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ACL Fest headliners The Killers surprise Austin with midnight set at Continental Club

Peter Blackstock

During South by Southwest last March, the Broken Spoke was the local music institution that got the big secret show when Garth Brooks showed up to play the old-school country dance hall. For the Austin City Limits Music Festival, the big winner was longtime South Congress anchor the Continental Club, where fest headliner the Killers played a midnight show to 250 fans on Thursday night.

Word went up late Thursday via the band’s Twitter account that the show would be happening:

A long line quickly formed down South Congress outside the club. The Continental, arguably Austin’s most important music venue of the past 30 years, isn’t new to such high-profile shows; a few years ago, Robert Plant and Patty Griffin performed there (billed as “Patty Griffin and Her Driver”).

The Continental show arose after a day of speculation about an apparent private show earlier Thursday atop a downtown building.

READ MORE: Looks like ACL headliners the Killers are playing on a downtown Austin rooftop

After bringing the first weekend of ACL Fest to an end on Oct. 8 with a powerful hour-and-a-half set on the American Express stage, the band will return this Sunday to close out the second weekend as well.

READ MORE: Our Austin360 review of the Killers at ACL Fest Weekend One

Austin360 contributing writer Chad Swiatecki was on the scene and filed this report:

For whatever difficulty Killers singer Brandon Flowers may (or may not) have had connecting to the audience in Zilker Park on Sunday when his band closed out Austin City Limits Music Festival, he had no such problems Thursday night.

In a hastily arranged drop-in show at The Continental Club, the Las Vegas rockers delivered 60 minutes of hits new and old.

The show saw Flowers clad all in black save for a gold lame´ cheetah print suit jacket and having no trouble provoking cheers and sing-alongs from the moment the opening of the cocky strut of new single “The Man” kicked off the show. It was interesting to watch Flowers and his bandmates and backup singers adjust to a stage far smaller than what they’ve played with any regularity in more than a decade.

That meant for Flowers’ turns on keyboards along with vocals he had to contort himself to use a standard vertical microphone off to his side instead of getting a telescope boom mic positioned directly in front of him. He handled it with relative ease, but the definite highlights came on songs like “When You Were Young” and others where he was able to prowl the stage and lean into the band’s many anthemic moments.

About 40 minutes into the show Flowers paused to intro the song “Andy, You’re A Star,” which he said the band hadn’t played in close to 10 years, and recalled writing it in drummer Ronnie Vannucci Jr.’s garage while obsessing over Iggy Pop’s “Lust For Life” album. While the dissonant opening moments of that song might recall the punk icon’s solo material, its final third on Thursday shifted into the grandiose and shiny smooth rock that Flowers and his bandmates would come to make a living with soon after the release of debut album “Hot Fuss.”

A run through Tom Petty’s “American Girl” felt somewhat by the numbers even if it was an admirable tribute to an artist Flowers said he respected but was never able to meet. And show closer “Mr. Brightside” was a test tube example of what the band does best, crafting tales of characters caught in the middle of tough places and attaching them to undeniable choruses.

We’ll see on Sunday for the band’s second night closing the festival whether the back to their roots club show has any effect on their supersized outdoor performance, but for an hour in a sweaty and historic dive bar in downtown Austin they were in top form.

Set list: The Man, Interlude, When You Were Young, Somebody Told Me, Smile, Human, Run For Cover, Andy, You’re A Star, Read My Mind, Runaways, All These Things That I Have Done, Mr. Brightside

It’s too bad, by the way, that former Austin singer-songwriter Joe Pug recently moved back to his home turf of Maryland, as it seems likely that Killers leader Brandon Flowers might have brought him onstage for one of these occasions. When Flowers toured behind a solo album two years ago, he had Pug open some shows, and even brought him onstage during the encore for a duet version of Pug’s song “If Still It Can’t Be Found”: