ACL Season 40 continues with Ed Sheeran and Valerie June

photo by Scott Newton

Austin City Limits continues its milestone 40th season with two innovative singer-songwriters: UK sensation Ed Sheeran and rising star Valerie June. Ed Sheeran makes his ACL debut in a must-see episode that features the breakout star performing his entire set solo. Sheeran exudes the raw talent that has made him a worldwide superstar, with charged versions of hits from his landmark debut and new songs from the chart-topping follow-up release. Acclaimed Southern singer-songwriter Valerie June shares the bill, making a captivating ACL debut with her starry-eyed roots music.

Ed Sheeran brings his A-game in his ACL debut, with a remarkable one-man solo performance that demonstrates why he’s one of music’s most popular live performers.  Clad in an ACL t-shirt, the 23 year-old three-time Grammy nominee performs his  breakthrough hits “The A Team,” “Lego House” and songs from his new release x.  With an acoustic guitar and a loop pedal as his only accompaniment, Sheeran creates a perfectly balanced mix of hip-hop and acoustic balladry. He showcases the honest songwriting and vocals that have earned him legions of fans across the globe.  Closing out the crowd-pleasing set, Sheeran leads the rapturous audience in an epic sing-along of his hit “Sing,” with the Austin crowd still chanting as Sheeran leaves the stage.

Striking Southern singer-songwriter Valerie June makes her first appearance on the ACL stage performing songs from her luminous debut Pushin’ Against a Stone. The Washington Post raves of the release: “Shades of Nina Simone, Dolly Parton and blueswomen of decades past flicker throughout; you can easily picture it crackling out from a timeworn record player.” The Tennessee native’s heartfelt sound and beautifully timeless voice have earned her critical raves and a 2014 Americana Awards nomination for emerging artist. With one foot in country blues, the other in mountain folk music and her head in the stars, June and her band conjure a distinctive brand of genre-blending that she calls “organic moonshine roots music” for a memorable ACL debut.

photo by Scott Newton

“In some ways, Ed Sheeran and Valerie June are as different as night and day,” says ACL Executive Producer Terry Lickona, “but they are both distinctly original in their music. Through their intimately personal songs and unique onstage personas, they represent everything that Austin City Limits is all about.”

Tune in this Saturday for this episode, and, as always, check your local PBS listings for the broadcast time in your area. Go to the episode page for more info, and don’t forget to click over to our Facebook, Twitter and newsletter pages for more ACL goodies. Next week: Nine Inch Nails.

The return of the Avett Brothers

photo by Scott Newton

Last night we welcomed the The Avett Brothers back to the Austin City Limits stage in a triumphant return to the show. Fresh from their appearance at the ACL Music Festival, the band was greeted by enthusiastic fans eagerly waiting to hear them and sing along.  Since the band first appeared on the show in 2009, they have been busy writing and recording back-to-back Rick Rubin-produced albums The Carpenter (which received a Grammy nomination for Best Americana Album) and Magpie and the Dandelion.

As the band opened with the romantic folk rocker “Live and Die,” there was a clear difference between this band and the one that visited in Season 35, and not just because of the addition of a drummer, keyboardist and fiddler. The ragged, nervous energy of the first show has been replaced by a different vibe, one of confidence and the professionalism that comes from having played hundreds, if not thousands, of shows to people all over the world. The energy level was just as high as last time, but this time the band focused its power, giving the frisky folk tune “The Fall,” the piano anthem “Head Full of Doubt, Heart Full of Promise” and the giddy folk rocker “Satan Pulls the Strings” a blazing vitality that was infectious. Not that the audience needed much prodding – even lower key tunes like “Life” and “Rejects in the Attic” garnered cheers before they’d barely started.

As good as the band was with newer tunes, it was on older songs like “Slight Figure of Speech” and “Kick Drum Heart,” both transformed into rock anthems, that proved explosive. The band ended the show with an especially peppy take on George Jones’ “The Race is On,” on which the septet bounced all over the stage, before coming down with the lovely “November Blue” from their very first LP. The crowd went wild as their heroes left the stage, and we’re sure you’ll go wild as well when we broadcast this episode early next year on your PBS station.

Ticket giveaway: Spoon 10/9

photo by Tom Hines

*** Giveaway is now over

Austin City Limits will be taping a performance by Spoon on Thursday, October 9th, at 8 pm at ACL Live at The Moody Theater (310 W. 2nd Street, Willie Nelson Blvd).  We will be giving away a limited number of space available passes to this taping. Enter your name and email address on the below form by 9 am on October 7th. Winners will be chosen at random and a photo ID will be required to pickup tickets. Winners will be notified by email. Passes are not transferable and cannot be sold. Standing may be required.

No photography, recording or cell phone use in the studio.

Sam Smith: soulful singer/songwriter

photo by Scott Newton

Soulful singer/songwriter Sam Smith exploded seemingly out of nowhere this year with the hugely successful single “Stay With Me.” Fans in his native U.K. have known about his sensitive songs and amazing voice for a couple of years and now fans stateside are catching up in a big way.   Last night we were happy to welcome them and their hero to his first Austin City Limits taping.

In the tradition of the soul singers of yore, Smith took the stage as his eight-piece band was already a minute into “Nirvana,” the title track of his early EP. The song began as a ballad, but moved into anthem territory, a method with which Smith fans are intimately familiar. A funkier backbeat ruled “Together” from the same EP, pumping up the energy, not that the eager audience needed it. Smith then took us on a tour through the unrequited love that drives his debut album In the Lonely Hour, from the midtempo “Good Thing” and the jazzy “I’m Not the Only One” to the dramatic ballads “Lay Me Down” (which garnered tears and cuddling couples in the audience) and “Leave Your Lovers” (“one of my favorites on the album,” he noted). He also took time out to pay tribute to a key influence by covering Whitney Houston’s “How Will I Know” as a piano ballad and teaching the audience to dance with his new single “Restart.” He ended the main set with a mashup of a pair of his tunes, the anthemic ballad “Money On My Mind” and the discofied “Finally.” “I don’t care if you can’t sing at all,” Smith insisted to the crowd, “please sing as loud as you can.”

Smith and band returned with “Latch,” his U.K. hit with the electronic act Disclosure, done here as a midtempo pop tune, before going into “Make It to Me,” a song he described as a “massive mating call.” But it was the final song that truly raised the roof. The opening chords of “Stay With Me” drew a roar, and Smith exhorted the crowd to clap along. Audience comfortably instilled in the palm of his hand, Smith then released them by dropping the band out, letting the fans take a chorus by themselves, sounding like a church choir. It was an explosive end to a strong ACL debut, and we can’t wait for you to see this show for yourselves when it airs on PBS early next year.

Beck kicks off ACL anniversary season

photo by Scott Newton

This weekend, Beck kicks off Austin City Limits’ celebratory season 40 with an epic, career-spanning full-hour performance. One of the most creative artists of his generation, Beck shines in an exceptionally entertaining hour, showcasing a mix of vintage fan favorites and more recent gems. Promoting his mightily acclaimed LP Morning Phase, Beck and his crack band of longtime friends and collaborators shift from quiet contemplation to rousing party jams with chameleonic skill and unabashed enthusiasm. The L.A. native goes into troubadour mode for the beautiful, emotional “Blue Moon,” “Waking Light” and “Let It Go,” showcasing his depth as a songwriter. But he also blows the doors off with the dynamic, houseshaking hits “Loser” and an epic blast through his anthem “Where It’s At.”

Tune in this Saturday for this soon to be classic episode, and, as always, check your local PBS listings for the broadcast time in your area. Click over to the episode page for more info, and don’t forget to click over to our Facebook, Twitter and newsletter pages for more ACL goodies. Next week: our new season continues with Ed Sheeran and Valerie June.

photo by Scott Newton

 

Jenny Lewis’ smart pop gems

photo by Scott Newton

Singer and songwriter Jenny Lewis last appeared on the ACL stage in 2005 with the band Rilo Kiley for a memorable show that opened our thirty-first season. So we were pleased to welcome her back, this time under her own name, for a sparkling show full of smart pop gems.

Reaching back for a quick history lesson, Lewis and her five-piece band opened with the shimmering country rock of “Silver Lining” from the Rilo Kiley catalog. The song boasted a classic 70s singer/songwriter vibe, which she carried over to other rootsy tune like “Late Bloomer,” “You Are What You Love” and the Linda Ronstadt-like “Rise Up With Fists.” The country/folk elements took a back seat on other songs, with the midtempo pop of “Slippery Slopes” and “The New You,” the sweetly charming “Love U Forever” and the devilishly catchy “Head Underwater” drawing from familiar but less obvious sources. The brash “The Moneymaker” and “The Next Messiah,” on which the band was joined by Lewis’ frequent collaborator (and beau) Johnathan Rice, found her comfortably embracing louder rock & roll, a thread she continued with the climactic shuffle “Just One of the Guys.”

Backed by her bandmates surrounding a single mic, Lewis ended the main set with her acoustic guitar for the beautiful, hymn-like “Acid Tongue.” After blowing the audience a kiss, she exited the stage to wild applause. But it wasn’t over yet  - the crowd response was so eager she came back with a guitarist and harmony singer for a folk take on Rilo Kiley’s “With Arms Outstretched,” which the audience greeted with cheers from the first line. It was a great show, and we can’t wait for you to see it when it airs early next year on PBS.