Rhiannon Giddens does it all on ACL debut

photo by Scott Newton

Singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, interpreter – Rhiannon Giddens does it all on her acclaimed solo debut Tomorrow is My Turn. We were thrilled to host the Carolina Chocolate Drops member for her livestreamed debut ACL taping, and the NC native didn’t disappoint.

A barefoot Giddens and her seven-piece Americana orchestra took the stage to already enthusiastic applause. Donning her banjo, she and the band launched into the dramatic “Spanish Mary,” a Bob Dylan song Giddens finished for the all-star New Basement Tapes project. An accidentally muted fiddle meant an immediate retake – “Here’s a tune you may have heard before,” Giddens quipped – but the eager crowd clearly didn’t mind, and was rewarded with a tougher, grittier performance. She then moved to Tomorrow for the jaunty, fiddle-heavy “Don’t Let It Trouble Your Mind” from the catalog of the great Dolly Parton, “one of the most feminist writers out there.” She stayed with classic country for a stirring take on Hank Cochran’s sad and beautiful “She’s Got You,” made famous by the iconic Patsy Cline, before turning to the catalog of folk singer Odetta for the African-American work song “Waterboy,” a powerful showcase for her classically-trained vocal chops. She closed out the Tomorrow portion of the evening with a rumbling version of the Geeshie Wiley blues “Last Kind Words” that spotlighted her Drops bandmate Hubby Jenkins on mandolin.

Giddens then dug into her own growing catalog of originals for “Julie.” Inspired by a book of slave narratives, the tune recounts a conversation between a slave and her mistress, a performance stripped down to Dirk Powell’s fiddle and her own banjo, which is a replica of a 19th-century instrument. The rest of the band rejoined them as Giddens switched to fiddle and Powell (a folk and traditional music star in his own right) picked up his accordion for the Creole tune “Dimanche Apres-Midi” (“Sunday Afternoon Waltz”). Giddens and the band rocked up the folk for “Louisiana Man,” a snarling romantic putdown from Giddens’ own pen that bore down thanks to the circle of her banjo, Powell’s fiddle, Jason Sypher’s bass and Chance McCoy’s electric guitar. Jenkins then stepped forward to join Giddens on vocals for the gospel song “Children, Go Where I Send Thee,” which he brought to the Drops’ repertoire.

Giddens went back to her own catalog for the chilling “At the Purchaser’s Option,” a dark tune inspired by a 19th century advertisement for a slave and her baby and frosted by Malcolm Parson’s scraping cello. After ten songs chronicling American folk, she crossed the ocean for one of the musical strains at its root, closing the set with a stunning performance of traditional Gaelic “Mouth Music” that brought the house down. A standing ovation brought Giddens and the band back, wherein she explained that this was the band’s last show of the year and how thankful she was for her band and the paths on which her music has taken her. Following hugs all around for the musicians, Gidden and friends launched into a medley of “That Lonesome Road” and “Up Above My Head” from the catalog of pioneering gospel singer/proto rock & roll guitarist Sister Rosetta Tharpe – a rollicking call-and-response closer with solos all around. The crowd sent the band out with wild cheers and applause, all well-deserved. It was a rousing closer to a great show, and we can’t wait for you to see it when it airs this fall as part of our Season 42 on your local PBS station.    

James Bay brings Chaos & the Calm to ACL debut

photo by Scott Newton

UK singer/songwriter sensation James Bay became the latest British invader to win over the U.S. with his Grammy-nominated breakthrough hit “Hold Back the River.” We were pleased to welcome the Hertfordshire native to our studio for his debut taping as he showcased his acclaimed debut LP Chaos and the Calm.

Adorned in his trademark black hat, Bay and his four-piece band opened the show on a high energy note with the bluesy, rocking “Collide.” He followed that slam-bang with “Craving,” a catchy slice of what would have been called heartland rock back in the ‘80s. “When We Were On Fire” kept the faith, adding a soulful edge thanks to Bay’s elastic vocals. After donning an acoustic 12-string guitar, Bay explained how he and the band “geeked out” on ACL, before launching into the folk rock charmer “If You Ever Want to Be in Love.” Switching to a six-string, Bay got soulful and romantic on the midtempo beauty “Need the Sun to Break,” which generated applause with just the opening riff.

Breaking from Chaos, the singer/songwriter slowed things down with the widescreen ballad “Running,” from his UK breakout EP Other Sides.  Then it was back to the LP, as a harmony guitar riff between Bay and guitarist Andy Cortes garnered cheers for the opening of his massive hit serenade “Let It Go,” featuring a bluesy Bay solo and the audience on backing vocals. He then surprised us with a brief, instrumental excerpt of the immortal Elvis Presley classic “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” used as an intro for the lighter-waver “Scars,” a clear crowd favorite. The band then let pianist Jack Duxbury stretch out on an extended intro to “Move Together,” another lush ballad.

A switch to a Gibson SG heralded a switch in tone, as a chunky guitar riff and Bay’s demand to “see some hands” powered up the gnarly rocker “Best Fake Smile.” Bay and his band kept the energy level high with the crunchy “Get Out While You Can,” which made the crowd into hand-clappin’ fools and ended the main set with a bang. The time between the band leaving the stage and returning was short, however, and they started their encore with a song familiar to all: Creedence Clearwater Revival’s immortal “Proud Mary,” which morphed halfway through into Tina Turner’s powerhouse version, both halves punctuated by steely guitar solos. Bay ended the performance with the fan-favorite anthem “Hold Back the River,” likely to be his own contribution to the classic rock canon. The show ended with the requisite big rock flourish, to the delight of the passionate crowd. It was a memorable ACL debut, and we can’t wait for you to see it when it broadcasts as part of Season 42 on PBS.

Natalia Lafourcade dazzles with ACL debut

photo by Scott Newton

Natalia Lafourcade isn’t a household name to a lot of Americans. A superstar in Mexico, a  2016 Grammy winner and multiple Latin Grammy Award-winner, the indie pop singer/songwriter has the goods to conquer the world outside her home, as she proved on her debut ACL taping, which was streamed live around the world.

Lafourcade and her backing quintet began with a set of songs from her latest album Hasta La Raíz, a platinum-selling, number one LP in Mexico and Grammy-winner for Best Latin Rock album here. Following a pre-taped ambient intro, “Vámonos Negrito”- sitting somewhere between romantic balladry and modern pop – kicked the show off in fine style. She followed with her acclaimed two-time Latin Grammy-winning title track, an intimate, melodic anthem about holding on to one’s roots, which showcased her sweet, airy vocals. Seguing into “Lo Que Construimos,” a jazzy pop confection featuring complementary guitar and trumpet solos, “Ya No Te Puedo Querer” moved back toward anthem territory, the breakup message of the lyrics couched in a tastefully dramatic rock arrangement. “Nunca Es Suficiente” set its lyrics of romantic disappointment to a wistful cumbia.

Lafourcade then announced a special treat – she would sing in English for the first time, just for our audience, nailing Nina Simone’s challenging ballad “Lilac Wine.” Still in tribute mode, she moved to the piano for the sweeping love song “Amore De Mis Amores,” from her tribute album to the classic Mexican singer and songwriter Agustín Lara. She went back to original material for the 70s pop of “Casa,” the title track to her bestselling 2005 album of the same name. She then reached even further back to the catchy “En El 2000,” her breakthrough radio hit and a song she explained that she’d come to hate due to constant requests for it, but now “we’re friends again.” The audience enhanced the rhythm with their own handclaps.

Lafourcade went back to Raíz for “Mi Lugar Favorito,” paying tribute to her “favorite place” with an infectious melody, a dazzling trumpet solo from Alfredo Pino, syncopated band dancing and crowd participation. Then she presented another song rendered especially for ACL – a lovely voice and guitar version of Elvis Presley’s immortal “Love Me Tender” that earned her enthusiastic applause. Her band rejoined her for the equally pretty, bossa nova-influenced gem “Para Qué Sufrir,” a clear fan favorite.

Lafourcade took a moment to express how excited she and the band were to be on our stage, which she kneeled to touch. She then moved back to her piano for the closing song “Palomas Blancas,” a grand pop ballad about being connected to the world. She and the band took well-deserved bows as the audience called out for more. Their enthusiasm was rewarded when Lafourcade and the band returned for “Estoy Lista,” a confident slice of melody-rich piano pop. It was a perfect closer to a remarkable ACL debut, and we can’t wait for you to see it when it broadcasts during Season 42 this fall on your local PBS station.


Robert Plant & the Sensational Space Shifters tape new show for the ages

photo by Scott Newton

Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters are a class act. Few rockers of Plant’s generation have matured as well and kept as open a musical mind as he has, as evidenced by the eclectic material he’s recorded in the decades since Led Zeppelin ceased, as well as the diverse skills of his multi-cultural band. The last time Plant appeared on ACL in 2002, he gave us a show for the ages that’s still talked about and referenced. Fourteen years later, he and his six-piece band (a variation on the one that accompanied him last time) did it again, this time livestreamed for fans everywhere.

Plant grabbed the audience by the heart immediately by playing a recording of the song “Twine Time” in tribute to Austin’s late blues/soul/jazz DJ Paul Ray. He and the Shifters then launched into his former band’s “The Lemon Song,” re-imagined as a shuffle that emphasizes the classic blues lyrics Zep borrowed when it was first recorded. Sending a clear signal that he wasn’t living in the past, he followed up with the spacy, bendir-and-eBow-enhanced anthem “Rainbow,” from his most recent album Lullaby and…The Ceaseless Roar. Then it was back to the Zep catalog for the immortal “Black Dog,” given a roiling tempo, electronic frosting, an extended coda featuring Gambian musician Juldeh Camera’s ritti (a West African bowed instrument) and enthusiastic call and response from the crowd. Plant then Roared back with the groovy powerhouse “Turn It Up,” a song he explained was inspired by his years living in Austin.

Plant followed that slice of modern rock by taking on Howlin’ Wolf’s classic “Spoonful,” giving it a crawling Afro-psychedelic makeover and a duet between Camara’s ritti and guitarist Justin Adams’ tehardant, a West African lute. He then revisited one of his earliest solo hits, the atmospheric, incomparable “In the Mood,” given an acoustic guitar/banjo/piano reading here. Plant went back to the well of the mighty Wolf, taking the heavy blues “No Place to Go” (AKA “How Many More Years”) into spacier, more exotic territory thanks to Camara’s bowing and keyboardist John Baggot’s exotic sounds. He continued his trip through the past by seguing directly into the classic “Dazed and Confused” and following it with that band’s mighty rearrangement of “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You” – both staples of Zeppelin’s repertoire. “Can you feel it?” Plant asked, and the answer was a definite affirmative, with “Babe” earning a standing ovation.      .

Plant and the Shifters stayed with music history, but given a 21st century update: the Ralph Stanley-popularized folk song “Little Maggie” became a droning worldbeat tour-de-force, while Bukka White’s “Fixin’ to Die” became the freight-train rhythmed anthem they performed the last time they were here. The main set crashed to a close as Plant and the Shifters gave the audience a treat, running Muddy Waters’ “I Just Want to Make Love to You” into the titanic “Whole Lotta Love,” which itself incorporated an Africanized “Hey Bo Diddley.” The audience sang the chorus back to them in ecstasy.

There was no way that didn’t leave us hungry for more, of course, and the band soon returned. First up for the encore was a redo of “Rainbow.” Then the Shifters and Plant essayed a brooding version of the traditional gospel blues “Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down,” which Plant recorded for Band of Joy. Plant and the Shifters left us with a major crowdpleaser: the “old English folk song” most of us know as the immortal “Rock and Roll,” taken into a new, groovy place via Baggot’s keyboards, Camara’s ritti and some more audience call-and-response. Plant and the Shifters took a well-deserved bow to a standing ovation. It was a sensational show from a music giant never content to rest on his laurels, and we can’t wait for you to see the broadcast episode when it airs this fall as part of our Season 42 on your local PBS station.

Iggy Pop’s raucous performance opens Season 42 taping season

photo by Scott Newton

There’s no one in rock & roll like Iggy Pop, and we jumped at the chance to present the proto-punk pioneer on the tour for his latest album Post Pop Depression. The new LP – released at the end of this week – also features our old pals Josh Homme, who’s appeared before leading Queens of the Stone Age and Them Crooked Vultures, and Dean Fertita, who’s been our guest with Queens and the Raconteurs, joined onstage by Queens guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen, Arctic Monkeys drummer Matt Helders and indie rock sessioneer Matt Sweeney. With a setlist drawn not only from Depression, but its 1977 spiritual kindred The Idiot and Lust For Life, this raucous performance was a mix of old friends and new.

Following a pre-recorded Indian chant, the band, dressed in red smoking jackets, came out swinging with a blazing “Lust For Life,” its unselfconscious leader a ball of energy from the moment he stepped forward to a standing ovation. From that potent hit Iggy moved into the creeping “Sister Midnight,” one of the highlights of The Idiot. Jacket off and chest bare, Iggy thanked the audience for coming, before launching into the brooding “American Valhalla” from the new LP, sounding as if it was recorded at the same time as his classic 70s albums. The volume and power amped back up for Lust deep cut “Sixteen.” That song went right into Depression’s slinky “In the Lobby,” which found Iggy joining the audience, as is his wont. Remarkably, he stayed at the mic for a powerhouse “Some Weird Sin,” channeling his energy into a monster vocal. The groovy “Funtime” followed,with Homme taking the vocal sung by Iggy’s late friend and co-writer David Bowie on the original.  

“Turn all the lights on, I wanna see,” Iggy demanded so he could greet the crowd. Then he was off celebrating “Tonight,” an exceptionally poppy Lust tune that featured a tasty Homme guitar solo. After a monologue about having a job, no matter what is, he rejoined the audience for new song “Sunday,” a chugging pop rocker driven by a danceable groove and a pair of 12-string guitars. The band stayed with Depression for the slow, gnarly “German Days,” before revisiting The Idiot for the even slower and more metallic “Mass Production.” Iggy then took a seat (briefly) as the groove moved into hipswinging territory for The Idiot’s classic “Nightclubbing,” a sarcastic swipe at disco culture that boasted some incendiary Homme solos. A chunky guitar riff announced the arrival of “The Passenger,” another acknowledged classic and an opportunity for the audience to sing along with its “la la” chorus. Iggy and company finished the main set with “China Girl,” a passionate cut from The Idiot made famous in the 80s by its co-author Bowie and brought home by an extended instrumental coda.

After a break to let the audience breathe, the band came back for one of the most generous encores in our history. “Break Into Your Heart,” the first song on the new album, kicked it off, Iggy making another pilgrimage into the crowd. “This is a good one!” he said as preface to the irresistibly danceable “Fall in Love With Me,” a Lust deep cut. Then it was straight into a real surprise – the hard-rocking title track to the beloved cult film Repo Man. Iggy returned to Depression for the soon-to-be classic single “Gardenia,” a song that sounds like it could have been co-written by Bowie all those years ago. He went back to those actual years for the William Burroughs-inspired “Baby,” a song from The Idiot he sang for only the second time since he recorded it. Back to the latest album, Iggy introduced the groovy “Chocolate Drops” with a reminiscence of playing Austin’s Club Foot and the adage, “When you get to the bottom you’re near the top.”  He and the band then went straight into the epic “Paraguay,” punctuated by power chords and a cheerfully profane Iggy rant. Lust For Life’s raucous “Success” closed out the show on a celebratory note, with Iggy making his final trip into the crowd, who sang along lustily during the call-and-response chorus. The audience went wild as Iggy waved, ending the show on the same high with which it began. It was one of the most fun and memorable season opening tapings we’ve ever had, and we can’t wait for you to see it when it broadcasts this fall on PBS.

Tedeschi Trucks Band on fire for ACL debut

photo by Scott Newton

All good things come to an end, and so it is with our 41st taping season. But we went out with a flourish, courtesy of Tedeschi Trucks Band. Co-leader Susan Tedeschi is no stranger to these shores, of course, having appeared on Austin City Limits before in seasons 24 and 29. But this is the first appearance of TTB, the band she formed five years ago with husband/master guitarist Derek Trucks. Mixing new material from the forthcoming LP Let Me Get By with choice covers, many drawn from the twelve-piece’s recent tribute show to Joe Cocker’s legendary album Mad Dogs and Englishmen, TTB gave us a memorable performance that perfectly closed out the season while being streamed live around the world to an audience of thousands.

The set began with the funky “There’s a Break in the Road,” a tune originally found on Tedeschi’s solo LP Back to the River. The band then jumped into the first of the new songs – “Don’t Know What It Means” found the pair trading solos over a soulful groove, with a side of a capella singing and sax solos. With no pause, Tedeschi then put her guitar to the side in order to give full reign to her scorching voice on a cover of the Box Tops’ “The Letter,” via its rollicking arrangement from Englishmen. The group returned to Let Me Get By for “Laugh About It,” an infectious slice of soul/pop that took on the aura of a gospel revival. Dipping back into the Mad Dogs’ repertoire, TTB took Cocker’s version of the Leonard Cohen standard “Bird On a Wire” and made it their own by virtue of a sparse arrangement and a stunning Tedeschi vocal. “She is Bonnie Raitt and Janis Joplin’s love child,” remarked Darren Addy who was watching the livestream on our ACLTV YouTube channel.  

Eschewing classic rock nostalgia for a bit, the band gave the audience another pair of samples from Let Me Get By. The shuffling jazz/funk title track put the spotlight on keyboardist Kofi Burbridge, while the jumping “I Want More” put Motown through its jam band paces with a gentle jazz coda. The group then revisited its Grammy Award-winning debut album Revelator for the silky smooth “Midnight in Harlem,” preceded by a smoky-improvised intro that had the crowd applauding Trucks’ every lick. Having thoroughly established their prowess for original music, TTB jumped back to Mad Dogs and Englishmen for a New Orleans-influenced reinterpretation of the Ray Charles-associated R&B tune “Sticks and Stones,” sung by backup singer Mike Mattison. Mattison and Tedeschi then took on a cover of Derek & the Dominos’ “Keep On Growing,” as Trucks laid down licks that would make Eric Clapton proud.

The band then dug deep into the blues, taking Tedeschi back to her roots with a searing cover of Bobby Blue Bland’s “I Pity the Fool” – an appropriate choice, since Tedeschi shared her first ACL episode with Bland back in 1998, and one that allowed her to show off her own formidable six-string skills. Tedeschi Trucks Band ended the main set with “The Storm,” the centerpiece of second LP Made Up Mind. An extended intro gave Austin jazz king Ephraim Owens (last seen on our stage backing Mumford & Sons) plenty of space to bounce off of Trucks’ spurts of guitar, before Trucks and Tedeschi bashed out the blues-rocking main riff, the group locked into the 70s soul groove and there were solos all around. The crowd went wild – “They are on fire tonight!” enthused YouTube viewer LIZISHIELDS 1.

But of course, that wasn’t the end. As Tedeschi announced that it was their last show of the year, the band returned to the stage to close out the running themes. “Anyhow” was the final new song of the evening, and an easygoing, 70s-style soul groove it was. The show finally came to a climax with “Let’s Go Get Stoned,” the Ray Charles hit essayed by Cocker and his Mad Dogs and given new life by TTB via round robin vocal lines and a traditionalist bent to the original R&B arrangement. It was a slam-bang finish to a blazing set that both live and online audiences loved, and a fine way to bring our 41st taping season to a close. “Excellent direction,” commented YouTube viewer Stu Levitan. “Whole production excellent!” We can’t wait for you to see this performance when it airs as a full-hour episode on February 13th, 2016 on your local PBS station.

Heartless Bastards return to ACL stage

photo by Scott Newton

Austin’s own Heartless Bastards first appeared on ACL in Season 35, showcasing the band’s critically-acclaimed first trio of LPs. For Erika Wennerstrom and company’s return to our stage, the group elected not to repeat itself, instead giving us a rocking program dedicated to its most recent albums Arrow and this year’s Restless Ones, in a taping that was streamed live around the world.

The band began with “Gates of Dawn,” a midtempo folk rocker with a perfect mix of acoustic and electric guitars.The propulsive “Got to Have Rock and Roll” followed, its title a hint of what was to come. Wennerstrom put her guitar down for “Wind Up Bird,” the ambitious opener of Restless Ones, title inspired by Haruki Murakami’s novel The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, and featuring bird-like arm gestures buttressing the song’s lyrics. Wennerstrom donned her Les Paul for “Black Cloud,” pushing the song hard into the rock zone without coming close to bombast.   

Wennerstrom paused to reminisce about the last time the Bastards taped the show in 2009, before launching into “Journey,” a Restless tune inspired by author Dan Eldon’s The Journey is the Destination. The gentle “Pocket Full of Thirst” smoothed out the mood, as did the cosmic folk-pop of “The Fool” and the 70s-style country rock of “Skin and Bone.” The band stayed in the same vein for the lovely “Hi Line,” a different take on a song they did for a film soundtrack. The volume went back up, though, for the piano ‘n’ power rock stomper “Into the Light.”

After concentrating so much on Restless Ones, the Bastards shifted gears to predecessor Arrow for the last three songs of the main set. “Down in the Canyon” moved from heavy blues rock to something more expansive and back again for one of the show’s most poignant performances. Penultimate tune “The Arrow Killed the Beast” was soaked in the dusty atmosphere of the West Texas desert in which it was written. The groovy twang of “Only For You” brought the set to a crowd-pleasing close.

The band took advantage of the opportunity of the encore to re-do “Wind Up Bird” and “Black Cloud.” Remakes over, the Bastards treated the audience to the straightforward rock of “Parted Ways” before ending the show with the dreamy, enigmatic “Tristessa,” Wennerstrom alone onstage singing against looped feedback. The rest of the band rejoined her for a bow, and this remarkable show was brought to a close. We can’t wait for you to see it when it airs in January as part of our Season 41 on your local PBS station.

Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats’ explosive debut

photo by Scott Newton

Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats seemingly exploded onto the scene with the infectious gospel-charged hit “S.O.B.” While the tune’s quick rise in popularity belies the Denver-based Rateliff’s years of hard work, it’s only the tip of the iceberg for this talented band. For its debut ACL taping, Stax/Volt met singer/songwriter craft for a searing set of tunes guaranteed to make your body move.

The seven-piece Night Sweats took the stage first, using horns and Hammond organ to establish an old-fashioned 60s R&B groove. Rateliff followed, donned his Telecaster and launched into “I Need Never Get Old,” a rousing mixture of pleading and obstinance. “Intro” delved deeper into that Southern soul groove, showcasing the band and Rateliff’s dancing skills. “Look It Here” dialed the tempo down to mid-, while still keeping the energy level high. The themes took a turn for the introspective on “I’ve Been Failing,” but the song’s self-criticism was still driven by funky grooves and a defiant “Don’t you weep/Don’t you worry” refrain. “Howling at Nothing” sounded like a couples’ swing on the dancefloor, spiced by Rateliff’s reverb-soaked guitar solo.

The band followed up with “Parlour,” a Muscle Shoals-soaked slice of soul-pop that would do Dan Penn proud. The rhythm ramped up for the rocking “Out On the Weekend,” which added a Van Morrisonesque feel to Rateliff’s gritty singing. “Mellow Out” moved back to the Sam Cooke era of soul music, while “Shake” added a late-night vibe with stinging lead guitar, juicy organ and a smoky groove. After giving a shout-out to his mom, who taught him how to dance and was present, Rateliff essayed the finger-popping “Thank You” and the rocking “Trying So Hard Not to Know.” The descending melody of “Wasting Time” gave the audience a chance to catch its breath, followed by band introductions. Then it was time for the breakout hit. The crowd immediately clapped along with the gospel fervor of “S.O.B.,” the irresistible hooks and singalong chorus raising the roof in fine style.

The band then left the stage, but the music didn’t: the audience continued “S.O.B.”’s “whoa-ohs” until the group returned. The Night Sweats joined the crowd’s groove, segueing into a soulful cover of The Band’s funky “The Shape I’m In” that garnered immediate cheers. Then it was back to “S.O.B.” for a coda highlighting the gospel call-and-response of the chorus. After that frenzy, Rateliff and the Night Sweats elected to send us out into the night via “What I Need,” an old-fashioned R&B ballad of the type that makes you want to hold your baby tight as the lights go down. It was a fitting end to the Night Sweats’ southern soul inspired show, and we’re excited for you to see it when it airs early next year as part of our Season 41 on your local PBS station.