Encore: Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell

photo by Scott Newton

This weekend, music legends Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell return to Austin City Limits and share the stage to celebrate their shared history, their collaborative album Old Yellow Moon and the continuing power of the song.

Friends for forty years, Harris and Crowell have an entwined four-decade history of music-making. ACL veterans, both artists have each appeared on the program seven times, although this episode marks the first time the pair have performed together on the ACL stage. The Americana icons perform favorites and songs from their acclaimed duets album Old Yellow Moon. The collaboration was chosen as album of the year at this year’s Americana Music Awards and the pair was honored as duo of the year. American Songwriter says of the album, “On Old Yellow Moon, Harris and Crowell embrace the entire range of life and music they’ve experienced, from the reckless passions of youth to the reflectiveness of age, from loose-limbed hillbilly boogies to graceful balladry.”

“It’s great to be back at the world’s greatest and longest-running music show,” says Harris as she takes the ACL stage with Crowell. The breathtaking performance includes the two longtime kindred spirits joining their voices on Crowell originals as well as revivals of songs by Roger Miller, Matraca Berg and Kris Kristofferson. Harris opens with some of her earlier Gram Parsons-era hits, and the duo fast-forwards to a more recent era for Harris’ “Red Dirt Girl” and Crowell’s “Rock of My Soul,” their voices wrapping the songs in the kind of harmonies only old friends can generate. Special guest Shawn Colvin joins in the finale for a spirited take on Crowell’s “Stars On the Water.” The episode celebrates a longtime friendship and collaboration, and the pleasure the two music legends take from singing some of their favorite songs is palpable.

photo by Scott Newton

“Emmylou and Rodney are an important part of the history of ACL – going all the way back practically to the beginning,” says executive producer Terry Lickona. “But it goes deeper than that – they reflect the heart and soul of what ACL is all about. And the two of them together is a perfect example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts!”

Hit up the episode page for more info and don’t forget to follow ACL via Facebook, Twitter or our newsletter. Next week: The Head and the Heart and Gomez.

 

J. Roddy and the Business rock ACL

photo by Scott Newton

The amazing evolution of popular music over the last few decades has been a fascinating and necessary process – where would we be without constant change? That said, sometimes you just gotta rock. That’s a situation which J. Roddy Walston and the Business are more than familiar with, as evidenced by their latest LP Essential Tremors, and it was in that spirit that the quartet turned our theater into that hip bar downtown that always features the sweatiest, ballsiest rock & roll. The band’s debut ACL taping was also livestreamed on the Austin City Limits YouTube channel.

The longhaired, leather-jacketed Walston looks like he should be rocking a Les Paul/Marshall combination, but instead he sits at the piano. Though “sits” isn’t quite accurate – instead he bounces, slides and jumps off and on the bench as the music moves him. And no wonder – as he and his homeboys roared into “Sweat Shock,” guitar chugging and piano banging, the energy level shot through the roof. Imagine Jerry Lee Lewis fronting Black Oak Arkansas and you’re in the ballpark.

From then on, rocking out was the priority. That’s not to say the band is a one-note proposition – far from it. They pull from several different strains, from punk to hard rock to classic pop. “Take It As It Comes,” “Midnight Cry” (with its audience singalong “Eye-yi-yi” chorus) and “Full Growing Man” drew from melodic piano pop, with the latter in particular sounding like an Elton John tune taken behind the barn and roughed up. “Marigold” and “Don’t Break the Needle” worked a loud, Stonesy groove, while “Heavy Bells” updated the bluesy hard rock of Led Zeppelin. “Boys Can Never Tell” eschewed drums and bass for acoustic guitar and a surprisingly pretty ballad. It was all a warm-up, though, for the colossal closer “Used to Did,” on which the band pulled out all the stops for a piano-pounding, guitar-wailing, hair-whipping finish. It was a climax that encouraged online viewer joel brown to enthusiastically comment that the band is “The best thing to happen to rock n roll in a long time!”

Viewer johnnYYac said “Hard to believe it was less than a year ago these guys were playing to me and fewer than 20 people in a little club in Iowa, on the Miss. River. They deserve this, but I’ll miss those intimate shows.” For our money, Walston and the Business brought that rock club intimacy in the most widescreen way. We can’t wait for you to see it this fall on PBS.

To watch other Austin City Limits videos and catch livestreams of upcoming tapings subscribe to our YouTube channel.

Nickel Creek’s new gems and old favorites

photo by Scott Newton

We always love seeing old friends and so it is we welcomed back Nickel Creek to our stage for their third taping, which we also livestreamed on our ACLTV YouTube channel. The California combo last visited us in 2003 – recording their debut in 2001, while mandolin master Chris Thile performed with Punch Brothers in 2012 and fiddler Sara Watkins supported the Decemberists in 2011. But now the trio is back in toto, virtuoso instrumentation and tight harmonies intact, celebrating not only our 40th anniversary but also their own musical return after a nine-year absence with the reunion record A Dotted Line.

Defying the stereotype, the band opened with a ballad, “Rest of My Life,” featuring harmony arco lines from Sara and bassist Mark Schatz. The tempo picked up with “Scotch and Chocolate,” an instrumental that combined fluctuating bridges with Sara’s Celtic-flavored lines. The rest of the set alternated between pieces from the new record and well-known tunes from their popular repertoire. “Destination” and “When in Rome” were perfect examples of the band’s ability to create indie pop songs using bluegrass instrumentation. “Reasons Why” and “Where is Love Now” essayed the beauty of the band’s way with ballads. Fan-favorite instrumentals like “Smoothie Song,” “Ode to a Butterfly” and the new “Elephant in the Corn” raised the roof. The group’s wry sense of humor bubbled up throughout, especially in the twisted gospelgrass of “21st of May,” the stalker folk of “Anthony” and the aggressive bitterness of “You Don’t Know What’s Going On,” for which Thile teased the crowd to unleash their buried anger. The band ended with its popular adaptation of the children’s tune “The Fox,” which drove the audience wild.

A well-deserved encore brought redos of “Where is Love Now” and “You Don’t Know What’s Going On,” before the Creek flowed through the driving ballad “Helena” and into the traditional fiddle tune “Cuckoo’s Nest,” which featured not only expert musicianship (“They make it look soooooo easy,” noted stream viewer Take a Hike) but also Schatz tapdancing. It was an undeniably fun show – noted by viewer Mathew Cussen as “one of the best shows I’ve ever seen” – and we can’t wait for you to see it when it airs in early 2015. And don’t forget to subscribe to our YouTube channel to be notified of future livestreams of ACL tapings!

Thao & the Get Down Stay Down a joy to see and hear

photo by Scott Newton

When ACL is in an anniversary season, it’s tempting for us to concentrate on booking the biggest artists we can find. That would deny, however, one of our core missions: to expose our audience to new artists. Of course, Thao & the Get Down Stay Down aren’t exactly new – the San Francisco-based act has been working for a decade. But Thao Nguyen and her intrepid band have begun to explode far past their underground origins, making it the perfect time to for us to invite them on the show for their debut taping.

After the brief, gospel-style open of “The Clap,” Thao and the band launched into “City,” a patented example of their patented funky folk rock. The group’s blend of groovy rhythms and Thao’s folk-influenced fingerpicking give the band a distinctive sound that truly makes it stand out from the pack, as “Cool Yourself,” “Beat” and “Every Body” easily proved. But she and her quintet hardly stick to one groove. The band also hopped jauntily through the jazzy piano pop of “The Feeling Kind,” complete with Dixieland trumpet solo, skipped energetically through the ska/soul hybrid “Swimming Pools,” moved through the crescendoing dynamics of the waltz “Age of Ice” and pounded through the percussion-heavy “Squareneck,” with Thao getting down and dirty on her lap steel guitar. Thao also demonstrated imaginative versatility with her instruments, playing her banjo like a guitar on the reggae-tinged rocker “Holy Roller” and her archtop guitar like a clawhammer banjo on the bluegrassy “Kindness Be Conceived.” The band ended the main set with the singalong folk pop of “We the Common,” a tribute to Thao’s volunteer work with the California Coalition for Women Prisoners.

Thao and the Get Down Stay Down encored with “Body,” another fine example of their patented unpredictable pop that included an audience participation section of handclapping, and “Bag of Hammers,” more of the same, enhanced with Thao’s tropical guitar lick. Thao’s natural exuberance and wide-ranging songwriting acumen made the show a joy to see and hear. We can’t wait for you to see it when it airs on PBS this fall.

White Denim’s thrilling evolution

photo by Scott Newton

“It’s always a thrill to introduce one of our own,” said ACL’s Terry Lickona as he set the stage for White Denim’s debut taping. While Austin City Limits casts its net far and wide around the world, we’re always happy to showcase homegrown talent. So we were thrilled to welcome White Denim to our fair studio. The Austin band has firmly established itself as an international draw on the club and festival circuits, and with the release of its latest acclaimed, Jeff Tweedy-produced LP Corsicana Lemonade, the time was right, and the Moody was packed with fans cheering them on.

Having evolved far beyond their garage rock origins, the band presented clusters of songs, layering together tunes from Corsicana Lemonade and D into jazzy suites that drew equally from prog rock, psychedelia and the jam band tradition. “Pretty Green,” “Corsicana Lemonade” and “River to Consider” illustrated the quartet’s evolution well, seguing from pounding, riff-oriented verses and choruses to jazzy bridges and long solo passages, sprinkled liberally with compressed wah-wah guitar. The tightly-knit duo of “Comeback” and “At the Farm” continued the trend with heavier riffs, busier rhythms and even proggier interplay, featuring singer James Petralli’s scatting and kazoo solo.The suite of  “Anvil Everything/Sometimes I Don’t Wanna Shake/I Start to Run” threw in everything except the kitchen sink: psychedelic grunge, heavy rock riffs, fast-talking vocals, airy arrangements and even a mutated Bo Diddley beat – the band’s current approach in a (large) nutshell.

Not everything involved extended jams – “Distant Relative Salute” essayed a frisky, jazzy rocker, “A Place to Start” evinced soulful pop and “Street Joy” ran its power ballad atmosphere on the fuel of Petralli’s powerful vocal chords. The set ended back in jamland with “At Night in Dreams,” a song that reveled in both the melodics and the expressive musicianship. A quick redo of the choogling “Dreams” and a frenzied meltdown of “Mess Your Hair Up” brought the set to a howling close, the fans going wild. We couldn’t be prouder of hometown heroes White Denim, and we can’t wait for you to see this episode when it airs later this year as part of our 40th season. Stay tuned.

Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds’ beauty and noise

photo by Scott Newton

Nobody explores the thin line between light and darkness as well as Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds. The Australian native and British resident has spent 30 years amassing a rogue’s gallery of killers, creepers and unsavory characters of all types. Yet he’s also capable of stripping away the grime and debauchery to give life to languorous love songs that border on the spiritual. His international band of brigands – including righthand man Warren Ellis and original Bad Seed Barry Adamson – are equally adept at shimmering beauty and hellacious noise, depending on the mood the song requires. That yin/yang contrast, a dichotomy on which Cave and the Seeds have built a successful three-decade career, exploded in full effect for the band’s first taping for Austin City Limits.

With an unusual (for us) stage setup that featured two ramps allowing the stage-stalking Cave to join the crowd, the band arrived to the electronic thrum of “We Real Cool,” one of the singles from his latest LP Push the Sky Away. The brooding amble of “Jubilee Street” seemingly continued the sedate mood, but ramped up the energy of a tent revival in no time for the first of the evening’s standout performances. The quiet dismissed for the moment, the Seeds launched into the explosive “Tupelo,” a twisted take on the mythology surrounding Elvis Presley that had Cave raving like a hellfire-and-brimstone preacher fallen from grace and grimly trying to claw his way back.

From then on the dark and the light battled for supremacy. In the former’s corner: the creeping crawl of Cave’s serial killer ode “Red Right Hand” (made infamous in part by its use in The X-Files) and the rock ‘n’ roll savagery of the obsessive love song “From Her to Eternity,” the title track of the first Bad Seeds album. In the latter’s: the religious authority satire “God is in the House” and the unusually straightforward romantic sentiments of “Love Letter,” both keying on Cave’s sensual croon and piano. The sonorous “Mermaids” and the rambling “Higgs Boson Blues,” one of the most discussed tunes on Push the Sky Away, seemed ambivalent toward the balance of good and evil, letting Cave ponder issues of modern technology shaping the inconsistency of memory.

That was apparently all the clemency Cave had left in him, though, as the Seeds launched into “The Mercy Seat,” the murderously powerful first-person account of execution by electric chair that has become the band’s signature song. That was merely a warm-up, however, for “Stagger Lee.” Cave’s aggressively profane version of the century-old folk song pushes the original’s braggadocio into deliberately over-the-top heights of arrogance and violence, and his especially intense performance had the audience howling for blood.

There was no way to top that kind of ferocity, so the band didn’t try, wisely choosing to close the show with the austere beauty of the title track to Push the Sky Away. It was the perfect comedown for the rollercoaster ride of a Bad Seeds performance, moving from devil to angel and all points in between. We can’t wait for you to see Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds in action on the ACL stage – watch your local listings this fall.