Sam Smith and Anderson East sing blue-eyed soul on ACL’s 44th season

photo by Scott Newton

Austin City Limits has all the feels in a soulful new installment showcasing two gifted vocalists: worldwide superstar Sam Smith and emerging singer-songwriter Anderson East.  

The multi-platinum, four-time GRAMMY ® award-winning Sam Smith wowed ACL audiences with his 2014 debut during the program’s milestone Season 40, and the British native returns with songs from his chart-topping, acclaimed sophomore album The Thrill Of It All.  Smith turns his songs about heartbreak into anthems of strength in a sparkling performance, backed by gospel-style vocalists. Smith proudly tells the Austin crowd he wrote “HIM,” the powerful same-sex anthem, “as a message that love is love,” inspiring the crowd to join on the soaring chorus. He performs a thrilling version of his smash “Pray” and delivers the stirring “Palace” as a passionate duet joined by his backing singer, displaying the full range of his vocal prowess.  The magnetic star closes out the set with the mega-hit “Too Good At Goodbyes,” with Smith gamely instructing the Austin crowd to “sing this to your ex.”

Alabama rock-and-soul singer Anderson East dazzles with his staggering vocal power and a firestorm of songs blending rock, blues, country and soul for a mighty ACL debut.  The singer-songwriter performs songs from his acclaimed Encore, produced by longtime collaborator, Nashville it-producer Dave Cobb.  The album’s title is derived from East’s steadfast belief that every song on his new album must be worthy of closing out one of his notoriously epic live shows.  East brings the fireworks for set-opener “Surrender” with his hard-charging eight-piece band, complete with joyous horns and backup singers, laying down the driving beat.  He introduces the tender charmer “King For A Day” saying “here’s a song about how I’m feeling.” The swaggering “Girlfriend” segues directly into the sultry declaration of desire “All On My Mind” for a one-two gut-punch.  Vintage Southern soul-burner “Satisfy Me,” a Stax-worthy R&B gem from his 2015 debut Delilah, has the crowd on their feet and East saves the finest moment for last—bringing the house down with the powerhouse vocal climax of rousing set-closer “House Is A Building.”

photo by Scott Newton

“Sam Smith and Anderson East bare their souls in totally different ways,” says ACL executive producer Terry Lickona, “Sam starts with a whisper, then soars; Anderson starts with fireworks. What they have in common is their unabashed honesty and ability to make a powerful emotional connection with their audience.”

Tune in this weekend 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 info. Join us next week for a brand new episode featuring rocking singer/songwriter Brandi Carlile.

Arctic Monkeys chase superstardom on debut ACL taping

photo by Scott Newton

Arctic Monkeys are certified superstars in their home country. While the Sheffield UK band isn’t quite that big here, they’re no slouches, as their massive radio hit “Do I Wanna Know?” and their set at this year’s Austin City Limits Music Festival attest. If we were clairvoyant, we’d say American superstardom is just around the corner for the Monkeys. So we were excited to host them for the first time, especially in light of their acclaimed sixth album Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino.

Augmented by four auxiliary musicians, the quartet took the stage and went into “Four Out of Five,” from Casino. The harmony-heavy glam pop tune led into the familiar, riff-rocking pound of “Do I Wanna Know?,” a clear audience favorite. But the same could be said for “Crying Lightning,” a dramatic Humbug cut that earned cheers as soon as the first notes rang out. Leader Alex Turner sat down at the piano for “505,” an intricate song from the band’s debut Favorite Worst Nightmare, which was immediately followed by a crunchy instrumental jam. That segued directly into the title track of Casino, which brought the sound back to “505.” Next up was “One Point Perspective,” a tune that blended elements of Paul McCartney, David Bowie and orchestral pop with the Monkeys’ own je ne sais quoi for a song that couldn’t be by anyone else. Turner moved to the organ for “American Sports,” driven by the leader’s rolling keyboard riff.

Turner abandoned instruments entirely for “Cornerstone,” reveling in the persona of a rock & roll crooner for the loquacious ballad. Acoustic guitar in hand, he led the band through the midtempo pop of “No. 1 Party Anthem,” a nod to the world-weary side of the British glam rock years. The Monkeys kept that vibe going for “Knee Socks,” a subtly funky rocker with just a hint of menace. Once again indulging his 70s Bowie jones, Turner took the mic and belted “The Ultracheese” as if it was the sequel to “Life On Mars.” Back at the piano, Turner took the Monkeys to the cabaret, giving the ballad its own Arctic twist. The band ended the set with the hard-rocking “R U Mine?,” a sort of aggressive sequel to “Do You Wanna Know?” It was the perfect blast to end the show, as the audience’s loud approval showed. It was a nicely rocking set, which we can’t wait for you to see when it airs early next year on your local PBS station.   

John Prine’s songwriting mastery enlightens ACL’s 44th season

photo by Scott Newton

Austin City Limits proudly presents a Season 44 highlight: a golden hour with celebrated singer-songwriter John Prine. The American original shines in his first ACL appearance since 2005, showcasing beloved classics alongside selections from The Tree of Forgiveness, his first collection of new material in 13 years, and the highest-charting release of his storied five-decade career.

Prine made his ACL debut on Season 3 in 1978 and returns for his eighth appearance during a banner year; he is a first-time nominee for the 2019 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and was named Artist of the Year for the second consecutive year at the 2018 Americana Honors & Awards. The 72-year old folk hero captivates with his astute songwriting in this career-spanning hour, introducing many of the songs with his unique humor and wit. Prine dazzles with his singular knack for storytelling on subjects as varied as sticking up for the dwarf planet Pluto, and the rituals of egg farmers in Lincoln, Nebraska.

He opens the show climbing The Tree of Forgiveness with his four-piece band, performing seven selections from the acclaimed release, before taking the stage solo for a singalong of his early career highlight “Illegal Smile,” the opening track on his self-titled 1971 debut. Prine is joined by Kentucky native and rising songwriter Tyler Childers, who duets with his mentor on the musical last will and testament “Please Don’t Bury Me” from 1973’s Sweet Revenge. The fan favorite “Lake Marie” showcases Prine’s masterful way with words before he caps the heartfelt set with a pair of gems: new album closer “When I Get to Heaven,” and his classic “Paradise,” the final track on his ‘71 debut. Bouncing back and forth between spoken recitation and joyful singing on “When I Get to Heaven,” the songwriter offers a good-time singalong about leaving this world on a high note. When Prine gets to heaven, he tells the Austin crowd, “I’m gonna get a guitar and start a rock ’n’ roll band/check into a swell hotel/ain’t the afterlife grand?”

photo by Scott Newton

“John Prine is a unicorn,” says ACL executive producer Terry Lickona, “a true original among American songwriters, unlike any other. What better way to celebrate his birthday week and his nomination to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame than to show what he does best – sing the songs he wrote, old and new, to an adoring audience and with his devilish sense of humor very much intact.”

Tune in this weekend 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 info. Join us next week for a brand new episode featuring blue-eyes soul singers Sam Smith and Anderson East.

Janelle Monae brings 4-act masterpiece to ACL

photo by Scott Newton

If there’s proof you can be a superstar and a restless innovator, it resides in the art and life of Janelle Monáe. The Atlanta-based singer, songwriter, producer, actor and label owner was proclaimed a star right out of the box with her debut album The ArchAndroid, and her stock has done nothing but rise since. Following two renowned LPs and breakout roles in the Oscar-nominated Hidden Figures and Oscar-winning Moonlight, Monáe hit the music world like a freight train with the wildly lauded Dirty Computer, a major statement on community and inclusion and her most successful album yet. We were thrilled to host her acclaimed four-act masterpiece that is the Dirty Computer tour.

The band took the stage to the strains of “Also Sprach Zarathustra” before launching into the title track of Dirty Computer. The scene thus set, Monáe herself climbed the white pyramid at center stage for “Crazy, Classic, Life,” a song that lays out her philosophy and invites everyone to join in. Donning a guitar, she chunked out the chords to “Screwed,” a catchy funk/pop tune that conflates the act of sex with the exercise of power. Changing her costume onstage in front of a mirror held by a dancer (a nice homage to the futuristic funk of The Time), Monáe ascended the throne that appeared at the top of the pyramid for “Django Jane,” a fiercely rapped anthem of empowerment for weirdos everywhere. The lights went down for a minute as the four dancers changed costume; when illumination returned, it was to the tune of “Q.U.E.E.N.,” from her sophomore record The Electric Lady. That was followed by the title track from that LP, which became a call-and-response singalong with the electric ladies in the audience, who knew every word. After letting the crowd know that they were loved, Monáe eased into “Primetime,” a positive power ballad that guitarist Kellindo Parker morphed into the ending solo of key Monáe influence Prince’s “Purple Rain.”

After a break, bassist Téja Veal and keyboardist Krystal Johnson broke out the keytars and Monáe and her dancers came out for the catchy funk rock of “Pynk,” her infamous ode to human anatomy. While that song is as much about the color all people have in common inside as anything more lascivious, there was no mistaking the erotic vibe of “Yoga,” her 2015 single with rapper Jidenna. “We’re here to celebrate self love,” she declared, but before anyone could get the wrong idea, she followed that sentiment with “I Like That,” a song about self-acceptance that became another communion between performer and audience. The stage darkened once again, before everyone returned for a redo of “Pynk.” One more quick interlude later, and it was on to the awesomely hooky “Make Me Feel,” a sensual bit of stripped-down funk with nods to Michael Jackson (who inspired Monáe’s shadow dancing during the intro), Prince (who helped create sounds for the song before his untimely death) and James Brown (bits of whose “I Got the Feeling” made sporadic appearances). The funk kept roiling with “I Got the Juice,” yet another highlight from Dirty Computer that became a showcase not only for her dancers, but select members of the audience Monáe invited to show off their juice. The dancing kept going as the lights went down, the spotlight came up, and Monáe returned to redo her silhouette dance and the rest of “Make Me Feel.”  

Monáe and band returned to remind the audience that her work celebrates inclusion, empowerment and the fight for the rights of those unfairly pushed to the margins. “I come in peace,” she explained, “but I mean business.” To underscore the point, she ended the main set with an extended “Tightrope,” the rocking soul tune that was a highlight of her debut. But that was not, of course, the end. Egged on by enthusiastic applause, Monáe and the band returned for the rollicking “Come Alive (War of the Roses),” which blazed across the stage, heavy on audience participation, before the star danced her way through the crowd itself. It was an incredible end to a show like no other that’s ever graced the Austin City Limits stage, and we can’t wait for you to see it when it airs this season on your local PBS station.

Giveaway: Arctic Monkeys

photo by Zachary Michael

UPDATE giveaway is now over.

Austin City Limits will be taping a performance by Arctic Monkeys on Saturday, October 13th 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 noon on Thursday, October 11th.

Winners will be chosen at random and a photo ID will be required to pick up 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. No cameras computers or recording devices allowed in venue.

Residente brings the music of the world to ACL

photo by Scott Newton

It’s not every day that an artist records an album inspired by a DNA test. But that’s just what Puerto Rican superstar Residente did. Energized by discovering that his genetics came from literally all over the world, the former Calle 13 co-founder traveled to France, China, Russia, Spain, England, Africa, the United States and more to record his smash self-titled LP. The erstwhile René Juan Pérez Joglar brought this incredible range of sounds to his debut ACL taping for a show that made the crowd dance and think at the same time.

Residente’s seven-piece band took the stage first with “Intro ADN/DNA,” mixing Latin, African and Arabic music with rock guitar and electronica to hint at the incredible range of the music to come. The man himself came out rocking with “Somos Anormales,” the explosive opening cut from his solo album. He then dipped into the Calle 13 catalog, adapting “Bailes De Los Pobres” and “El Aguante” to his current worldbeat-driven style – how many other rappers prominently feature instruments like oud and dumbek? “We like to include everyone, not exclude anyone,” Residente explained about going back and forth between English and Spanish – a philosophy that translates to his musical vision as well. Things slowed down for that rarest of things in hip-hop: a ballad. “Desencuentro” began with a jazzy piano solo courtesy keyboardist Leo Genovese (who previously visited the ACL stage with Esperanza Spalding), evolving into a duet between Residente and singer Kiani Medina and ending with a lighter-waving guitar solo from Elias Meister. Switching gears dramatically, Residente and band brought the rock side back to the fore for the angry “Calma Pueblo,” which the vocalist dedicated to “the motherfuckers of the music business.”  

Explaining the concept of his solo album, Residente introduced “Dagombas El Tamale,” a song based around the vocal and percussion styles of the African nation of Ghana. “Adentro,” a dis track aimed at gangsta rappers, followed, before the band went back to Africa for “La Sombra,” recorded with Nigerian guitarist Bombino and filled out by Meister and co-axeslinger Justin Purtill onstage. The rapper shouted out the resistance – but, pointedly, not the use of violence – for “Guerra,” a track that ended in an explosion from the guitarists, Genovese, percussionists Daniel Diaz and Brahim Fribgane and ex-Mars Volta/Suicidal Tendencies drummer Thomas Pridgen. “Latinoamérica,” a beautiful tribute to Residente’s region of the world, began with virtuoso acoustic guitar picking from Purtill before flowing into vocal trade-offs between the leader and Medina. The energy level shot back up for “Apocalíptico,” a dramatic track inspired by the Chinese landscape in which it was recorded.

As the song drifted into ambience, Residente quit the stage, but the break was brief. The rapper returned with the Calle 13 tune “La Vuelta Al Mundo,” an especially groovy number with lush synth work from Genovese. Fribgane kicked off  “El Futuro Es Nuestro” with an expert oud solo, introing recorded with Bosnian singer Goran Bregović, but blew the doors off in good hands here. After the world travels of the rest of the show, Residente brought it back to Latin America for “Atrévete-Te-Te,” Calle 13’s irresistibly danceable barnburner from its debut album. It was an incredible ending to an incredible show, the most internationally diverse since Manu Chao a decade ago. We can’t wait for you to see it when it airs early next year on your local PBS station.

St. Vincent kicks off ACL Season 44 with compelling originality

photo by Scott Newton

Austin City Limits launches a new season of must-see performances with an epic hour showcasing one of the most compelling figures in contemporary music: innovative art-rock performer St. Vincent.

First appearing on ACL in 2009, the groundbreaking Texas native—born Annie Clark—delivers a thrilling, 13-song career-spanning set in a visually and sonically stunning hour. Dressed in a red vinyl bodysuit and matching thigh-high stiletto boots and set amidst the backdrop of a futuristic production, the singer-songwriter-guitarist is backed by a three-piece ensemble, including two male musicians rendered as faceless mannequins on electronics and drums. St. Vincent’s mesmerizing set draws heavily from her critically-acclaimed fifth album MASSEDUCTION, with highlights including a segue from the guitar-shredding coda of “Pills,” into the vulnerable musical eulogy of “New York.” The album’s hypnotic title track opens with bassist/keyboardist Toko Yasuda chanting “power corrupts” in Japanese, while Clark unleashes furious guitar licks amidst a flurry of strobes. The setlist also reaches back to 2009’s Actor and 2011’s Strange Mercy for back-to-back gems “Marrow” and “Cruel.” Robotic voices signal fan-favorite “Digital Witness” from 2014’s Grammy Award-winning St. Vincent. As she rounds out the hour, Clark offers a pair of highlights from MASSEDUCTION: the defiant anthem “Fear the Future” and the set-closing ballad “Slow Disco,” as the Austin crowd joins in on the soaring chorus, “Don’t it beat a slow dance to death?”

“Originality is one of the most important criteria for choosing artists for ACL,” said executive producer Terry Lickona, “and St. Vincent is one of the most original artists I’ve ever come across. She pushes the envelope musically, so we decided to push the envelope ourselves with one of the most unique Austin City Limits episodes you’ll ever see.”

photo by Scott Newton

Tune in this weekend 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 info. Join us next week for another brand new episode featuring songwriting legend John Prine.

Khalid brings youth and talent to ACL

photo by Scott Newton

We don’t usually think of El Paso as a hotbed of new music stars. But Khalid Robinson has kicked that notion into a corner. The twenty-year-old took the years he spent in high school in the Texan border town as inspiration for a series of hits and his double-platinum debut LP American Teen. A few sold-out tours and Grammy nominations later, including one for Best New Artist, Khalid brought his youthful outlook and abundant talent to the Austin City Limits stage for a buoyant debut taping.

With his backing trio in tow, Khalid took the stage to “8Teen,” an anthem that encouraged his peers to “do all the stupid s**t that young kids do.” Dancing across the stage, he turned his attention to young love for “Winter,” expressing his romantic confusion over a tight funk beat. Then it was time for the title track to his best selling album, on which he really opened up his vocal chords and showed off his golden pipes. He dialed back the energy for the moody “Coaster,” revving back up for the funkier “Therapy.” His knack for anthemic melody returned for “Another Sad Love Song,” the ascending melody of which belied its romantic melancholy. After that lighterwaver, he brought the mood down once again with the soulful ballad “Saved,” a song clearly beloved by the crowd. That was followed by a couple of verses of his equally sedate single “Eastside,” but that segued directly into the upbeat “Hopeless,” another study in contrast.

Bringing his stool back out, Khalid belted out “Shot Down” and “Angels,” a ballad he noted beforehand “was really special to me,” ending on his knees on the stage. That kept the audience primed for “Young, Dumb and Broke,” one of his smash hits, as the crowd provided the backup vocals and sang along. He then stepped outside the confines of his album for the hit singles “Silence,” which he originally recorded for producer Marshmello, and “Love Lies,” formerly a duet with Normandi. Dropping back into his album, the singer picked up the pace with “Let’s Go,” another song that became a call-and-response with the crowd. Thus pumped, the audience once again became part of the performance as Khalid launched into “Location,” his first major hit. He followed up with “Keep Me,” another anthemic pop tune that revved the audience up even further. Khalid and company ended the show with “OTW,” his catchy new single that suffered not a jot from the absence of recording partners 6lack and Ty Dolla Sign. It was a fine way to end a fine show, and you’ll see for yourselves when the show airs later this year on your local PBS station.