Taping recap: The Black Angels

photo by Scott Newton

It’s no surprise that we at ACL love to showcase Austin’s finest acts when we have the opportunity. So we were thrilled to welcome back Central Texas’ modern psychedelic sons The Black Angels for their livestreamed second appearance. Performing the entirety of their latest album, the critically-acclaimed Death Song, alongside crowd favorites, the Angels delivered a scorching set of darkly droning, acid-kissed rock & roll.

Surrounded by screens projecting trippy kaleidoscopic images, the band kicked things off with new album opener “Currency” a politcally charged tirade that rolled off the stage on a wave of reverb anchored by frontman Alex Maas’ keening vocals. A twanging guitar line signaled the start of “The Prodigal Sun,” from the band’s striking debut Passover, much to the approval of the crowd. Backed by the otherworldly display of abstract lighting, the Angels launched into the droning but rocking “Entrance Song,” before upping the energy level for “Better Off Alone.” The quintet returned to the new record for the menacing “I Dreamt,” aptly displaying the darker side of the hippie dream as implied by their name. The rhythm-driven “Medicine” added a side of funk to the group’s smoky acid rock, while “Hunt Me Down” glowered its way through the grungy riffs of guitarists Christian Bland and Jake Garcia.

The Angels returned to social commentary with “Grab As Much (as you can),” another spear in the side of greed. Bland sat down at the keyboard for the dreamy open of “Half Believing,” its idyll altered by drummer Stephanie Bailey’s insistent thump and Garcia’s fuzzed-out Rickenbacker. The energy level blasted off immediately after for the growling “Bloodhounds,” the guitars competing with multi-instrumentalist Kyle Hunt’s cutting Farfisa organ, and stayed high for the cheerfully threatening “I’d Kill For Her.” The dramatic, arresting “Comanche Moon” came next, as Maas imagined vengeance on behalf of First Peoples everywhere. The Angels ended the main set with the melancholy atmospheres of “Life Song,” Maas’ cries of “I’ll see you on the other side” belying the song’s title.   

It wasn’t over, of course; after the appropriate amount of cheering, the band returned for the blurry, meditative “Estimate.” An insistently buzzing guitar snapped the atmosphere into sharper focus for “Death March,” one of Death Song’s standouts. The Angels returned to the beginning for the final number, swirling its fuzzy guitars, pounding rhythms and seething rage for “Young Men Dead,” a warning shot from Passover that got the audience riled up on first lick. It was a perfect closer for this terrific show, and we can’t wait for you to see it when it airs this fall on your local PBS station.    

Taping recap: The Head and the Heart

photo by Scott Newton

The Head and the Heart returned to the Austin City Limits stage for its second appearance on the show, on the heels of its acclaimed third LP Signs of Light. The livestreamed performance left no fan disappointed, as the Seattle band hit the stage with its effervescent melodies and poignant harmonies intact.

The band took the stage, tuned up and went into the hyper-melodic “All We Ever Knew,” from Signs of Light. The sextet stuck to the new record for “City of Angels,” a rocking paean to Los Angeles. Kenny Hensely’s piano pounding then signaled a look back to the band’s beloved first album in the form of the rollicking tune “Ghosts.” “Rhythm and Blues” followed, its title genre subtly woven into the rhythm, before the pace slowed a bit with the shimmering “Another Story.” The Head and the Heart then essayed the lovely “Let’s Be Still,” the lush duet between leader Jonathan Russell and violinist Charity Rose Thielen that became a stirring anthem and serves as title track to the combo’s second record.

The cut-time strumming of Russell’s acoustic guitar brought the folk-popping “Lost in My Mind,” one of the band’s hits and, from the sound of the cheers, a clear crowd favorite. The group showcased its trademark harmonies on “Winter Song,” a fingerpicked folk tune of surpassing beauty. Then came a surprise – the Seattleites paid tribute to late Soundgarden leader Chris Cornell with a gently faithful take on Temple of the Dog’s “Hunger Strike,” sung by new guitarist Matthew Gervais and Russell, that found great favor with the audience. Following that triumph, Russell commanded the stage solo for “Oh My Dear,” a dramatic ballad that segued into the full band thumper “I Don’t Mind,” both from Signs of Light. The Head and the Heart returned to its debut for the tunefulness overload of “Sounds Like Hallelujah,” before cranking the amps and the rhythm for Let It Be Still’s “Shake.” The main set ended with “Down in the Valley,” the fan favorite folk pop anthem that distills the band’s essence into one memorable number.

One boisterously cheering crowd later, Russell, Thielen and Gervais returned to the stage for “Library Magic,” putting their own stamp on the guitar ‘n’ three part harmony sound of Crosby, Stills & Nash. The rest of the band came back onstage to close with the crowd-pleaser “Rivers and Roads,” one of the group’s most potent folk rock anthems. The crowd went appropriately wild, and the band quit the stage to rapturous applause. It was a great show, and we’re happy for you to see it this fall when it airs on your local PBS station.

Taping recap: Benjamin Booker

photo by Scott Newton

Benjamin Booker has been on the ACL radar for a couple of years now. So we were thrilled to finally host the singer/songwriter/guitarist for his debut taping, which we streamed live around the world. The New Orleans-based Booker gifted us with a soulful, standout show, featuring plenty of songs from his highly anticipated sophomore album Witness, out in June.

But first Booker revisited his acclaimed 2014 self-titled debut with a quartet of rocking tunes. He and his four-piece band kicked off the show with the galloping “Have You Seen My Son?” The rhythms stayed blazing for “Old Hearts,” before slipping into a shuffling boogie for “Chippewa,” Booker’s husky croon taking on a playful cast. The band grabbed hold of a sexy groove for “Happy Homes,” highlighted by a bluesy guitar solo. Booker put down his guitar for “Off the Ground,” a Witness tune that started as a lush soul ballad but transformed into a snarling rocker. Speaking of which, he re-donned his guitar and launched into the familiar riff of his radio hit “Violent Shiver,” garnering cheers from the crowd. He then brought on “someone I’ve never performed with before but I’ve known for a long time” – his big sister Nicole, who added harmonies to the fast-choogling “Wicked Water.”

“This is my first time with backing singers,” Booker commented. “I’ve made it, people!” Three vocalists joined Nicole for a set from the new record, starting with the relaxed and funky “Overtime.” The hip-swaying “Slow Drag Under” followed, setting itself up as a cut likely to be in his repertoire for the rest of his career. Rock & roll returned to the menu with the rollicking “Right On You,” before Booker once again set aside his axe for the new record’s single, the gospel-soaked anthem “Witness” – already a clear crowd favorite. He continued channeling his inner soul man for “Carry,” before strapping on the guitar once again for the accordion-laced, set-closing ballad “Slow Coming.”

The audience wanted more, of course, and Booker was ready, bounding back onstage. Bringing on a string section to accompany himself and the band, he manned the mic for the soul-stirring anthem “Believe.” “I just want to believe in something,” he sang, “I don’t care if it’s right or wrong.” The song was definitely right, and the crowd showed its appreciation quite loudly. One group bow later, Booker and band quit the stage to a rapturous reception. It was a great show, and we can’t wait for you to see it when the episode airs this fall on your local PBS station.

Taping recap: Miranda Lambert

photo by Scott Newton

We here at Austin City Limits were proud to welcome back country superstar Miranda Lambert for her third appearance on our stage. Riding high on her best selling double album The Weight of These Wings, which won Album of the Year at the 2017 ACM Awards, she was named ACM Female Vocalist of the Year for a record-breaking eight consecutive years, the Lindale, Texas native delivered a power-packed show full of indelible hits and stunning performances.

Lambert and her eight-piece band hit the stage with a rocking “Kerosene,” the title track to her 2005 idebut album and her traditional show opener. She then dipped into the new album with “Highway Vagabond,” a choogler about the road life, before going into the crowd favorite “Heart Like Mine.” “I wrote this one from the perspective of not giving a s**t about what people think about me,” Lambert said by way of introduction to “For the Birds,” a deceptively easygoing ode to defiant self-confidence. She continued sampling the new record with the hit rocker “Vice” and the cheeky “We Should Be Friends.” The band then went back to the earlier Four the Record for the soulful ballad “Over You” and the celebratory anthem “All Kinds of Kinds,” which had the crowd waving in time to the beat. Then it was time for “The House That Built Me,” Lambert’s Grammy-winning ballad that shifted her from star to superstar.

The mood shifted from serious to fun with the slow grind “Pink Sunglasses.” “Ugly Lights,” the defiant paean to justifiable bad behavior segued directly into the freight train fan fave “Mama’s Broken Heart.” The party vibe kept flowing with “Fastest Girl in Town,” a thumbs-up to bad girls everywhere. After introducing the band, Lambert then led them in a lighter-waving cover of Little Feat’s classic “Willin,” which came across like she wrote it. The musicians shifted to heartland rock for “Automatic,” before adding some countrified garage rock with “Little Red Wagon.” The set ended with her killer one-two punch of declarative defiance: “White Liar” and “Gunpowder and Lead,” complete with shotgun mic stand.

Lambert returned to the stage alone for her latest single: the poignant “Tin Man,” co-written by fellow Texan singer/songwriters Jack Ingram and Jon Randall. The stark, heartfelt performance was a perfect way to end the show. We can’t wait for you to see it when it airs this fall on your local PBS station.

The Pretenders rock the first taping of ACL season 43

photo by Scott Newton

Austin City Limits was thrilled to kick off our 43rd taping season with the legendary rock & roll band The Pretenders, streamed live around the world. Led, as always, by singer/songwriter/guitarist Chrissie Hynde, the band blazed through a catalog packed with hits and favorites, stopping along the way to sample the group’s latest LP Alone as well.

In that vein, the Pretenders opened the show with the rollicking title track, guitarist James Walbourne and steel player Eric Heywood trading licks like Keith Richards and Ron Wood, and Hynde singing the paean to singlehood with confident swagger. Hynde donned her trademark Telecaster for the pounding “Gotta Wait,” original drummer Martin Chambers bashing his kit like a jackhammer. His shift to a glam rock beat signaled the first classic, as Hynde led the band into the indelible rocker “Message of Love,” from the band’s second record II. “You don’t have to be polite, as we don’t plan to be,” she asserted. Then it was into the dub reggae-flavored “Private Life,” another hit and one that highlighted how good her voice still sounds, nearly 40 years into her career. The band then dipped into Stockholm, Hynde’s 2014 solo album, recasting “Down the Wrong Way” as a Pretenderized rocker. Rhythm section Chambers and bassist Nick Wilkinson then took a break, as Hynde crooned Meg Keene’s lovely ballad “Hymn to Her,” recorded for the Pretenders’ fourth album Get Close.

Reclaiming her Telecaster, Hynde hit the instantly recognizable chord of “Talk of the Town,” bringing the audience to their feet. They stayed there for that other rhythm guitar-centered hit, “Back On the Chain Gang” – both songs proven, timeless classics. The group ventured back into ballad territory with “I’ll Stand By You,” the top 20 hit from the mid-90s’ Last of the Independents that really showcases Hynde’s spectacular singing. She then lightened the mood, asking “Do you feel like dancing?” before the sprightly pop song “Don’t Get Me Wrong.” To the crowd’s delight, the band reached all the way back to 1979 for “Stop Your Sobbing,” the Kinks cover that served as the first Pretenders single. After commenting on the group’s time in Austin, including a shout-out to longtime Austin music fixtures Charlie Sexton and Willie Nelson, Hynde led them into the loping, bass-driven fan favorite “My City Was Gone.” The Pretenders then extracted a truly deep cut from its self-titled first LP, rolling through the shoulda-been-hit “Mystery Achievement,” before closing out the main set with a pulse-pounding rip through the hit “Middle of the Road” that left the audience on fire.  

For the encore, the band returned to the latest album Alone with the shimmering “Let’s Get Lost” and subtly defiant “I Hate Myself.” Then it was back to rocking with “Up the Neck,” an unheralded blaster from the band’s first album. Speaking of which, the band went back for the only song that could end a set this hit-packed: “Brass in Pocket,” the early single that marked the Pretenders as a major band in three minutes. Hynde encouraged the audience to come to the lip of the stage, even bringing a member onstage to serenade. The crowd went as wild as one might expect, the band quitting the stage to rapturous applause. It was a great set, and we can’t wait for you to see it when it airs this fall on your local PBS station.   

Alejandro Escovedo rocks ACL Season 42 to a close

photo by Scott Newton

When we wrap production of a season of Austin City Limits, it’s always nice to do it with an old friend – in this case, singer/songwriter Alejandro Escovedo, a beloved staple of the Austin music scene since the early 80s and four-time ACL champ.  Joining fans around the world via our livestream, Escovedo hit our stage for a rockin’ show in support of his highly acclaimed new album Burn Something Beautiful.

He was joined for the occasion by the album’s stellar band: guitarist Peter Buck (R.E.M., season 34), bassist Scott McCaughey (R.E.M., The Minus 5), lead guitarist Kurt Bloch (the Fastbacks), drummer John Moen (the Decemberists, seasons 33 and 37) and singer Kelly Hogan (Neko Case, seasons 29 and 39), as well as his stalwart harmony singer Karla Manzur.  Performing nearly the entire album, Escovedo and company brought a perfect end to Season 42.

The three-guitar army blazing at full force, the band hit the stage with “Heartbeat Smile,” the kind of neo-classic rocker Escovedo is so good at. He followed with the more wistful “Sunday Morning Feeling,” which still encouraged waving lighters. Escovedo slowed things down literally and figuratively with “I Don’t Want to Play Guitar Anymore,” a contemplation of mortality and retirement that never felt sad. The blood pumped again via the brash “Beauty of Your Smile,” Bloch and McCaughey pogoing during the verses, before the band roared into the thumping Escovedo hit “Castanets,” highlighted by a fiery Bloch solo.

After band introductions, Escovedo donned his acoustic guitar for a pair of ballads, beginning with the lovely “Suit of Lights,” featuring Hogan’s dulcet tones on one verse. “Sensitive Boys,” Escovedo’s tribute to the folks who make rock & roll their world, kept the mellow but soulful vibe going, as did the midtempo “Farewell to the Good Times,” another look at the aging rock star life. Dedicated to the late U.K.-to-Austin expatriates Ronnie Lane and Ian McLagen, “Beauty and the Buzz” scanned wistful, reflective and beautiful.

Switching out his acoustic for his electric, Escovedo and band brought a party vibe to the rock with “Shave the Cat,” keeping the volume up for the rolling, dreamy “Johnny Volume” and its gnarly Bloch leads. The main set ended with a one-two punch: the thumping “Luna De Miel” and the anthemic “Horizontal,” which brought the proceedings to a close with a howl of feedback. Unsurprisingly, the crowd went wild.

Escovedo and the band returned, welcoming the Burn Something Beautiful Girls Choir to the stage. McCaughey took to the piano and Buck the ebow for the shimmering ballad “Thought I’d Let You Know,” featuring a free jazz piano solo. Then the musicians blasted into “Always a Friend,” the singalong rocker that’s become Escovedo’s signature tune. One re-do of “Beauty and the Buzz” later, Escovedo and his band of merry men and women sent the satiated audience out into the night. “I’ll always come back to Austin,” the local music scene vet enthused at the end. It was a great show, and we can’t wait for you to see it when it airs early next year as part of our Season 42 on your local PBS station.

CeCe Winans and St. Paul & the Broken Bones’ souled-out performances

photo by Scott Newton

CeCe Winans is a gospel legend, selling millions of albums and garnering ten Grammy Awards. St. Paul & the Broken Bones have taken the music world by storm, rising quickly through the ranks with a distinctive Americana-tinged soul sound. Both artists can raise the roof, and we were thrilled to host both of their debuts on our stage, where the ceiling definitely had trouble staying attached.

Bringing church to ACL, Detroit native Winans and her eleven-piece band opened with a funky New Orleans version of the old classic “When the Saints Go Marching In” that segued into a medley of “Victory is Mine” and “In the Name of Jesus We Have Victory.” Celebratory spirit thus established, she then shifted to new material from her upcoming Let Them Fall in Love, her first album in nine years, out February 3, 2017. The bluesy “Hey Devil!” told Lucifer to get lost with a high-spirited romp that included the chorus of Ray Charles’ gospel-derived “Hit the Road, Jack.” “Run to Him,” a love song to Jesus, brought old school soul to the party, as well as a call-and-response that employed two different counterpoints for Winans to sing over. “Peace From God” rode an easygoing groove as it delivered its message, while “Lowly” added a shot of 70s soul to its rousing call to stay low (because there’s no place to fall). Winans then brought Texas to the gospel equation, with a powerhouse take on Kris Kristofferson’s probing ballad “Why Me Lord” that got the biggest round of applause so far. Barely a second went by before she went into “I Need Thee,” the hymn serving as a coda to “Why Me Lord.” Winans followed with “Never Have to Be Alone,” her latest single and a sky-reaching ballad in the tradition of her late friend Whitney Houston. She closed with “Dancing in the Spirit,” a blazing sing- and dance-along that drove Satan from the building with pure spiritual joy.

But the night wasn’t over yet. Alabama’s St. Paul & the Broken Bones took the stage, singer Paul Janeway decked out in a bright red suit and sparkly golden robe, wailing through “Crumbling Light Posts, Pt.1,” the atmospheric opener to the eight-piece outfit’s second and latest LP Sea of Noise. Janeway doffed his robe and the band launched directly into “Flow With It,” a groovy seduction tune that had the audience in their pockets. The rocking yet grooving “Mighty River” drew right from the Muscle Shoals tradition, Janeway channeling the late, great blue-eyed soul homeboy Eddie Hinton. One flute intro later, the Bones eased into the clever plea “I’ll Be Your Woman.” “This is one of those milestone things,” commented Janeway, before the band performed the mid-tempo gem “Tears in the Diamond.” The band then revisited its 2014 debut album with “I’m Torn Up,” a powerhouse ballad that found Janeway in the crowd, preaching the gospel of heartbreak. The Bones dipped their toes back into the Sea of Noise with the rocking funk of “Midnight On the Earth,” which got the audience shaking their groove thangs with abandon. “Waves” followed, a ballad driven by Browan Lollar’s growling guitar, before St. Paul exercised his thrilling falsetto on the 70s grooves of “All I Ever Wonder.” The Bones ended the main set with the anthemic ballad “Sanctify,” to a wild ovation from the crowd.

The band returned, of course, for a generous encore of three tunes. The warm country soul of “Is It Me,” which Janeway introduced as a lullaby, served as a palette cleanser before the raucous R&B of “Call Me,” another gem from the first Bones LP. The group ended the show with “Burning Rome,” a slow burn ballad that had Janeway pulling out all his vocal stops and wrapping his carpet around his shoulders like a cape. The audience loved it, and we can’t wait for you to see it when it broadcast this winter as part of our Season 42 on your local PBS station.

Parker Millsap sets ACL on fire

photo by Scott Newton

Singer and songwriter Parker Millsap tears it up on our upcoming ACL Presents: Americana Music Festival 2016 special, airing November 19th, and that standout performance was enough for us to ask him to come do his own appearance on our show. The young Oklahoma native has set the Americana world on fire with his songs, his voice and his live show, and this taping – which we streamed live – showed exactly why.

Taking the stage with his backing trio, Millsap mentioned how he used to watch ACL with his father on Thursday nights on OETA in Oklahoma. He then launched into the title track of his latest album The Very Last Day, a jumpy tune about nuclear annihilation. The rocking, Steve Earle-esque “Hands Up” chronicled a gas station stick up, starring a robber more desperate than diabolical. Following band introductions, Millsap introduced the bluesy “Palisade,” the title tune from his 2012 debut and a showcase for Daniel Foulks’ gypsy fiddle. The quartet then dug into the repertoire of old-time banjoist Charlie Poole for a blues-soaked take on the classic “Hesitation Blues,” a great showcase of Millsap’s gritty howl. He followed with the Bo Diddley-beat of “Pining,” another tune from The Very Last Day. Then it was time for a show-stopper: the NPR favorite “Heaven Sent,” a heart-wrenching ballad about a young gay man in Oklahoma struggling for his Christian father’s acceptance.  The audience justifiably applauded wildly.

Millsap and company followed that heavy tune with “Truck Stop Gospel,” a frisky rocker that garnered cheers as soon as he announced it. His band then quit the stage as Millsap donned an acoustic guitar for “A Little Fire,” a folk ballad that showed off his fingerpicking skills. Another guitar switch and the return of his backup musicians led into “Your Water,” a new country-pop song he wrote with Wimberly native and ACL two-timer Sarah Jarosz. Millsap then gave us another brand new song, the midtempo 70s-style pop/rock tune “Other Arrangements.” which pushed his voice into a winsome falsetto. “Morning Blues” followed a similar, if bluesier, tack. “Quite Contrary,” however, added a shuffling rock beat as Millsap subverted nursery rhymes in telling the stories of Oklahoma meth addicts. Foulks then switched out his fiddle for a guitar on “Wherever You Are,” a bluesy folk rocker. Millsap and band ended the main set with a cover of Mississippi Fred McDowell’s “You Gotta Move,” the classic blues song that served as another showcase for both Foulks’ ragged lyricism and Millsap’s remarkable voice. That one-two punch brought the house down.

But of course it wasn’t over. Millsap and the trio returned to the stage for “Hades Pleads,” a choogling rocker in which Death tries to get laid via Millsap’s Plantesque wail. After that triumph, the band took its bows to well-deserved applause. It was a breakout performance by a young artist deserving of all the kudos coming his way, and we can’t wait for you to see it when it airs early next year as part of our Season 42 on your local PBS station.