In her debut “Austin City Limits” taping, rapidly rising R&B artist Andra Day demonstrated phenomenal vocal prowess. From the soaring extended bridge in retro-soul opener “Forever Mine,” arranged to showcase Day’s range and technical skills as a jazz singer, to the electrifying closer, a cover of Queen’s “I Want It All” reimagined as a torrential soul storm that brought the singer to her knees and the audience to their feet, 31-year-old Day proved she’s one of the most powerful voices of her generation.
But on the day of one of the most horrific attacks in U.S. history, she also proved she’s so much more.
“We’re not just performing for you,” Day said, early in her set. She explained that her goal was to forge a bond with the audience so “we’re mutually vulnerable and experiencing something genuine.”
She honored the legends with a furious take on Nina Simone’s “Mississippi Goddamn” and an uplifting medley of Bob Marley’s “Is This Love?” and “Could You Be Loved.” She opened up about how Kendrick Lamar’s “No Makeup” helped her shed her fear of facing the world unmasked before doing a fantastic scat-rap of the song. And on her own material she consistently pushed her voice through astounding changes, with throaty growls that fluttered into silky cadences as she rode the crescendoes of her rock solid band.
Throughout the performance her full commitment to the emotional weight of the music was unrelenting, but it was most pronounced when she directly addressed the events of the day. The band was “broken-hearted” about “our neighbors in Orlando,” seeing “so many people murdered in cold blood,” she said. But her mission, she explained, was to prove that “hate and anger and revenge are the least powerful forces in the universe.”
She dedicated her anthem of resilience “Rise Up” to the victims and their families, asking the audience to join her in song, sending healing energy in the hopes that they might feel some comfort.
The lyrics of the song beseech the listener to “rise up, in spite of the ache” and “do it a thousand times again. It also offers the promise to “take the world to its feet and move mountains.” Delivered with raw heart from Day and her band, the performance was cathartic and poignant. Many in the audience openly wept.
Introducing the band at the top of the show, ‘ACL’ producer Terry Lickona acknowledged the day’s tragedy, but he said, he hoped this performance could remind us that “music is a universal healer and a force for good.”
The unforgettable mid-set performance of “Rise Up” brought the audience to its feet for the first of three standing ovations. And for a few minutes we were all able to accept Day’s powerful thesis: love is the only thing that can save us all.