When Austin rock mainstays Spoon debuted tracks from their then about-to-be-released new album “Hot Thoughts” during a three-night stand at the old Emo’s space in March, the excitement and anticipation was threefold.
There was the simple change of playing a small club show for a band that can reliably sell out theaters. There was the anticipation of giving a hungry crowd the first chance to hear brand new material.
And there was the back-to-their-roots sentimentality of the band playing the now mostly idle space that served as Spoon’s sort of proving grounds in its early days, with the club still as free of frills as it ever was.
“We played that stage so many times and you get there to set stuff up and remember, ‘Oh yeah, our bass player has to be behind this pole’ and it’s a very odd setup,” Spoon drummer Jim Eno recalled recently, chuckling at the eccentricities of the club, which was jokingly renamed Eno’s for the three-night run.
“It was nostalgic and nice to be there again, but going back to that bathroom I was like, ‘Oh yeah, I’m glad we don’t have to play this place too many times.’”
During that home stand Spoon packed the bills with touring headliners such as the New Pornographers and Chick Chick Chick and an assortment of young Austin bands such as A Giant Dog, Sweet Spirit and Bright Light Social Hour, giving those bands both a chance to play the iconic club space that closed in 2011 and an audience with lots of entertainment industry professionals.
Eno said the response from those carefully curated shows helped those bands gain attention and added to the atmosphere to highlight the new Spoon material.
“Hot Thoughts” finds the band sounding decidedly synthy and almost Radiohead-ish in spots, musically speaking, with lead singer Britt Daniel’s pointed and personable lyrics still acting as the band’s unique identifier. It’s still very much a Spoon album — singles “Can I Sit Next To You” and “Do I Have To Talk You Into It?” are among the band’s catchiest songs ever — but it’s one where keyboardist Alex Fischel makes is presence more known than ever.
With the band returning to the familiar setting of Zilker Park for Austin City Limits Music Festival, Eno’s talk of the differentiation between writing songs for a record versus how they’re reworked for a live setting shows a bit about the band’s inner workings.
“We want each of those songs to be the best they can be as a recorded version,” he said of their record-first mentality. “Then when we get done we’re like ‘Now how are we going to play these live?’ That’s what we spent the December, November and January timeframe doing, to figure all of that out based on who’s playing what and who can maybe pick up a part.”
Another part of the festival set calculus involves time of day, set length and an audience’s familiarity with the band. With two weekends at ACL Fest on tap, Eno said there’s a chance that even “Pink Up,” a newer, six-plus minute mood piece, could make one of their sets in Austin. Some album tracks, though, still aren’t ready for a live audience.
“We’re not there yet with ‘Shotgun’ and ‘Tear it Down,’ those are giving us the most problems,” Eno said. “We have done (’Pink Up’) at some festivals. A song like that works in certain spots, and a lot of time with festivals you might have a shorter set and you want to keep the momentum going. When we have an hour and 15 minutes we can have some lulls and an up and down with respect to energy to create a journey as opposed to all hits all up front.”
More ACL Fest previews
Lineup look: Here’s who you should go see
Fest fashion: a practical guide to staying fresh at Zilker Park
Eat and drink: Vendors at ACL Eats for 2017
Spoon at ACL Fest
The band plays at 7 p.m. Saturday and Oct. 14 on the Miller Lite stage.