You don’t know how it feels to have a hard act to follow until you’ve taken the stage at the Austin City Limits Music Festival right after three skydivers parachuted onto the grounds while the fest’s P.A. played Tom Petty singing “Free Fallin'” recorded at the Heartbreakers’ 2006 ACL Fest appearance.
That was Spoon’s opening act Saturday night in Zilker Park. But there might not have been a single act in the lineup more suited to the task as Britt Daniel and his bandmates immediately went about proving as soon as they began. The night’s headliners (Chance the Rapper, Red Hot Chili Peppers) were still to come, but the hometown heroes packed the Miller Lite Stage far more than anyone had all weekend, and they kept the huge crowd enthralled for a solid hourlong set.
It’s much to the indie-rock band’s credit that although co-founders Daniel and drummer Jim Eno are hitting middle age, their fan base still stretches well into a younger generation. Many twentysomethings danced and sang along as the band reeled off 13 songs from their past five albums, including four off this year’s “Hot Thoughts.”
It helps that Daniel and Eno have been keen on recruiting younger players into the band’s ever-shifting lineup over the years. Gerardo Larios (formerly of Austin band Money Chicha) and Alex Fischel, the group’s most recent additions, largely laid the foundation with mood-setting keyboard work. Daniel punched through the haze with cutting vocal and guitar leads as Eno and bassist Rob Pope, who’s been with the group for 10 years, kept precise and often thunderous time throughout.
Daniel made sure to salute the band’s home-turf fan base. “We’ve been doing shows all year; it’s good to finally be playing here,” he stressed a few songs in, noting the band’s return from extensive touring after they unveiled “Hot Thoughts” during South by Southwest in March. “This is where it all started, right?” he asked the crowd, as they launched into “Don’t You Evah” from 2007’s “Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga.”
“I Turn My Camera On” and “My Mathematical Mind,” two songs from 2005’s “Gimme Fiction,” were clear crowd favorites, but really everything the band played was well-received, amid a set that was carefully selected and skillfully paced. Daniel was a maelstrom of sound and motion throughout, often sinking to his knees for a shredding solo, or thrusting his arm in the air as he sang.
It was only toward the very end of the set that some of the crowd began to migrate up the hill for Chance the Rapper’s set that was about to begin. Most stayed with Spoon till the end, a heavy and muscular version of “Rent I Pay” from 2014’s “They Want My Soul” that stressed Spoon’s guitar-rock roots more than its later-era keyboard atmospherics.
While they’d played, the sky had faded from the last embers of dusk into the onset of another ACL Fest night. The memory of their set would linger, long after dark.