Anderson East can sing the IKEA catalog and we will listen

Artists like Anderson East, an Alabama rock-and-soul singer with a voice so startling and strong that it seems like the product of Greek mythology, are so singular that you almost have to grade them on a different curve.

Anderson East records an episode of “Austin City Limits” on Friday, June 22, at ACL Live. Scott Newton/KLRU-TV

For parallels, think of names like Whitney Houston or Amy Winehouse or Freddie Mercury; singers with pipes coated in brass, polished with velvet and powered by Tesla coils. You’d drop everything to listen to them read assembly instructions to an IKEA catalog, so the songwriting behind their creative works could be so-so and no one would put up much of a fuss.

East – born Michael Cameron Anderson – has channeled his vocal talents in a heartland direction and at this early stage of his career is in a vein something like what we’d get if Joe Cocker had more finesse and was aiming for the lyrical style of early Jason Isbell. Which is not a bad place to be.

East kicked off his “Austin City Limits” television performance Friday with his cover of Willie Nelson’s “Somebody Pick Up My Pieces,” a move that drew a distinct picture of where East is coming from stylistically. East’s interpretation turned Nelson’s sparse and forlorn playing into a more tortured picture of a singer turned inside out by his missteps, with backup singers and horns adding color and a church revival atmosphere.

Anderson East records an episode of “Austin City Limits” on Friday, June 22, at ACL Live. Scott Newton/KLRU-TV

From there much of East’s set kept with the white bread church singer feel, even if the lyrical themes dominated by romance realized and lost was firmly secular. Whether leaned back and roaring or bending forward for a smooth croon, East’s pure vocal power and control were the highlight early on while he mostly played the empty-armed romantic looking for The One.
Another highlight throughout the night was piano player Philip Towns, who grabbed the spotlight several times with colorful layered solos, including three of them alone on “Learning,” a song that stretched to nearly 10 minutes and proves the band would acclimate well in the jam band world if so moved.

The most thematically interesting turn of the 80-minute performance came in the last third, when a pair of minor-chord songs – “Girlfriend” and “All On My Mind” – saw the mood turn sinister and East taking on the role of the other man in a love triangle and a lover who knows he’s mixed up with a quintessentially bad girl. With a string quartet on hand to add even more dramatic tones, those songs saw East playing something of a villain or bad boy, showing even more swagger and confidence.

That change of tone made the night’s final few songs – especially a tune like “Satisfy Me” that is is an airtight example of how a rock-meets-soul song should be constructed – feel more human, like they were coming from a performer who can exhibit and embrace the light and dark of the human condition.

And, lest we forget, has the kind of voice to make just about anything work.

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Herbie Hancock brings ageless classics to ‘ACL’ taping

By Wes Eichenwald
Special to the American-Statesman

When two venerable artistic institutions join forces for the first time, most would agree that it qualifies as a capital-E Event of some note. Judging from the studio audience’s response to the tight 90-minute set from Herbie Hancock’s quartet Thursday night – Hancock’s “Austin City Limits” debut – that was definitely the case.

 

Contributed by Scott Newton Courtesy of KLRU-TV

 

Introducing his band after the opening number (“Overture”), Hancock said, “We like to go a little crazy up here sometimes, so bear with us.” In fact, the show, which was livestreamed on ACLTV’s YouTube channel, was on the whole a classic demonstration of muscular, percussive, propulsive ‘60s and ‘70s-rooted jazz along the axis of Coltrane and Tyner – and, yes, Hancock’s old boss Miles Davis.

At 77, Hancock – trim, fully invested in the music and clearly in charge – seemed as ageless as the six numbers from various points in his long career that he’d selected for the evening.

Hancock, seated at an electric piano at stage right, and his seasoned band – drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, bassist James Genus, and Terrace Martin on alto sax and keyboards – ably performed the trick of getting a late-night vibe going by 8:10 p.m., about five minutes into the proceedings, with Genus taking the early lead with rapid-fire runs and Hancock easily sparring back. Occasional synth-funk and drone in the mix insinuated a sci-fi feel but were more a side dish to the classic, crowd-pleasing main course.

Both Genus, who also plays in the “Saturday Night Live” band, and former child prodigy Martin, who’s perhaps better known as a producer – in fact, he’s producing a forthcoming Hancock album – could easily lead their own combos. Martin’s sax occasionally ventured into smooth-jazz territory, but Hancock’s fine-tuned band never lost track of the framework. “Come Running to Me,” from Hancock’s 1978 album “Sunlight,” with its Vocoder space-age filigrees, segued seamlessly into “Secret Source,” a newer composition but no less characteristic of the keyboardist, with notable alpha-musician runs from Martin.

The quartet then took on “Cantaloupe Island” (from Hancock’s 1976 jazz-funk fusion album “Secrets”). By the encore, the funk classic “Chameleon,” the crowd was on its feet and Hancock, strapping on his keytar, took center stage at last, as if to remind everyone just who the star of the evening was, though no reminder was needed. At the end he did a little celebratory dance with Genus on stage, and then it was 9:30, done and done.

Set list:
“Overture”
“Actual Proof”
“Come Running to Me”
“Secret Source”
“Cantaloupe Island”
“Chameleon” (encore)

ACL Fest 2015: Can you pass our Drake quiz?

Drake performs at the Austin City Limits Music Festival in Zilker Park on Saturday, Oct. 10, 2015. (Erika Rich / for AMERICAN-STATESMAN)
Drake performs at the Austin City Limits Music Festival in Zilker Park on Saturday, Oct. 10, 2015. (Erika Rich / for AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

As the gargantuan rap headliner Drake waited to take the stage Saturday at Austin City Limits, we took to Zilker Park to ask his most-ardent supporters about their main man. Frankly, Drake fans blew us away with their expert knowledge–six won mini Canadian flags to proudly wave as their hero took the Samsung stage.

Here they are in action:

Never underestimate the power of Drizzy Drake, the voice of basically every living generation inhabiting our brave Mother Earth in 2015.

ACL Fest 2015: Drake’s victory lap carries the night–but with disturbing side effects

The biggest rap star in the world brought his panache, Beatles-tying batch of Billboard hits, and cunning ear to the Samsung stage Saturday night at Austin City Limits. Drake wrestled with his demons and filtered his pop sensibilities through a polished sheen of fireworks, flames, lasers, guest stars, and zestful pandering. He tied up the excess by bookending his performance with the bridge from “Legend,” and this his album’s opening statement of purpose rang true–dude is one.

Drake performs at Austin City Limits Music Festival in Zilker Park Saturday, October 10, 2015. (Erika Rich / for AMERICAN-STATESMAN)
Drake performs at Austin City Limits Music Festival in Zilker Park Saturday, October 10, 2015. (Erika Rich / for AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

“Oh my God, if I die I’m a legend,” goes Drake’s crooning realization.

Since becoming a blog fixture with 2007’s mixtape “Comeback Season,” and then breaking through as an emerging rookie on the coattails of the gorgeously arranged “So Far Gone” tape in 2009, Drake has chiseled the genre in his image by breeding a content farm of new rap. If there is an emerging hip-hop hit making a splash, Drake turns mercenary, releases a remix, and establishes a symbiotic relationship by endorsing artists like Fetty Wap and Migos; in turn, he nets credibility and establishes regional fan outposts. Adore him or dislike his lack of outward posturing, Drake is in the water now and you can only hope to contain him.

At ACL, this meant a parade of titanic rap singles, mostly brandished in less-than-two-minute chunks with the occasional keyboard or drum solo from the minimalist house band: “Blessings,” “My Way,” “All Me,” “Truffle Butter” and even DJ Screw’s classic “June 27th.”

“You’re treating me like I was born here,” Drake observed. Indeed the perennially polite entertainer committed to pandering: “You know what my biggest regret of today is? Not putting some money on the Longhorns.”

From left, Aj Shaffer, Dylan Wood, Nicole Childress and Lauren Garza watch as Drake performs at Austin City Limits Music Festival in Zilker Park Saturday, October 10, 2015. (Erika Rich / for AMERICAN-STATESMAN)
From left, Aj Shaffer, Dylan Wood, Nicole Childress and Lauren Garza watch as Drake performs at Austin City Limits Music Festival in Zilker Park Saturday, October 10, 2015. (Erika Rich / for AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

About that mass appeal: As we noted last week Drake does ride a lowest-common denominator fanbase and nowhere was this more cancerous than having a sizable block of enthused white people of student age perpetually using the N-word to sing along. It was the case last week as well, particularly on penultimate song “Energy” which features a biting, big line that rhymes with “duck them triggers for life.”

It was inexcusable, rampant immaturity.

Whereas last week the Canadian hero toasted the skyline by bringing out Atlanta rapper Future (the pair scored a late No. 1 Billboard album with their collaborative “What a Time to Be Alive” project last month), weekend two of ACL meant a guest, out-of-nowhere set from J. Cole. (“This is my brother for real,” Drake said.)

It was a fitting juxtaposition: Both Drake and Cole have been post-hype generational peers who enjoyed widespread success this decade. Cole is a dry everyman, though, and well-known singles like “Planes”–with its “put it in your mouth” verse-accenting line–definitely killed vibes. Still it’s an impressive Rolodex favor to call upon, and shows how committed Drake was to finishing this touring cycle on a high note. (He told us this was it for 2015.)

Coming out to throwaway banger “Trophies” amid flames–and in the same dark pants, black OVO short-sleeve shirt as last week–Drake’s set was at its core a celebration of two veritable masterpiece solo projects: 2011’s “Take Care” and February’s “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late.” The guy may have strewn 14 songs on the Billboard charts at one time this year, but at his best he’s a pensive, combative kid sorting out his vices and venting. His best albums drill into that alienation and write about the self with the most universal tones in pop. Cuts like “Headlines,” “HYFR,” “Crew Love,” “6 Man,” “Energy” and easy song of the year “Know Yourself” transcended the colorful excess of the Samsung stage.

Drake performs at Austin City Limits Music Festival in Zilker Park Saturday, October 10, 2015. (Erika Rich / for AMERICAN-STATESMAN)
Drake performs at Austin City Limits Music Festival in Zilker Park Saturday, October 10, 2015. (Erika Rich / for AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

ACL 2015 review: Future performs the most urgent hip-hop set in Zilker Park history

All respect to Drake, the Weeknd, and Kanye West, but Atlanta extraterrestrial Future lunged at the Honda Stage Friday evening like vampire fangs and produced the most classically vital, urgent hip-hop set in Austin City Limits festival history. It’s maybe not that big of a deal.

Historically granola dorm favorites like Common and Mos Def checked demographics boxes; grandiose pop gods Kanye West and Drake worked in an arena tour one-off. But the populist Future brought his progressive, stone-chipping, strip-club production and it sounded like modern wastelands. Flags included 4chan mascot Pepe the Frog (for the uninitiated: that’s an Internet subculture where Web trolls do horrible things to each other) and a blowup doll fixated atop a poll. A teen waved a sign that read “I’m missing my homecoming for this.”

Future performs at the Austin City Limits Music Festival on Oct. 9, 2015.  (Photo by Jay Janner)
Future performs at the Austin City Limits Music Festival on Oct. 9, 2015. (Photo by Jay Janner)

Marijuana smoke blew early and often (shout out to the kid in the in the “Stay Chiefin'” snapback), and Future Hendrix burned through his two No. 1-landing 2015 Billboard albums. What a time to be alive, indeed.

A palpably multi-ethnic crowd danced in place, swaying bent elbows to the best of their abilities. Behind the straightforward stage setup, a screen oscillated between stock images of police in riot gear patrolling America’s disenfranchised communities, purple liquid, and hazy shots of strippers. Future’s world is one that exists on the fringe, where bleak anthems make up for the lack of explicitly sociopolitical language by pushing you into their experiential well and feeling the dusty, unkempt bottom of what human beings are capable of doing to each other.

A minimalist setup took us there: a MacBook DJ, a large platform, Future himself, and that husky, filtered-with-AutoTune voice. Was it great? Not quite. It took the rapper four canned songs to physically come out in a nondescript tight blue shirt and skinny jeans with his signature blond dreads.

He left a lot of meat on the bone in terms ignoring assorted singles like last year’s “Trophy” and jam-of-the-moment “Big Rings.” But his M.O. was present in the closer, “Diamonds Dancing,” from last month’s “What a Time to Be Alive”–a record reportedly written in six days with rap king Drake, performed in Future’s Atlanta, and that fell from thin air and onto the Internet during the Emmys. On the song, Future chirps out meditations in an emergency and raps about his pointless excess–“Sipping on Dom Perignon for no reason.”

Future’s dialed-in female fanbase rode along, danced in shoulder shrugs, and many wore rap style-of-the moment cutoff denim shorts, black tops, and John Lennon shades. Songs sometimes lasted a minute–2013’s “U.O.E.N.O.” features three rappers who aren’t Future, with him just on the chorus. He rocked it anyway.

He routinely asked us who had his various releases, mostly by telling fans to throw up a deuce to symbolize their commercial acquisition of his “Dirty Sprite 2.”

“We about to get into this show. It’s an experience,” Future, not really one for on-stage words, said.

A dude in front of me gaped along, blowing smoke and fixating his filming smartphone on the breakout rap star. By the time he spoke about engaging in sexual relations with your women while wearing Gucci flip-flops, his seedy nightclub was a giant mass of gyrating rap fans.

“I bought all the sodas at the gas station,” Future raps on “Rotation.” He’s fairly introverted and just wants to get home and pour his mixers into prescription codeine already. It was a harshly real and vulnerable moment from a festival that continues to bridge in youth culture’s biggest genre with better-than-ever fervor.

An hour earlier Run the Jewels came out to Queen’s “We Are the Champions” and delighted a crowd of dads who had toddlers with noise-cancelling headphones. The pair of 40-year-old rappers revived lyricist-driven rap for nostalgia’s sake.

“We’re best friends and we’re gonna f**k this festival the fuck up,” rapper Killer Mike declared. Wealthy scenesters in white polos traded tokes. It was a strongly branded show that broke down veritably heart-pounding anthems like 2013’s “Banana Clipper.” The pair has been here tons since it debuted this creative banner.

“We came back,” El-P said. “I don’t know what… we did to deserve a crowd of this magnitude.”

Mike concurred: “It’s a bigger crowd than last week–thanks everybody for bringing your friends.”

They rallied against “pedophile war-mongerers” with the bland dread of ’80s hair bands like Twisted Sister who made its thematic villains anyone who didn’t rock along. A matching bachelor party in T-shirts slumped by.

Run the Jewels made data-visualizing startup bros feel 17 again, but Future made us remember.

Brand New does not care about your good times at ACL

For what it’s worth, Brand New is my favorite band. I kind of keep that to myself because the Long Island post-punks can be objectively terrible live: droning interludes, intermittent and melody-free yelling, some comically self-serious fans. You know, the type to tattoo lyrics and live by singer Jesse Lacey’s generally depressed and self-centered romanticism. In college, Brand New drove me to don a lip ring for four years.

The sullen times were firmly on display Friday afternoon at the Austin City Limits HomeAway stage. It sounds like one of the less-important stages but it’s the third-largest and that’s key to note because here is Brand New, and the quartet hasn’t released an album since 2009.

But dang, that ripe-for-October playbook of intensely reflective fits. Unpolished as they can be, live the band can hang on its spine of adoring sad people who carry their wordy tracks line by line. It’s kind of beautiful and impactful–enough for the silver-haired man to put down his koozie and snap a photo.

Jesse Lacey of Brand New during Austin City Limits Music Festival Friday, Oct 2, 2015. (Stephen Spillman / for American-Statesman)
Jesse Lacey of Brand New during Austin City Limits Music Festival Friday, Oct 2, 2015. (Stephen Spillman / for American-Statesman)
On stage Lacey looked like Brett Favre shilling for Wranglers in his blue jeans and ball cap. He’s a mid-30s punk hero who now tinkers in the garage and feels conflicted about his legacy of coming up with emo outfits who did not age well. His 12-song set closed on 2006’s “Sowing Season,” maybe the band’s angriest track. They also punted on 2003’s “The Quiet Things That No One Ever Knows,” their most-known song. They were workmanlike teamsters there to do a job. (Then again the band didn’t perform the hit Thursday night at Emo’s.)

Instead we got the arresting run of songs from 2003’s major label debut “Deja Entendu”–tracks two through four on fans’ perpetually spun CDs–that evoked the most passionate nostalgia from the audience. Honestly though, you feel kind of like an idiot singing along to words that once meant so much to your psychological development like “collect calls to home, tell them that I realize that everyone who lives will someday die and die alone” from “”I Will Play My Game Beneath the Spin Light.”

Correction: Brand New hails from Long Island, New York.

Fest friends forever: Several ACL Fest artists also coming to iHeartRadio festival

But why couldn’t we get Kanye?

The 2015 lineup for iHeartRadio Music Festival was announced Thursday, and as is the often the case on the festival circuit, there are several acts on the bill that have made other fest stops (or will) this year. Of particular interest: those who will also come to Zilker Park for Austin City Limits Music Festival in October. Overlapping artists at the star-studded iHeartRadio’s festival, which sets up shop in the equally glitzy MGM Grand Arena in Las Vegas in September, include R&B phenom The Weeknd, Sam Smith collaborators Disclosure, 2014 ACL no-show Hozier, dance-rockers Walk the Moon, “Budapest” crooner George Ezra and pop band Echosmith. (The Killers will also play the iHeartRadio festival, and frontman Brandon Flowers is slotted to play ACL solo.)

Walk the Moon perform at Stubb's in May. (Erika Rich/For American-Statesman)
Walk the Moon perform at Stubb’s in May. (Erika Rich/For American-Statesman)

» PHOTOS: ACL FEST PERFORMERS 2015 «

But putting aside the overlapping bands, which trades would you make? Looking at the Las Vegas fest’s lineup, Like we said, we would probably trade literally any of our headliners for ACL Fest alum Yeezy. Also, if iHeartRadio wants to take The Strokes off our hands, we will gladly draft The Who. Likewise, we’ll offer up a few of our lower-tier pop acts — maybe a package Halsey/Misterwives deal — in exchange for the sweet Swedish stylings of Tove Lo.

Any other trades you would like to make? Let us know in the comments. In the meantime, get all the ACL Fest 2015 news you need at Austin Music Source.

The Golden Porta Potty will return for ACL Fest 2015

Update: The contest ended at 5 p.m. Tuesday. If you didn’t enter, you’ll have to admire from afar.

Earlier: If you don’t want to do your business in a sparkling, metallic, portable toilet, then we honestly have nothing in common. Thankfully, Austin City Limits Music Festival organizers seem to understand the importance of luxury. The Golden Porta Potty will return for this year’s festival.

A look inside the Golden Porta Potty at Austin City Limits Music Festival on Oct. 3, 2014. (ERIC WEBB/AMERICAN-STATESMAN)
A look inside the Golden Porta Potty at Austin City Limits Music Festival on Oct. 3, 2014. (ERIC WEBB/AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

We toured the novelty commode at last year’s festival and walked away genuinely disappointed that we couldn’t use it. Among the amenities in last year’s shiny oasis: an air conditioner, ornate fixtures, bottles of Fiji water, wet wipes, Burt’s Bees chapstick, aerosol cans of sunscreen, a fragrance diffuser, a flat-screen TV and magazines. Hopefully, this year’s glitz will meet the same gleefully garish standard.

Fest-goers interested in a little bathroom beauty can enter to win at the ACL Fest website. Six winners will get 10 single-day festival passes and 10 matching Golden Porta Potty passes, according to the rules.

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Laura Marling brings a little ACL to her Central Presbyterian show

Fresh off a tribute to Townes Van Zandt at the Austin City Limits Hall of Fame ceremony Thursday, British folk singer Laura Marling took to the sanctuary of Central Presbyterian Church for the fifth time Friday to lead her own flock.

Marling, who also made a splash at SXSW this year in support of her album “Short Movie,” cannot be accused of lacking distinction in her styling. She possesses an otherworldly tone that she elastically stretches from Joni Mitchell warbles to dry, sing-songy asides. Her signature cadence at once evokes the folk building blocks of Bob Dylan yet is wholly unique (and consistent). Opening with a shadowy one-two punch of “Howl” and “Walk Alone,” Marling set the moon-bathed tone of the evening early, nestling into a melancholy, heart-worn space that she made her home for the evening.

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Laura Marling and a cross.

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Ever the lyrical diarist, Marling’s words of self-exploration and self-confession complemented the sacred space, as Austin church shows often do. On “David,” she preached that “wasted love is a long regret.” On “Rambling Man,” she testified, “Let it always be known that I was who I am.” She also shared communion with her audience, telling them that she wrote “Once” in the halls of Central Presbyterian on a previous visit.

Perhaps the greater show of Austin fellowship was Marling’s cover of Van Zandt’s “For the Sake of Her Song.” (In her announcement of the cover, Marling insisted that the Texas country hero deserved more than the modest clap he at first received.) Marling’s reverent rendition, which brought a little ACL to Central Pres, successfully roused the applause she expected the first time around.

After a few more tunes, Marling said she doesn’t do encores. Her emotionally distressed performance of “How Can I” gave the night a proper benediction: “I’m going back East where I belong.”

Courtney Barnett keeps it simple in ACL debut

Courtney Barnett taping "Austin City Limits," Thursday, June 4, 2015. Photo by Scott Newton/Courtesy of KLRU-TV
Courtney Barnett taping “Austin City Limits,” Thursday, June 4, 2015. Photo by Scott Newton/Courtesy of KLRU-TV

Riding into her first “Austin City Limits” taping on a wave of both critical and commercial momentum for her debut album, Courtney Barnett kept everything about as simple and straightforward as could be imagined Thursday night at ACL Live.

Accompanied only by bassist Bones Sloane and drummer Dave Mudie — both of whom, like Barnett, dressed down in jeans and T-shirts — the twentysomething Australian rocker struck an old-school spark. Though Barnett falls into the realm of contemporary indie-rock by default, she’d have sounded equally at home if she’d surfaced around three decades ago, when quite a few American underground bands similarly drew upon the influences of garage, punk, psychedelia and power-pop.

Opening with “Elevator Operator,” the first track on “Sometimes I Just Sit and Think, Sometimes I Just Sit,” Barnett went on to play nine of the album’s 11 songs, sprinkling in a couple of songs each from her two previous EPs near the start and end of the set. More melodic numbers such as “Dead Fox” and “Debbie Downer” were clear standouts, benefiting from catchy choruses and the backing vocal contributions of Sloane and Mudie.

Moodier excursions such as “Small Poppies” and “Kim’s Caravan” were more challenging and exploratory, giving Barnett room to stretch out as a guitarist but lacking the immediacy of her best material. After closing the main set with “Pedestrian at Best,” the new song that seems to have struck the deepest chord among her fans, Barnett wisely opened a two-song encore with a solo version of “Heavy Heart,” a 1998 ballad by fellow Australians You Am I.

“I’ve hardly ever done this song, so there’s a chance I could —- it up,” Barnett cautioned. “But it’s a risk I’m willing to take.” And indeed, it was worth stepping out on that limb. Seeming slightly nervous and speaking few words for most of the performance, Barnett opened up more with the song, in turn offering a clearer window into her own artistic vision.

Set list:

  1. Elevator Operator
  2. Lance Jr.
  3. An Illustration of Loneliness (Sleepless in NY)
  4. Canned Tomatoes (Whole)
  5. Small Poppies
  6. Dead Fox
  7. Depreston
  8. Debbie Downer
  9. Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go to the Party
  10. Avant Gardener
  11. Kim’s Caravan
  12. Pedestrian at Best

Encore:

  1. Heavy Heart (You Am I cover)
  2. History Eraser