Spoon Surprises Hotel Vegas

Britt Daniel, Jim Eno, and crew meet Sabrina Ellis’ Sweet Spirit

“Thanks for waiting around,” Britt Daniel smiled after “Small Stakes,” the second song in Spoon’s surprise set at Hotel Vegas Tuesday night. “Were we on time?” That depends on who you ask.

Clock struck 9:59pm when Spoon stepped onstage, so sure, according to whatever social media promotion posted by the seminal Austin act around 4pm Tuesday – when the newly realized fivepiece leaked news that it would break its 29-month gigging hiatus for a free show opening for local upstarts Sweet Spirit – they were as prompt as drummer Jim Eno’s snare hits.

But two-and-a-half years? That’s late. So late. Then again, they weren’t supposed to begin until tonight in Memphis.

Spoon: ATX’s prized pearl for 20 years now. Makers of A Series of Sneaks, Kill The Moonlight, and that mountainous bridge in “Don’t Make Me a Target.” A band crafted so boldly in Daniel and Eno’s musical image that even their side projects sound like them. They’re back now, off to play five dates in five days, then home to ready the release of LP eight, details for which remain close to collective chest.

First, a brief warmup: 45 minutes in front of a Tuesday night hometown crowd.

Britt Daniel and Spoon at Hotel Vegas May 6 (Photo by John Anderson)

The band plugged in with Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga centerpiece “Don’t You Evah,” sporting a new member, Daniel’s Divine Fits bandmate Alex Fischel, who played both guitar and keyboards throughout, in addition to tambourine. “Small Stakes” followed, then Transference iceover “Who Makes Your Money” and “Don’t You Evah” album-mate “Rhythm & Soul.” All told, Spoon scooped 16 tracks from its seven-disc arsenal, but offered no new material.

Instead, there was Daniel, in red shirt and signature coif, pulling the microphone off its stand so he could sing “The Way We Get By” towards the venue’s open window and the crowd gathered on Sixth Street. And Fischel, a rag-tagged jolt of energy, wearing a tambourine atop his head during Gimme Fiction colossus “My Mathematical Mind” and set-following single “I Turn My Camera On.”

“Very punctual,” said Daniel. “That’s what we were shooting for.”

Less concerned with punctuality was Sweet Spirit, the exciting new outfit that’s made a name for itself around town in a short four months. The sixpiece – an amalgam of A Giant Dog, the late Bobby Jealousy, and Megabig that treads on the idea that singer Sabrina Ellis is an East Austin icon in the making – let the festivities play out on their adopted home turf, giving everybody time to get over “OMG SPOON” before settling into full-bodied and fierce pop.

“I’m ready to fuck this up for real,” Ellis allowed early, as the venue refilled from an extended, all-inclusive smoke break.

She did, big time, but not in the way we’ve grown accustomed to. With locals having spent the past four years watching Ellis onstage, it’s not surprising to see her in hot pants and a small top doing handstands and hanging from the rafters. She’s made her mark on this town by being a fireball that burns hotter than any other; a singer with reckless abandon who’ll go drink for drink with you and still get back for the last verse of the song.

With Sweet Spirit, however, she’s contained, controlled, and focused. She plays more guitar and steps back to strum while another band member solos. She’s in the band, for once, and not out in front of it. Some in attendance said that made all the difference.

There were a number of names in the crowd Tuesday night, but the one that stuck out to me was Erika Wennerstrom, the singer for Heartless Bastards. She sings like Ellis, or vice versa, and all things considered, they both boast this choral ring that plays out more like an actual instrument than vocal chords vibrating.

Watching Wennerstrom move about the crowd around 12:30am, after half of Spoon’s crowd had dissipated and Hotel Vegas had returned to the sweaty, drunken hangout it so wonderfully is, I couldn’t help but think that she was maybe seeing a bit of herself in the young singer. That maybe she was catching the next act in line to assume full city buzz status. After all, Britt Daniel asked Sweet Spirit to play with Spoon.

“You’ve spoiled us,” nodded Daniel before leaving the stage. His timing couldn’t have been better.

Spoon set-list: 5.6.14

“Don’t You Evah”
“Small Stakes”
“Who Makes Your Money”
“Rhythm & Soul”
“The Way We Get By”
“The Ghost of You Lingers”
“The Beast and Dragon, Adored”
“My Mathematical Mind”
“Trouble Comes Running”
“Don’t Make Me A Target”
“Your Got Yr Cherry Bomb”
“Jonathon Fisk”
“Black Like Me”

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Spoon, Sweet Spirit, Britt Daniel, Jim Eno, Sabrina Ellis, Rob Pope, Eric Harvey, Andrew Cashen, Alex Fischel, Erika Wennerstrom

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