It’s always fun for us to see the giddy energy of a first-time ACL performance, and Delta Spirit simply buzzed with it during its debut taping. “It’s so good to be here – oh my god!” exclaimed singer Matthew Vasquez before a note was struck. Then it was off into “Empty House,” the kind of anthem at which this band excels. Born in San Diego but based in Brooklyn, the quintet channels the spirit of Americana, particularly folk, through a modern indie rock prism. It’s a sound that will no doubt lead to the “Great American Record” that the group desires to work toward.
In the meantime, Delta Spirit gave us all it had with “Children,” “California” and “Bushwick Blues.” “Tear It Up” married a McCartneyesque melody to roots rock energy, as pretty harmonies and ringing guitars floated over pounding drums. “People C’mon” began with a classical piano flourish before expanding into a minor-key country rocker with a noisy ending. “Trashcan” found Vasquez playing a dissonant piano solo with his feet, before exhorting the crowd in a chorus of “Na-na-nas.” Indeed, it’s Vasquez’s rapport with Delta Spirit’s audience that’s at the heart of the band’s performance. “Money Saves,” “White Table” and “People C’mon” all featured audience participation, from the “Whoa-ohs” of “Money Saves” to the clapping of “White Table.”
It wasn’t all widescreen rock, however. Bringing it down in intensity (but not in quality), Vasquez paid tribute to his grandmother in the tender “Vivian” with just two guitars and a soulful vocal. The set-closing “People, Turn Around” channeled the folk spirit of Woody Guthrie, mixing a humanist message with indie rock energy. The encore “Crippler King,” from the band’s first EP, blazed at a frisky country rock pace, absorbing Blind Willie Johnson’s “John the Revelator” along the way and bringing the evening to a crashing close.
The Delta Spirit show was a testament not only to the continued resilience of American rock & roll, but also the power brought on by the excitement of playing ACL for the first time. We know you’ll enjoy this episode when it airs early next year.