Tapings for season 43 of “Austin City Limits” kicked off during South by Southwest with the Pretenders, and now the spring and summer slots are starting to fill in quickly. Recent adds to the schedule: Benjamin Booker on April 27, Angel Olsen on July 25 and the Zac Brown Band on Aug. 3.
Free tickets to each taping are distributed by lottery drawing. To have a shot at tickets, enter your email on the show’s website about a week before the date of each taping.
This is the first ACL taping for all three artists. Brown leads a seven-piece Southern country-rock backing band that has had several platinum-selling albums and received three Grammys. Soulful blues-rocker Booker drew raves at ACL Fest in 2014 and at Fun Fun Fun Fest in 2015 and has a new album due out June 2. Olsen is returning to town after a sold-out two-night stretch at the Mohawk in February to support her acclaimed 2016 album “My Woman.”
What a difference five years makes. The last time the Avett Brothers taped “Austin City Limits,” they’d just made the transition to the major-label ranks and were still in the early stages of navigating their passage between the underground and the big time. Monday night at ACL Live, it was clear that they’ve not only arrived, they’ve transcended.
Fronted from the start by siblings Scott and Seth Avett, the band has become bigger in a physical as well as a metaphorical sense. A quartet when they played the show in 2009, they’re now a seven-piece, and it makes a huge difference.
It’s not so much a matter of increased volume; sometimes their songs are quite loud, sometimes they’re very quiet. More noticeable is a significant step up in stage presence. While the brothers and longtime bassist Bob Crawford always have been lively performers, the back-row addition of drummer Mike Marsh and keyboardist Paul DeFigilia has freed them up to explore more theatrics in their presentation.
Even more significant is the undeniable chemistry between cellist Joe Kwon, who’s been on board since 2007, and much more recent addition Tania Elizabeth on fiddle. Enthusiastically playing off of each other at stage left with a yin-yang compatibility, they’ve helped make the Avetts a marvel to behold in concert, overflowing with enough energy to fill spaces far larger than ACL Live. (Thus their appearance on one of the two biggest stages at the Austin City Limits Music Festival last weekend and this weekend.)
The first half-hour of the 17-song set built to a mid-show peak with the ambitious and multilayered “Head Full of Doubt, Road Full of Promise,” which reached a crescendo with Seth and Scott in frozen repose on a stage riser for a dramatic pause just before the song’s end. From there, they segued seamlessly into the immediately catchy “Kick Drum Heart,” its stuttering beats carried by boisterous audience handclaps that echoed from the jam-packed floor to the high balcony seats.
Smaller moments of wonder abounded as well, such as Crawford pulling out a violin for a twin-fiddle assault on “Satan Pulls the Strings,” the entire band lying prone on the stage to give Marsh a drum-solo spotlight during “Slight Figure of Speech,” and a rousing cover of the old George Jones hit “The Race Is On” to start a two-song encore.
For me, the most eye-opening moment was a quiet stretch near the end of “Down With the Shine,” when Kwon and Elizabeth’s cello and fiddle interwined for an almost classical passage of purely beautiful music. It felt like the Avetts could follow that lead toward an entire album of chamber-string sounds and songs, if they desired.
Near the end of the set, Seth Avett explained that playing “Austin City Limits” was an especially poignant experience for the brothers because “we grew up watching this show. To us, this is what music looks like on television.”
Whether it will translate onscreen with the same intensity remains to be seen – we’ll have to wait till the show’s airdate during the “Austin City Limits” 40th-anniversary season – but the lasting image from Tuesday’s taping by Southern rock band J. Roddy Walston & the Business at ACL Live was that of Walston pounding his piano keys, his long hair flailing back and forth in head-banging fury as his band reached the fiery final bars of “Brave Man’s Death.”
The song, a highlight of the band’s 2010 self-titled album, was a mid-set peak in a blazing hourlong performance. The Richmond, Va., foursome held nothing back throughout: Guitarist Billy Gordon delivered powerful leads and solos and added falsetto harmonies with bassist Logan Davis, who anchored a ferocious rhythm section with superkinetic drummer Steve Colmus.
At the center of the storm was Walston, whose distinctive stage antic is that he can’t decide whether he wants to be a lead singer or a pianist. He constantly shuttles between sitting at the piano and standing at the microphone. What at first seems unsettling eventually is endearing, as it becomes clear Walston is simply letting the emotion of the music guide him.
Focusing on songs from last year’s “Essential Tremors” but adding a few earlier tunes (including the traditional-based “Sally Bangs” from their 2007 debut “Hail Mega Boys”), Walston and his bandmates were masters of style and sound. As songwriters, they’re not particularly inventive, staying within a fairly defined framework of hard-driving rock ’n’ roll, but they sell the material with unbridled passion and soulful fervor.
And when they do get hold of a really strong tune, everything clicks. “Same Days,” a standout on “Essential Tremors,” bounces along to an instantly memorable pop melody spiked by chunky riffs from Gordon; it’s less in-your-face than much of the band’s music, but it stands out as a three-minute master stroke.
Walston gave the song his all, leaving the stage halfway through and singing directly to the standing-room audience from the floor. The camera crew had to do some dodging to accommodate him, but it gave them a good opportunity to see precisely how the band connects up-close with its audience, even in a large room.
J. Roddy Walston & the Business will be back next month for shows at the Austin City Limits Music Festival on Oct. 3 and 10, as well as a sold-out after-show on Oct. 11 indoors at Stubb’s.
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.
If you had bet me 20 years ago that not only would Australian post-punk icon Nicholas Edward “Nick” Cave still be around in 2014 but that he would be making music that was more interesting — and delivering performances just as energetic — as he was in 1994, that he would be a more compelling presence at 56 than he was at 36, I would have taken that bet, enthusiastically and for a lot of money.
I would have lost that bet. I would have lost huge. I would have gone home wearing a barrel.
Sunday night, Cave and the current, six-man incarnation of the Bad Seeds delivered one of the most powerful Austin City Limits performances anyone at a jammed ACL Live had ever seen.
Careening around the stage like a man a quarter of his age, grabbing outstretched hands from worshipful folks on the floor, cajoling the people sitting down up top, St. Nick and cohorts delivered a monster set.
Per usual, there was a little bit of God (“I believe in God/I believe in mermaids too/ I believe in 72 virgins on a chain/why not”) and a lot of the devil (” Well here comes Lucifer/ With his canon law….He got the real killer groove/ Robert Johnson and the devil man/ Don’t know who’s gonna rip off who”).
The band’s most recent album, last year’s “Push the Sky Away,” plays with atmospheric, almost ambient sound-beds and smaller textures rather than sharply defined melody. After being worked over in live settings for a year-plus, those songs have become heavier and denser and all the better for it. The band walked out to a ominous, bassy sound loop that transformed into the “Push” song (and Wikipedia shout-out) “We Real Cool.”
Leaping started around the tgime the band hit the Elvis-worshipping chestnut “Tupelo” and the fan-favorite “Red Right Hand.”
Cave noted that “Mermaids” might not make the ACL cut due to a rather blatant use of the word “snatch,” played a lovely version, then launched into “From Her to Eternity,” one of the very first Bad Seeds songs ever written and still one of the all-time great looks at the advantages of wanting versus having.
Things calmed down for the ballads “Love Letter” and the almost Randy Newman-esque “God is in the House” (“We have a pretty little square/ We have a woman for a mayor/ Our policy is firm but fair/Now that God is in the house”).
Again, like the rest of “Push,”t he meandering weirdness of “Higgs Boson Blues” has benefited the most from live expansion — the jokes just land better when the music is heavier. “Hannah Montana does the African Savannah,” the post-punk Tom Jones crooned to giggles from the assembled. “Miley Cyrus floats in a swimming pool in Toluca Lake/ And you’re the best girl I’ve ever had.” And yet it works.
As for the crowd, it is best summed up by a pal’s Facebook comment: “I did not spend 5-12 minutes snaking out of my sweaty plus size Spanx and then slingshot them at Nick Cave. I did consider it.”
Which is to say there were hundreds of middle-aged women and men losing their ever-loving minds down front, touching the hem of his garment and wondering just how ridiculous they are going to look on camera. (Shout out to any lady who wore a black velvet dress to the event — it was about 98 degrees outside, that is hardcore).
With a one-two punch of fan-favorite jams “The Mercy Seat,” about a man facing the electric chair, and Cave’s treatment of “Stagger Lee,” followed by the set-closing “Push the Sky Away,” Cave and the Seeds destroyed any lingering notion that ACL tapings have to be civilized and staid.
This was vibrantly carnal stuff, thunderously adult rock by, for and about the grown and sexy.
“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.
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.
Down From Above
Where My Love
High As Hello
Wait For Love
Via Chicago (solo)
I Am Trying To Break Your Heart (solo)
New Madrid (solo)
Please Tell My Brother (solo)
Born Alone (solo)
Jesus Etc. (with Holly Laessig and Jess Wolfe of Lucius)
Singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Beck hit the stage at ACL Live rocking last night. Taping an encore appearance for the 40th season of “Austin City Limits,” Beck and his band blazed onto the stage with a crowd rousing rock god rendition of “Devil’s Haircut” off his classic 1996 album “Odelay.” From there he kept things upbeat powering through a vigorously rhythmic “Black Tambourine” and a tacitly funky take on “Think I’m in Love” before pausing to address the delighted crowd.
“Now that we’ve worked you up into a pseudo-frenzy,” the slightly built rocker said, “we’re going to take it way down.”
He sang through a melancholy take of “Golden Age” off his 2002 heartbreak album “Sea of Change” before going into a series of tracks from his new album “Morning Phase” which has a similar slow-paced plaintive feel. He played “Blackbird Chain,” “Don’t Let it Go” and “Country Down” before digging into his acoustic back catalog for more languid heart-tuggers. The audience was attentive and very receptive, if not riotous, and though Beck was fully committed to the music, singing and playing guitar with laudable skill and beautiful attention to detail, he seemed a bit apologetic between tracks.
“I figured we’d do some of the quiet stuff now and get it out of the way,” he confessed seven or so songs in. A seasoned performer with a keen sense of crowd dynamics, it’s a safe bet that Beck won’t linger quite so long in the slow section of his catalog when he returns for ACL Fest in the fall. When he kicked the set back into high gear at the end the crowd went wild. He ripped through his first hit “Loser” and the free range electro pop hit “Girl” before closing out the set with ferocious rock ‘n’ roll demolition show rendition of “E-Pro” that ended with the whole band strewn across the stage on their backs for a few moments before crawling off.
The ecstatic crowd cheered voraciously and the applause was thunderous when Beck returned to the stage. However, this being a made-for-tv experience, Beck explained he would have to redo some of the acoustic stuff for the show. He went on to reprise five slow-moving numbers before giving the audience the encore they were waiting for — an extended version of the 1996 “Where It’s At” with no turntables avant jazz breakdowns and performance art flirtations with a microphone.
The set overall was an impressive display of the artist’s range and the audience’s patience and attention even through the repeated tracks was a testament to his enduring appeal.
“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.