Things that happen when indie-rock heavyweights like Spoon elect to make their first show in two years a surprise gig in a 200-capacity dive bar in downtown Austin: Lead singer and guitarist Britt Daniel's guitar nearly scrapes the low metal ceiling just a few feet above him during the anthemic climax of "The Beast and Dragon Adored"; a dozen or so fans stuck on the street crane their necks through a side door to see Daniel standing stock still during a moving rendition of "Ghost"; enthusiastically dancing crowd members nearly spill onto the stage at several points during a hopped-up run through "Jonathan Fisk" near the set's end.
Tuesday's secret show – announced just a few hours beforehand on the band's Twitter account – came the night before Spoon heads out on the road for a summer tour, with their just-finished eighth album slated for release at some point during that run. The crowd members on hand didn't get an early listen to songs from the still-untitled record, but that's not to say that the set left them wanting: For a full hour, the band blasted through the most popular songs in their catalog, easily recovering the old melodic nuances and subtle rhythms regardless of the long layoff.
That layoff had allowed Daniel to record and tour with his side project, Divine Fits, and last night's show marked the Spoon debut of Fits' Alex Fischel, the auxiliary instrumentalist adding layers of keyboard, backing percussion and guitar to help embellish the well-known songs. "Small Stakes," therefore, had even more of a staccato stomp, the slinky rhythm of "I Turn My Camera On" became essentially a sensual come-on before it wound down with a distorted and atonal outro, and "You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb" had a tuneful sway that felt like it was lifted from a country fair carousel ride.
A constantly smiling Daniel appeared to be relishing his main group's return to the stage, keeping banter to a minimum, thanking a crowd that began lining up outside the Hotel Vegas three hours before doors opened and laughing with a fan before admitting that he'd forgotten how to play a requested B-side cut.
After soundchecking prior to the show, Daniel discussed Spoon's new album, calling it "warmer and more inclusive" than 2010's Transference, and remarking that it was written quickly and almost immediately following his stint with Divine Fits. "It helped me remember that this is what it's like to write everything all at once," he told Rolling Stone of the switch from splitting songwriting duties with Divine Fits co-founder Dan Boechner.
Fans at festivals throughout the summer will eventually get to hear Spoon play more and more of those songs as Daniel and his bandmates get increasingly comfortable taking them out on stage. Tuesday, though, was a parade of hits that wrapped up with a stirring and celebratory run through "Black Like Me," Daniel bellowing out his desire to find "someone to take care of tonight."
The song ended with a sudden stop at 11 p.m. on the dot, exactly 61 minutes from when the quintet stepped onstage. On this night, Spoon were playing the part of the most overqualified opening band ever, and they had to make way for the bill's local headliners before hitting the road.
"Don't You Evah"
"Who Makes You Money?"
"Rhythm & Soul"
"The Way We Get By"
"The Beast And Dragon Adored"
"My Mathematical Mind"
"I Turn My Camera On"
"Trouble Comes Running"
"I Summon You"
"Don't Make Me a Target"
"You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb"
"Black Like Me"