the curtains parted to reveal frontman Britt Daniel, however, a palpable sense of excitement and relief rippled through the audience. Finally -- something real was happening. Spoon wound through a tight mix of the old ("The Beast and Dragon, Adored," "Small Stakes"), new ("Knock Knock Knock," "Outlier"), and crowd-pleasers ("I Turn My Camera On," "You Got Yr Cherry Bomb"). The event started to feel like a rock and roll show show and not a rabidly pretentious freak show.
Spoon's set marked the relaunch of Myspace Secret Shows' after the series was discontinued in 2012 following six years of intimate concerts by everyone from The Cure to B.o.B. to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs (Justin Timberlake's "secret show" at SXSW in 2013 was more of an epic one-off). "If you look at where success has been and where we can get back to the community on our site, and do things that are really cool and unique, experiential types of events, these are no-brainers," Ron Nielsen, general manager at Myspace, told Billboard over the phone on Friday. "They're super fun and very successful. Obviously the information leaks and gets posted, but that's part of the fun of it."
As of last year, Myspace has been initiating a lot of unique content, including its "Portfolio" artist feature, partnerships with Bud Light and Jimmy Kimmel Live!. The company has also continued to place a premium on features like "Five Seconds to the Stage," which tracks artists in the backstage window of time before they step into the spotlight.
On one hand, this McKittrick Hotel Secret Show's maxing-out of the pretention-o-meter points to (yet) another misguided bid for relevancy by Myspace; on the other, Nielsen has a point. It makes you feel kind of special to be invited to a concert no one else knows about, even if it's not so much about the music as it is about the experience, however contrived. For its part, Spoon also tried to make They Want My Soul more of a novel release with their "Instant Gratification" vinyl package -- a far cry from David Lynchian dinner theater experience, though.
The line between entrancing, perplexing, and frustrating can be fine, though, and any artist would be wise to remember that.