Review: White Denim taping of “Austin City Limits”

White Denim tapes an episode of "Austin City Limits" at ACL Live, Aug. 4, 2014. SCOTT NEWTON/COURTESY OF KLRU
White Denim tapes an episode of “Austin City Limits” at ACL Live, Aug. 4, 2014. SCOTT NEWTON/COURTESY OF KLRU

After a 40th season of tapings that so far have included two all-star marathon gatherings, a highly anticipated career-spanning set by Beck, the debut of Jeff Tweedy’s new band with his son on drums and a Nick Cave tour de force that Joe Gross called one of the show’s “best performances of all time,” it seemed inevitable for “Austin City Limits” to have an evening that was more, well, ordinary.

Austin band White Denim’s taping on Monday night at ACL Live had no special guests or historical significance or landmark aura about it. Still, it served an important purpose in carrying on ACL’s tradition of supporting local artists. The hometown boys clearly were psyched for the opportunity; at one point, leader James Petralli marveled, “I can’t believe I got to play ‘I Start to Run’ on television.”

Whether that song actually makes the 30-minute broadcast cut remains to be seen, given that much of White Denim’s hourlong set consisted of extended jams that seemed to meld several tunes together. Such a structure played into the band’s mercurial and exploratory aesthetic, but it will be a challenge for the ACL editing staff to decide what fits and what doesn’t, as two of those excursions went for 10 minutes or more.

On the other hand, the jam-heavy approach made this a fairly ideal show for ACL’s relatively recent addition of online livestreaming. Those tuning in to the show’s website Monday night could watch the taping as it unfolded, allowing the performance to have an immediate impact that reached beyond the full house of fans who filled ACL Live to the upper reaches of the venue’s third level.

Stay tuned for an announcement next week about the first few broadcasts of the “Austin City Limits” fall season. A two-hour 40th-anniversary primetime special will air Oct. 3, combining footage from all-star concerts shot in April in June. New weekly episodes will begin the following night.

ACL Fest announces day-by-day lineup

In accordance with the release of single-day passes at 10 a.m. Wednesday, the Austin City Limits Music Festival has released the day-by-day schedule of acts for both the Oct. 3-5 and Oct. 10-12 weekends.

Headliners on Friday include Outkast, Beck, Foster the People and Belle & Sebastian. Saturday’s top names include Eminem, Skrillex, Lana Del Rey and Major Lazer. Sunday appears geared to attract more old-school rock fans, with Pearl Jam, the Replacements and Spoon among the big draws. Lorde, the one major act appearing only on the second weekend, is slotted for Sunday, Oct. 12.

The day-by-day schedules also reveal more specifics about local acts that aren’t performing on both weekends. Friday, Oct. 3, features Asleep at the Wheel, while Wheel leader Ray Benson teams with MilkDrive on Friday, Oct. 10.  Exclusives on Saturday, Oct. 4, include Johnnyswim and Mike & the Moonpies, with Saturday, Oct. 11, including the Nightowls and Riders Against the Storm. The lineup for Sunday, Oct. 5, includes Dawn & Hakes and the Gospel Silvertones, while Sunday, Oct. 12, is the lone date for Emily Wolfe and the Stapletones.

Single-day passes are $90. Complete day-by-day listings are posted on the ACL Fest lineup page. Full schedule grids with times are still in the works, with tentative plans for them to be released later this month.

‘Austin City Limits’ marks 40 years with 4-hour show

Sheryl Crow and Kris Kristofferson perform as Austin City Limits celebrates their 40th Anniversary on Thursday, June 26, 2014. RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Sheryl Crow and Kris Kristofferson perform as Austin City Limits celebrates their 40th Anniversary on Thursday, June 26, 2014. RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

“Most shows would end with something like that,” emcee Andy Langer said as Bonnie Raitt, Jimmie Vaughan, Gary Clark Jr. and Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes left the stage after blasting through the Fabulous Thunderbirds hit “Wrap It Up” to kick off Thursday’s “Austin City Limits” 40th anniversary special taping at ACL Live. “This one STARTED with it.”

Indeed, that was just the beginning of a marathon that stretched just past four hours (counting a half-hour intermission) and amounted to a broad survey across the heart of Americana music. Varying combinations of country, blues, rock, soul, folk, funk and more pushed the evening’s horizons wide, encapsulating what “Austin City Limits” has become since the show began filming episodes for public television broadcast in 1974.

The sheer bulk of the endeavor made this event an endurance challenge for both the show’s crew and its audience. With two hosts – singer-songwriter Sheryl Crow and actor/musician Jeff Bridges – plus emcee bits from Langer and executive producer Terry Lickona, as well as short videos about ACL’s inductees into its new Hall of Fame, the show had a lot of moving parts. They had to be assembled right for much of the footage to be included on a PBS prime-time special about the show’s 40th anniversary set to air nationally Oct. 3.

Inevitably, there were stops and restarts, takes and retakes. This fall’s finished product – which will include footage from a Hall of Fame induction show taped in April at the original “Austin City Limits” Studio 6A on the University of Texas campus – no doubt will be assembled into a seamless tour de force. Indeed, the hard part for the ACL crew lies ahead: Now they have to edit many hours from those two nights into a single broadcast fitting a two-hour air slot during PBS’s Fall Arts Festival.

Will they leave that terrific, tone-setting all-star opener, but cut Raitt’s subsequent soulful rendition of the Lou Rawls hit “Your Good Thing (Is About to End”)? Will they include her duet with Jimmie Vaughan on “The Pleasure’s All Mine” but leave out Vaughan’s terrific trio turn with Doyle Bramhall II and Gary Clark Jr. on “Early in the Morning”? Will they include just one of the two Stephen Bruton tunes Bridges performed with the ace house band assembled by steel guitar great Lloyd Maines? Decisions, decisions.

The couple thousand who packed ACL Live – the concert was a benefit for KLRU, which produces “Austin City Limits” – got to see it all, amid the frequent production breaks and stage resets. Sticking it out to the end at a show of this nature made one appreciate how smoothly ACL’s crew presents its typical tapings, which run almost like a normal concert with rare interruptions.

But you rarely get a chance for the cross-pollination opportunities that an event like this provided, and ACL took full advantage. Early, they had Crow and Kris Kristofferson dueting on the latter’s classic “Me and Bobby McGee”; late, Texas troubadour icons Joe Ely and Robert Earl Keen shared the spotlight for a house-rocking romp through “The Road Goes On Forever,” penned by Keen and covered definitively by Ely on record.

Attempts to represent the range of what ACL now presents – the show is much more diverse than when it focused on progressive country in its first few seasons – resulted in crowd-pleasing appearances by local Latin funk orchestra Grupo Fantasma and the terrific young soul band Alabama Shakes. A video of rock band the Foo Fighters performing Roky Erickson’s “Two Headed Dog” at the original studio, taped in March, had less impact in this live setting, though it should work well as part of the TV presentation in October.

The closing numbers of the show’s two long sets both stood out. Clark set the air afire with a supercharged guitar solo in “Bright Lights” that, as Langer noted, young guitarists might study on video in years to come, just as Clark says he studied Stevie Ray Vaughan’s 1980s ACL appearances. And the whole gang assembled for the grand finale of Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away,” with vocal turns by Ely, Bridges, Crow and Keen plus instrumental solos from Raitt, Vaughan, Bramhall, Clark, Howard and Maines (who was added to the ACL Hall of Fame’s inaugural induction class just before the finale).

A superb local backing crew provided support for Raitt, Kristofferson, and Bridges at the outset, and for Crow, Bramhall, Ely and Keen at the end. Helping to keep the “Austin” in “Austin City Limits” were guitarists David Grissom and Rich Brotherton, keyboardist Riley Osborn, bassist Glenn Fukunaga and drummer Tom Van Schaik.

Review: Jeff Tweedy “Austin City Limits” taping

“WHO’S THE DRUMMER?!”

Jeff and Spencer Tweedy onstage at "Austin City Limits" taping at ACL Live, Friday, June 20, 2014. SCOTT NEWTON/COURTESY OF KLRU
Jeff and Spencer Tweedy onstage at “Austin City Limits” taping at ACL Live, Friday, June 20, 2014. SCOTT NEWTON/COURTESY OF KLRU

Jeff Tweedy had just finished introducing his non-Wilco backing crew at Friday’s taping of “Austin City Limits” — but the crowd noted that he’d left out a kind of important member, given that the new band is named Tweedy. “Oh yeah!” he answered. “That’s my son, Spencer.”

Father and son (Tweedy and pop?) had just finished playing a full album’s worth of new material at ACL Live along with guitarist Jim Elkington, multi-instrumentalist Liam Cunningham, bassist Darin Gray, and backing vocalists Holly Laessig and Jess Wolfe of the band Lucius. It’s not common for a show to begin with 14 songs no one has yet heard: “That’s always fun at a concert,” Tweedy acknowledged apologetically as he thanked the audience for the indulgence.

The pleasure, as it turned out, was all ours. Though Tweedy followed the new stuff with nine Wilco and Uncle Tupelo favorites played solo plus a couple of full-band ringers for an encore, it was the sneak preview of “Sukierae,” the upcoming debut from the band just called Tweedy, that made the night special.

Judging from Friday’s performance, “Sukierae” (due Sept. 16 on Tweedy’s own dBpm label) will be a fairly low-key album, and not a drastic departure from Wilco. Sonically adventurous numbers toward the start of the set were balanced with stark acoustic tunes that focused squarely on the lyrics, plus a handful of poppier moments recalling Wilco’s late ’90s “Summerteeth” era.

An undercurrent of sadness ran through the material. Loneliness emerged as a theme in several songs, and the lyrics often tackled hard realities. In “Diamond Light,” driven by Gray’s insistent bass thump, he asks, “Are you scared … terrified of being alone?” In “Desert Bell,” all instrumentation faded away at the end as Tweedy sang, “Let me no longer be with your sorrow.”

Still, the pathos often was tempered with hope. “I’ve always been certain for all of my life / That one day I would be a burden, and you would be my wife,” he sang in “New Moon,” which started in hushed tones and subtly built up tension toward a cutting solo from Elkington in the bridge. In the end, Tweedy voiced one simple request: “When you fall asleep, please let me be what you’re dreaming for.”

Tweedy also noted that several songs have the word “love” in the title — “Where My Love,” “Wait for Love,” “Slow Love.” The last of those was built around a hypnotic chant – “slow love is the only love” – that the audience gradually joined in on at the outset, before the instrumentation and stellar vocals from Laessig and Wolfe steered the song toward brilliant soundscapes. In the end, the chant returned: “Slow love is the only love.”

Throughout, The younger Tweedy proved to be a very tasteful player: He’s no heavy metal drummer, leaning instead toward the careful precision of jazz with a hint of improvisational invention. It’s clear he’s had a good mentor in Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche, but he’s also developing his own style – and it was nice to see him chime in on backing vocals during Doug Sahm’s “Give Back The Key to My Heart” in the encore.

Tweedy mentioned he’d recorded that Sahm classic with its author a little over 20 years ago in Austin, when Uncle Tupelo made their “Anodyne” swan song at Cedar Creek studio. It was an inspired choice after he’d given the band a break for a solo acoustic run-through of time-tested tunes including “Via Chicago,” “New Madrid” and “Passenger Side.” The highlight of that section was “Jesus Etc.,” with Laessig and Wolfe returning to provide beautiful harmonies.

All of the Tweedys – Jeff, Spencer, and the band named Tweedy – reconvene tonight at the Texas Union Ballroom for a sold-out show with opening act the Handsome Family.

Set List:

Down From Above

Diamond Light

Flowering

Summer Noon

World Away

Desert Bell

Honey Combed

New Moon

Where My Love

High As Hello

Wait For Love

Low Key

Slow Love

Nobody Dies

Via Chicago (solo)

I Am Trying To Break Your Heart (solo)

New Madrid (solo)

Hummingbird (solo)

Please Tell My Brother (solo)

Born Alone (solo)

Jesus Etc. (with Holly Laessig and Jess Wolfe of Lucius)

Passenger Side (solo)

Give Back the Key to My Heart (band)

California Stars (band)

Misunderstood (solo)

ACL Hall of Fame blasts off with Willie Nelson, Double Trouble and friends

Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson and Lyle Lovett perform as part of Nelson's induction into the "Austin City Limits" Hall of Fame at Studio 6A on the University of Texas campus April 26, 2014. SCOTT NEWTON/COURTESY OF KLRU
Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson and Lyle Lovett perform as part of Nelson’s induction into the “Austin City Limits” Hall of Fame at Studio 6A on the University of Texas campus April 26, 2014. SCOTT NEWTON/COURTESY OF KLRU

“Austin City Limits” creator Bill Arhos had the best line of the night Saturday at the long-running TV show’s first-ever ACL Hall of Fame induction ceremony: “It’s a little intimidating to be in a class of the first inductees, and three of the four have bronze statues around town.”

Arhos may be the odd man out, but his role was the most crucial in the origin of “Austin City Limits,” which is celebrating its 40th season of filming with several special events. This one was maybe the biggest, with Willie Nelson, Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble and Darrell Royal joining Arhos in the show’s new Hall of Fame. Footage from the evening, which was filmed at ACL’s original home in Studio 6A on the University of Texas campus, will be included in an ACL 40th-anniversary special that will air in prime time on PBS this fall.

Both Nelson and Double Trouble performed as part of the festivities. Nelson kicked things off with an hourlong set in which he and his longtime harmonica player Mickey Raphael were backed by an abbreviated version of Lyle Lovett’s Large Band.

Lovett himself joined in to duet with Nelson on “Funny How Time Slips Away,” and singer Emmylou Harris came aboard to take the lead vocal on “Crazy.” All three performed together on a few numbers, most notably a touching cover of Townes Van Zandt’s “Pancho & Lefty,” which Nelson introduced as being “one of the best songs ever written.”

The set concluded with the formal inductions of Nelson, Arhos and Royal (whose wife Edith accepted on the late coach’s behalf). Doing the induction honors were actor Matthew McConaughey for Nelson, ACL executive producer Terry Lickona for Arhos, and former UT football coach Mack Brown for Royal. An intermission followed, along with a brief art-auction fundraiser of two paintings commissioned for the occasion.

Next came the induction of Vaughn & Double Trouble, accepted by the legendary guitarist’s surviving bandmates Chris Layton, Tommy Shannon and Reese Wynans. “Stevie is still here,” Layton told the crowd as he gazed around the studio, where Vaughan and the band delivered two indelible performances in the early and late 1980s. “He’s here in this building.”

The band then proceeded to summon Vaughan’s spirit with a slew of special guests. Guitarist Kenny Wayne Shepherd and singer Mike Farris got the house rockin’ with, appropriately, “The House Is Rockin’” before blazing through “Look at Little Sister” and “Crossfire” with the help of the three-piece Grooveline Horns. Doyle Bramhall II followed with a soulful three-song set highlighted by “Change It,” a song his late father wrote for Vaughan.

Bramhall stuck around to accompany charismatic steel guitarist Robert Randolph, who confessed that “a girl once actually left me on a date because I kept playing Stevie Ray Vaughan in my car.” He proceeed to deliver the night’s most rousing number, a celebratory “Pride and Joy,” with Wynans applauding from behind his keyboard at the song’s end.

The only guy who could follow that was Buddy Guy. The legendary Chicago blues guitarist drove the show home with “Let Me Love You Baby” and  “Mary Had a Little Lamb” before a mass cast assembled for the “Texas Flood” finale. From stage left, the front line consisted of Shepherd, Bramhall, Randolph, Nelson, Guy, Willie’s son Lukas Nelson and Lovett, with Layton, Shannon, Wynans and harp player Raphael backing them. It was a defining “Austin City Limits” moment.

The crew also announced a few details for a June 26 concert that will be held at the downtown ACL Live venue to be filmed for inclusion in the fall prime time special. Actor Jeff Bridges will host the event, which will include performances by Gary Clark Jr., Kris Kristofferson, Sheryl Crow and Jimmie Vaughan, with others to be announced.

40 for 40: Los Lobos, ACL mark four-decade milestone together

Los Lobos
Los Lobos

“Forty years, people!” David Hidalgo of Los Lobos marveled a few songs into the band’s two-hour, 20-song set kicking off the 40th season of “Austin City Limits” TV tapings. “I’m glad you’re still here … and I’m glad WE’RE still here.”

Los Lobos, too, is celebrating its 40th year, a remarkable feat for a band that shows no signs of slowing down even as its core members hover on both sides of age 60. The East Lost Angeles band’s Monday appearance at ACL Live marked their fifth taping of the program, and they touched on nearly all eras of their career in a retrospective tour de force.

Early on, they dug into their 1988 Spanish-language “La Pistola y El Corazon” album, showcasing the complex rhythms that became a Los Lobos hallmark as the band progressed from its more straightforward Latin rock ’n’ roll beginnings. They revisited that period too, delivering tracks such as “Let’s Say Goodnight,” “Don’t Worry Baby” and “Set Me Free (Rosa Lee)” from their mid-’80s heyday.

The groundbreaking 1992 album “Kiko” was well-represented with four cuts, its adventurous explorations paving the way for the polyrhythmic, danceable tunes that have increasingly become Los Lobos’ bread and butter in the new millennium.

The audience was a bit subued at first, prompting Cesar Rosas to remark, “It’s so quiet!” Gradually the band gathered momentum, and by the time they dedicated “Ay Te Dejo En San Antonio” to the great conjunto accordionist Flaco Jimenez, the place was bubbling over.

One problem: They got some words wrong, prompting a retake. “Since we’re playing it for Flaco, we’ve got to do it right,” said Hidalgo, before launching into a second try – and false-starting.

The third time was the charm, but really the song’s energy was so inspiring that the audience just kept getting more and more amped up with each successive rendition. They probably wouldn’t have minded at all if Los Lobos just kept blazing through “Ay Te Dejo” for the rest of the night.

“We’ve been playing that one for 35 years,” Rosas noted as the band laughed off the missteps. “After 45 years, maybe we’ll have it down.”