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Spoon Explains How the Band Builds a Set List

In the midst of Spoon's tour in support of their album Transference (they hit Radio City Music Hall on March 26), we asked lead singer Britt Daniel and drummer Jim Eno to explain how the indie rockers figure out which songs to play. "Usually it happens about an hour before the show," Daniel says, "and I'm sitting in a corner making it by hand." ("While sighing all the time," Eno adds.) But Daniel says there's a reason he leaves it to the last minute: "I like to know what the day feels like, what the room feels like. If I was to write it in the morning, wouldn't it feel weird by the time we got to the night?"

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1. Dateline: Amsterdam
This was Spoon’s set list on February 18; they never play the same one two times in a row. “It would absolutely drive me batty,” Daniel says. “We tried doing it, and after two shows, I started feeling like, ‘Whoa, where am I … Am I in yesterday or tomorrow?’ ”

2. Go Cerebral Early
“I like putting ‘The Mystery Zone’ at the top because it’s long and wordy, and I don’t know if anybody, including us, will have patience for it toward the end.”

3. The Dependable Fan Favorite
“My Mathematical Mind,” a classic slow-build, piano-heavy Spoon song,
“is always a big release and a guaranteed rocker,” says Daniel, who notes that he usually puts it toward the end.

4. Safety First
“The Ghost of You Lingers” is always mid-set because “there’s no drums and we have to be able to hear each other.” If monitors fail, as they did during their last tour, the band is screwed. By this point, any tech issues are resolved.

5. The Unlikely Cover
Daniel loves punk pioneers the Damned and covered their anthem “Love Song” for a Starbucks compilation. “We thought we’d throw it aside, but we ended up liking it.”

6. Diversify
“Don’t play two shakers in a row,” Daniel says (and by shakers he means the instrument), a lesson he learned after pairing songs with the same beat. “It was like, stop the song … then start the same song!”

7. Naturally, the Crowd Pleasers
They place their older hit “Don’t Make Me a Target” back-to-back with crossover hit “The Way We Get By,” which, Daniels says, “always gets a hoot and a holler” — even from fans who aren’t diehards.

8. Be Practical
Fans “go nuts” after “They Never Got You,” making it the perfect song to precede the minimal, guitar-only start to “I Summon You.” The applause gives Daniel plenty of time to tune up.

9. Go for an Unexpected Finale
Daniel puts “Black Like Me” at the end because “it’s the anti-ender — it’s sad and quiet, not a banger whatsoever.”

10. Spoon’s Sugar on Top
Daniel jots down encore options opposite the set list, upside down. The band chooses after exiting the stage (minding audience shout-outs) — “usually while [keyboardist] Eric Harvey’s peeing,” Eno jokes.

Photo: Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images