Spoon's surprise Mohawk show was a look back at two decades of highlights, for joyous fans
Britt Daniel has gazed out upon tens of thousands at Zilker Park several times over the past two decades, probably finding himself amazed at how big his band Spoon has become since its mid-'90s genesis in Austin’s nightclubs. But he may never have shown a look of gratitude on his face like he did Thursday night in front of 800-odd fans at the Mohawk.
“That was one of the greatest walk-ons we’ve ever had,” Daniel told the crowd a few songs into a 75-minute set on a warm summer night at the Red River Cultural District outdoor venue. “We wanted to put on this party tonight because the spirit of Austin is on full blast.”
These returns to action for our big-name local acts have been coming in steady succession for the past few weeks, first with Black Pumas’ five-night run at Stubb’s in late May and then with Shakey Graves’ triumphant re-emergence at that same venue in mid-June. (Next up is Gary Clark Jr., who’ll make his first Austin appearance since the pandemic began to ease when he plays Antone’s, the downtown blues club of which he is part-owner, on July 15.)
For Daniel, returning to his roots in the Live Music Capital’s legendary club scene clearly meant a great deal. Spoon has been big enough to play large halls and festivals for nearly two decades now, but they’ve made a habit of these hometown underplays in recent years, offering sneak peeks at new material with quickly organized club gigs.
Thursday’s concert was announced Wednesday morning. Hundreds of fans lined up at the Mohawk’s box office to pay $20 cash (or $23.17 with a credit card) for a maximum of two tickets each. The sale — designed to reward those who made the extra effort, and to deny scalpers — was a joyous occasion in itself, even with midday heat beating down upon a line that stretched two blocks for a couple of hours. Mohawk staffers handed out water to those waiting, and fans encountered friends in line they may not have seen since the pandemic began.
A social media post from Twitter user @IshmaelRJohnson indicated that the ticket event, which harkened back to an era before online sales, provided precisely the throwback spirit Daniel probably was going for: “A surprise Spoon show having a line for tickets shows real Austin is still in that city somewhere.”
Spoon has been working on a new album since the pandemic began, but Thursday’s set was all about a long look back. The crowd delighted in a set that pulled from every Spoon album since 2001.
Spoon performs 'Rent I Pay,' more in surprise show
Highlights included “My Mathematical Mind” (from 2005’s “Gimme Fiction”), “Don’t You Evah” (from 2007’s “Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga”), “Got Nuffin” (from 2010’s “Transference”) and “Inside Out” (from 2014’s “They Want My Soul”). Covers of Bill Callahan’s Smog (“Held”) and Plastic Ono Band-era John Lennon (“Isolation”) rounded out the set.
Daniel, dressed in a white T-shirt and jeans, switched between electric and acoustic guitars, ditching both on a few numbers to let the band carry the day behind his vocals. Along with co-founding drummer Jim Eno, Spoon’s current lineup includes keyboardist/guitarist Alex Fischel, who’s been with the group since 2013, and more recent recruits Gerardo Larios (guitar/keyboards) and Ben Trokan (bass).
“We’ve got one more!” Daniel shouted with equal parts energy and ecstasy as he and the band began a rousing rendition of “Rent I Pay” to close the show at 10:30 p.m. The obligatory “Austin, Texas, we love you!” followed, but it was no “Hello Cleveland” formality; you could tell that this one came straight from the heart.
Local indie-rocker Walker Lukens opened with a half-hour set that focused on material from his recent release “Red Headed Strangers.” The album of Willie Nelson covers, recorded during the pandemic, was sold via Bandcamp to benefit the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians.
Lukens' six-piece backing crew helped take Nelson tunes such as “Pretend I Never Happened” and “I Gotta Get Drunk” into territory way beyond country music, to the point that some in the crowd might not have known the songs were from Willie’s catalog. But everyone recognized the set-closing number, “On the Road Again.” And even though this was a hometown gig that didn’t involve going down the highway, it was clear that for local musicians finally getting back into the groove, the life they love is making music with their friends.