Most bands are lucky to live one nasty, brutish and short life - much of it spent traveling vast distances to play for minuscule audiences, waking up in the back of stinky rental vans and finding breakfast at the bottom of a Budweiser can - but like a cat, Spoon seems to have nine lives.

Spoon keeps coming back from one curiosity-killing foray into the unknown after another - trusting a major label, aping the Pixies, dabbling in white funk, etc.

Some religions call it reincarnation; Spoon calls it a career in rock. In the process, the band has also produced some of the finest guitar-based rock music in recent memory, a status confirmed by the fact that the band sold out Starlight Ballroom despite not having released an album in 21/2 years.

Unfortunately, on Sunday night Spoon was off its game. Maybe it was the stifling heat (not likely - the band hails from Austin, Texas), or the subpar sound mix (which was missing certain, let's call them low-end, "hip-shaking" bass frequencies, as evidenced by a capacity crowd that did not dance to what is ordinarily very danceable music), or a set list larded with new material from its still-untitled new album set for release July 10.

I'll blame the muddy sound, because the new songs sounded of a piece with the old. They had a boom-boom-THWACK drumbeat, some White Album-style piano chords, a lowdown guitar chug not heard since the "Peter Gunn Theme," singer Brett Daniels' Lennon-esque bleat, and all manner of bubblegum hand-claps, Josie & the Pussycats tambourine slaps, and gang vocal sha-la-las.

A typical Spoon song is usually one part '60s AM radio nugget, one part '80s British art-punk and one part the found sounds of musique concrete. One new song centered on the phrase "Don't make me a target," delivered by Daniels with that mix of anger and fear that seems all too familiar these days, especially in light of Virginia Tech. (All that's missing from these new songs is a personal context, and the private mythology they become a part of. For instance: Remember when we took that road trip through the Rockies and listened to Gimme Fiction over and over? No, well I do.)

And yet, despite all that, by the end of the night, Spoon landed on its feet with powerful readings of the swooning "They Never Got You," a show-stopping "Two Sides of Monsieur Valentine" - which starts with the line "every morning I got a new chance" - and the aptly titled "That's The Way We Get By."

And so Spoon lives to die another day.