If you were a Spoon fan who hadn't seen the Texas band in a few years or heard its latest album, you may have thought frontman Britt Daniel's guitar suffered technical difficulties throughout this weekend's pair of sold-out Palace Theatre gigs.
The lanky, tousled-headed rocker — an enduring critics' darling and something of an unlikely indie-hunk star at 46 — seemed to want as little to do with his Telecaster as possible during Saturday's two-hour performance.
He didn't touch his instrument at all during the first two songs, "Do I Have to Talk You Into It" and "Inside Out," and then laid off it many more times through the show. When he did pick up it up, it sometimes stayed slung behind his back, or he used it more as background rhythmic accompaniment.
In place of Daniel's choppy, wiry guitar parts was a large bank of piano hooks and fills, and thick layers of billowy synth and organ parts. Spoon drummer Jim Eno has been the band's semi-secretive weapon throughout the band's 21-year recording career, and he was as flawless and forceful as ever Saturday. But in a rather dramatic shift of roles, keyboardist Alex Fischel played a much more central role.
The dude's only been in Spoon four years — he served in Daniel's side group Divine Fits before that — and he's already a big piece of the shape-shifting puzzle. Fischel even got a few minutes of stage time to himself to tinker away on the keys.
The end results may have been a tad off-putting to longtime Spoon fans, who were only treated to two songs from the band's first four albums on Saturday (and none on Friday), and who never quite got to experience the overdrive-level energy of some of the First Ave shows of old.
Still, the more brooding, low-lit and often poppier performance made for much more adventurous, unpredictable turn from a band that has been playing the Twin Cities ever year or two since the early-'00s, riding rampant spins on 89.3 the Current (and, ahem, ample critical praise before that).
"There's so much great music from this place," Daniel said toward the end of the two-night run, for which the band brought along a film crew. "To be appreciated by you guys means a lot to me."
Daniel was applauded most when he stuck to the punkier, more percussive — and, yep, guitar-driven — grooves of songs like "The Beast and Dragon, Adored," "Got Nuffin," the amped-up finale "The Rent I Pay" and especially the Night 2 bonus cuts "Small Stakes" and "Everything Hits at Once." (The two set lists were nearly identical otherwise.)
However, it was fun to see him branch out as a showier frontman at times, be it the dramatic balladeer who lay on the drum kit during "I Ain't the One" or the Prince-copping sex machine in "Can I Sit Next to You," both from the group's new synth-heavy album "Hot Thoughts." The older gem "My Mathematical Mind" was also turned into a stormier showpiece with a keyboard-led reworking.
Some of the newer, moodier material failed to connect, including the tame, new-wavy encore kickoff "First Caress" and the New Orderly "Pink Up," in which Fischel and newly added second keyboardist Gerardo Larios droned on pointlessly.
Their overt, often frilly piano flourishes in several older songs never quite jelled, including "Don't Make Me a Target" and a cheerier version of "The Underdog," which edged on Billy Joel-like piano-bar cheese as Daniel urged the crowd to clap along. But hey, of all our rock vets, the baseball-loving Joel knows the value of a good changeup.