ACL Encore: Sonic Youth & the Black Keys

photo by Scott Newton

This weekend Austin City Limits presents one of our most electrifying encore episodes featuring Sonic Youth and the Black Keys.

After sixteen studio albums and receiving critical acclaim in both the indie and mainstream worlds over the course of more than a quarter century, Sonic Youth really needs no introduction. With songs almost predominantly from the most recent album, The Eternal, Sonic Youth take no prisoners in this episode taped in 2010.

Watch Sonic Youth “No Way” (Preview) on PBS. See more from Austin City Limits.

Although not sharing in the same expansive catalog (yet), the Black Keys — with seven studio albums under their belts — are most certainly on their way to the same immortality. After garnering much attention from their 2010 album, Brothers, The Black Keys play most of the hits off this record, with a few older tunes mixed in.

Watch The Black Keys “Tighten Up” on PBS. See more from Austin City Limits.

While differing in genres and style, both Sonic Youth and the Black Keys have redefined the traditional sound of the guitar and have earned special places in rock history. Be sure to check your local listings for showtimes to see this special episode and be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, or Tumblr to keep up with updates on tapings and airings!

Gear Blog: Cheap Trick

The Gear Blog is a behind-the-scenes look at the instruments and equipment that graces the Austin City Limits’ stage. Our Audio Engineer Kevin Cochran goes in-depth to give our audiophiles their fix.

I hate deadlines. So much so that it’s been 2+ years since I’ve done my last gear blog, so let’s just jump in. We filmed Cheap Trick during the 2010 South By Southwest when we were both celebrating the beginning of our 36th year in business.

Rick Nielsen’s guitar tech is a busy, busy man. Rick changed guitars on every song. There was no point in the set that he played the same guitar twice. Rick is well known for his association with Hamer guitars, but his touring rig also has vintage Les Pauls.

Above, we have two Bo Diddley inspired guitars. One is a Hamer having the box like shape Bo was known and a red Gretsch Billy-Bo. On the far left is 50’s Fender Telecaster once owned by Jeff Beck himself.

Rick’s onstage amp setup is just as ostentatious as his guitars. Seen here are three Fuchs Train 45 heads. At the time, I noted that there is only one set of speakers in the center of the cabinets. Every other speaker cabinet actually contained head lights.

Off stage is a pair Mr. Nielsen’s original 70’s Deluxe Reverbs. As memory serves they were modded by Paul Rivera, by taking the heads out of the combo chassis and putting them into a roll-around rack. Above is Nielsen’s wireless system and only effect: a Dunlop Crybaby.

Hamer custom double neck. One has a Kahler vibrato system and one has a hard tail. Note the custom inlay.

If any guitar is associated with Rick, other than the Explorer style guitar, it’s this Hamer 5 neck. In addition to 12-string and fretless necks, there is also a Telecaster-style pickup configuration and two double humbucker configurations, one with a locking tremolo.  Mr. Nielsen was kind enough to let anyone on the ACL crew pick it up, play it, or get their picture taken with it. It’s not as heavy as it looks, and except for one neck, it’s not in tune. Since Rick plays only one song with it, why bother?

Note the banjo style tuning pegs.

As you might have noticed, Rick favors a checkerboard motif on much of his guitars and equipment. Even his iPhone case had a checkerboard design.

We kept finding picks for months after the Cheap Trick taping. Mr. Nielsen is fond of flinging them into the audience and his stand will almost be completely bare by the end of the set. Surprisingly, for a man with so many picks, he likes to play with his fingers a lot.

Daxx Nielsen played drums for CT’s taping. This Ludwig drum kit has the same finish as one of Rick’s Explorers and a couple of Tom Petersson’s basses.

Tom Petersson’s road rig is just as exotic as Nielsen’s. Here is his signature Waterstone 12-string bass. It’s tuned like a regular bass, but with additional strings one and two octaves higher above the traditional bass note.

In addition to a couple of 12-string backups, Tom has a traditional 4-string Fender Precision bass in beautiful pink and a Gibson Explorer bass, to compliment Nielsen’s own Explorer fetish. And yes, that strange finish pops up once again on not one but two of Tom’s own basses.

Petersson splits his bass signal into a Reeves cabinet for the low end and a Vox amp for the higher register strings.

Robin Zander brought a smattering of Tele’s, a Rickenbacker, and a couple of Gibson electrics with him. My favorite was a 12-string telecaster.

The only acoustic of the entire bunch was this Bedell. To the right, clipped out of frame is a Mark Sandman-inspired Waterstone electric. I’m a sucker for gold.



Cheap Trick brought along two guest keyboardists to help along, Magic Cristian and the great Roger Manning Jr.

Finally, the set list for that night. Please note we have not used actual tape for years – it’s just that we did for 30 of our 38 seasons and calling it that is old habit. It does get quite embarrassing when we have to stop for a “tape change” and the band members or tour managers and asks, “You guys still use tape?”

This weekend: Cheap Trick

photo by Scott Newton

It’s one thing to be a band that is cited to be a heavy influence for both rock and alt rock bands alike during the late 80s and early 90s such as Guns N’ Roses, Pearl Jam, Weezer, Foo Fighters, Smashing Pumpkins, and countless others. It’s an entirely different argument to continue to be a relevant band that still tours (39 years and counting) while simultaneously being one of the most covered bands all time. Hits such as “I Want You to Want Me” and “Surrender” have been featured on many commercials and soundtracks and played countless times, yet every time we hear Robin Zander sing out some of the most recognized song lyrics of our time, we can’t help but stop and give it our full attention.

Cheap Trick could have easily slid into the land where bands go to retire and after a stagnant period of time (and with the right monetary offer) return for a reunion tour, but that has never been an option for this group. They simply don’t see the need to quit. Rick Nielsen once likened their music to a coffee table book in the way that it seems to have an immediate impact for each person who comes in contact with it. Every album they have adds to the diversity of this “book” in a way that can connect with many different types of people on several levels. This couldn’t have developed had they quit years ago and it’s a process that gets better with time.

Speaking of time, it seems to have barely touched their live performance. You won’t see four aging men playing stale hits when you tune in to this Saturday’s encore episode. Whether it’s Tom Petersson rocking out on a 12-string bass with a bedazzled peacock adorning the body or Nielsen throwing out at least 100 picks into the audience all while dancing in front of black and white checkered amps, the group made sure to put a dent on their Austin City Limits debut in 2010.

Be sure to check your local listings for show times and you can find more clips and information about their taping here. This is an encore episode you won’t want to miss.

This weekend on Austin City Limits: Jimmy Cliff

When it comes to reggae, Jimmy Cliff whose episode of Austin City Limits encores this Saturday, 2/11, is indistiputably one of the greats. He first found fame as a teenager, with a string of hit singles in his native Jamaica. By the late 60s, reggae was spreading beyond Jamaica’s borders and Cliff became one of its first international stars with “Wonderful World, Beautiful People” and “Vietnam,” which Bob Dylan called “the best protest song I’ve ever heard.” In 1972 Cliff starred in the acclaimed film The Harder They Come, writing and singing the hit title song. Other Cliff compositions like “Many Rivers to Cross” and “You Can Get It If You Really Want” have also become often-covered, much-loved reggae standards. Cliff continues to record and tour all over the world, collaborating with Sting, the Clash’s Joe Strummer, Kool & the Gang, Wyclef Jean and the Rolling Stones along the way. As popular now as he ever was, Jimmy Cliff is the face of reggae, as you’ll see for yourself this Saturday – check your local PBS listings for the broadcast time and channel.

Jimmy Cliff at ACL: Behind The Scenes from Jonathan Jackson on Vimeo.

Head over to theepisode page for more information and some cool photos. Don’t forget to visit us regularly on Facebook, Twitter and this very blog for the latest and greatest ACL news, and check our excellent Tumblr blog for some cool photographic blasts from the past. Next week: Steve Martin & the Steep Canyon Rangers, followed by hometown heroine Sarah Jarosz.