Spain Rises to Old Depths of Melancholy

With its slow-shifting soundscapes and confessional reflections, the Los Angeles quintet Spain obsessed over romance from first spark to dying ember Saturday at the Knitting Factory. Lead singer and bassist Josh Haden's pragmatic musings had a unifying theme: Love doesn't last, but you have to keep trying.

This low-key perseverance in the face of certain disappointment proved a handy metaphor for the group's situation, as it maintained a sense of austere passion despite distracting back-of-the-room chatter and the dance beats that boomed from the adjacent restaurant whenever the doors opened.


Haden has been treading heartbreak territory with Spain since its 1995 debut. The band's latest recording, "I Believe," breaks no new ground, but its subtle emotional changes proved more compelling live, thanks to Haden's deadpan, hypnotic vocals, which enhanced the wistful melancholy of such numbers as "You Were Meant for Me," and the players' precision on guitars, keyboards and drums.

Although the music was jazz-like in its minimalism and use of space, the band didn't improvise or stretch out much beyond moments of controlled expansion. The guitars' harmonic vibrations created impressions of dissonance without actual distortion, but the reserved approach began to feel slightly academic. And all that poring over emotional wreckage, although undoubtedly an accurate result of heartache, became slightly claustrophobic.



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