Anderson East brings heavy soul to his debut ACL taping

Singer/songwriter Anderson East hails from Alabama and resides in Nashville, and he brings serious firepower to every note he sings. Armed with his acclaimed new album Encore (produced by Dave Cobb, who’s helmed records by Zac Brown Band, Chris Stapleton, Brandi Carlile, John Prine, Sturgill Simpson, Jason Isbell and others who’ve been on the show in the last two years), East gave the audience a strong shot of soul on his debut Austin City Limits taping, which we streamed live around the world.

Taking the stage in a snakeskin jacket, East and his eight-piece band immediately paid tribute to the ACL legacy by opening with Willie Nelson’s “Somebody Pick Up My Pieces,” giving it a funky soul ballad reading. Putting his acoustic guitar aside, East dug into the songbook of the late, great Ted Hawkins for the raucous stomper “Sorry You’re Sick.” That Southern soul energy kept running for “Surrender,” featuring fireworks from East and singers Whitney Coleman and Kristen Rogers. Donning his guitar and welcoming a four-piece string section (led by Nashville’s Kristin Wilkinson, here a couple of months ago with Brandi Carlile), East sang a song “about how I feel tonight” – the mid-tempo charmer “King For a Day.” Guitarist Scotty Murray donned an electric dobro for the lighter-waving ballad “Devil in Me,” while keyboardist Philip Towns powered the gospel groover “Learning” with some seriously funky organ.  

After that tour-de-force, East went back to ballad territory for “If You Keep Leaving Me,” which sounded like a vintage Otis Redding cover. The strings returned for “Without You,” another heartbreaker that filled the room with sound. The musicians revved up again for the swaggering “Girlfriend,” which segued directly into the funky “All On My Mind,” both of which showed off the band as much as East’s prodigious pipes. The singer went back to his Southern soul roots for his hit “Satisfy Me,” which could have been a long-lost gem from the Stax catalog of the sixties and was a clear crowd favorite.

“I’ve been watching this show for a long time, and I never thought I’d be on it,” remarked East, before launching into the set-closing “This Too Shall Last,” a widescreen ballad highlighted by Murray and East trading guitar solos that brought the cheering crowd to its feet. After that reaction, more was required, and East, band and strings returned for “House is a Building” (“then home is a feeling”), which built on Towns’ jazzy piano to East’s powerhouse vocal climaxes. “Thanks for making us feel at home tonight,” East said, and the audience made sure he knew the feeling was mutual. It was a great show, and we can’t wait for you to see it when it airs as part of our forty-fourth season on PBS.