Shakey Graves wows hometown crowd

photo by Scott Newton

Shakey Graves has worked hard in the last few years. The Austin musician known as Alejandro Rose-Garcia to his parents has been a road dog of the first degree, taking first his one-man-band act then his band on the road to any club, festival and living room that would have him. The work has paid off with a pair of highly acclaimed albums and a growing national fanbase. For last night’s livestreamed taping, the young singer/songwriter was welcomed by a loving hometown crowd.

“I’m just gonna take a minute and soak all this in,” Graves said before launching into “Roll the Bones,” the title track of his debut album. Thumping a suitcase bass drum and tambourine combo and fingerpicking a noisy hollowbody guitar, the raspy-voiced Austin native made his case immediately: passionate, funny, mindful of folk and blues tradition without being dragged down by it. Graves was joined by his stalwart drummer Boo for the cowpunkabilly “If Not For You” and then by guitarist Patrick O’Connor for the more folky “Family and Genus,” with the trio then taking “The Perfect Parts” to the swamp. Boo and O’Connor took a break to let Graves go back to singing solo, digging into his folk bag for “Tomorrow,” the vaudeville-tinged “Chinatown” (a request from his mom, who was present) and “ Proper Fence,” which ended with playful call and response with the crowd. Following the fingerpicked electric blues of “Buil to Roam,” Graves’ band then retook the stage, swaying into the grungy “Pansy Waltz” and blazing into the surfing cowpunk of “Where a Boy Once Stood.” Inviting his friend Carson McHone to duet, Graves and co. ended the main set with his triple-A radio hit “Dearly Departed,” which brought the audience to its feet.

Graves came back alone for the encore, showing off both sides of his personality: the sensitive troubadour of “Hard Wired” and the sardonic storyteller behind the crime story “Late July.” With that one-two punch, the show concluded to rapturous applause, as the hometown hero left the stage. It was an excellent show, and we can’t wait for you to see it when it airs during Season 41 on PBS.

Shakey Graves taping livestreams on May 6

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Austin City Limits is pleased to announce that we will be streaming our taping with Shakey Graves live on Wednesday, May 6, 8pm CT/9pm ET. The taping will webcast in its entirety via our YouTube channel.

Austin-based singer/songwriter Shakey Graves will be playing songs from his acclaimed 2014 LP And the War Came. An actor who had a recurring role on Friday Night Lights and appeared in several Robert Rodriguez films, the erstwhile Alejandro Rose-Garcia started making music as part of New York City’s “anti-folk” scene. Since returning to Austin, Shakey Graves has become so closely associated with his hometown that for the last three years, Austin has celebrated “Shakey Graves Day” by mayoral proclamation. With And the War Came, he extends the ground emotionally and sonically broken by his 2011 self-released debut Roll the Bones, which still ranks near the top of Bandcamp’s digital best-seller charts. As noted by Exclaim, And the War Came “displays remarkable growth as a songwriter, guitar player and arranger without entirely leaving behind the one-man-band, lo-fi aesthetic that made his debut such a captivating listen.”

The broadcast version of this show will air this fall on PBS.  Join us for this live webcast of the Austin City Limits debut of Shakey Graves.

 

Cassandra Wilson salutes Billie Holiday at her debut taping

photo by Scott Newton

This year marks the 100th birthday of jazz icon Billie Holiday. What better way to celebrate one of the greatest singers of all time than to have one of her spiritual descendants do a tribute? Jazz vocalist Cassandra Wilson has long been on our wishlist, but the stars never aligned – until now, that is. Tonight’s show not only finally brought us a long-sought guest, but also paid tribute to a true musical titan via songs from Wilson’s new Holiday-themed album Coming Forth By Day.

The set began quietly with “The Way You Look Tonight,” which Wilson and her 14-piece band (including an 8-piece string section) performed fairly traditionally, outside of the unusual choice of bass clarinet for Robbie Marshall’s solo. But she and her musicians stepped off the traditional path with “Don’t Explain,” guitarist Kevin Breit looping his instrument and applying slide and e-bow, while the rhythm section (including veteran bassist Lonnie Plaxico, who played on Wilson’s debut album) added healthy dollops of blues feel. A subtle singer who prefers to explore a song’s nooks and crannies rather than engage in acrobatics, Wilson is known for putting her own distinctive spin on classic material, and that’s the path she followed for the rest of the night.

“What a Little Moonlight Can Do” rode a samba rhythm, touched by Marshall’s flute and a gnarly electric violin solo from Charlie Burnham. “Crazy He Calls Me” shifted from Broadway flourish to jazz rock explosion, while “You Go to My Head” gained a funk undercurrent and a Breit solo that sounded like a soprano sax. The musicians put a subtle Latin spin on “All of Me” that turned into it into babymaking music, then masterfully manipulated the dynamics of “Good Morning Heartache,” Wilson taking a seat as the band swirled around her in collective improvisation. Perhaps the biggest highlight was “Last Song (for Lester),” a Wilson original that imagines the song Holiday might’ve sung at the funeral of her musical soulmate Lester Young had she been allowed. It was a beautiful tour de force, blending sadness at opportunities lost and joy for knowing a special someone. Wilson ended the set with a sardonic, defiant romp through “Billie’s Blues,” exiting the stage to raucous applause.

Naturally, the show wasn’t done yet – not without renditions of Holiday’s greatest hits. The encore began with “God Bless the Child,” given an almost pop/jazz reading with a slide guitar solo and Wilson’s distinctive take on the vocal melody. Then came a tribal drum beat and the sound of chains hitting the ground, which could only mean one thing: “Strange Fruit,” Holiday’s bitter ballad about the practice of lynching African Americans in the south. The song’s already haunted atmosphere bristled with dramatic strings and a particularly husky vocal from Wilson, before she picked up her Telecaster and clawed a skronky, feedback-soaked solo out of her helpless instrument, channeling the ghosts of lynching victims howling from beyond. To say this amazing performance brought the house down seems almost inadequate. We can’t wait for you to see it when it airs this fall on your local PBS station.

Cassandra Wilson taping to stream live on Apr. 28

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Austin City Limits is pleased to announce that we will be streaming our taping with Cassandra Wilson live on Tuesday, April 28, 8pm CT/9pm ET. The taping will webcast in its entirety via our YouTube channel.

 Grammy-winning American jazz musician, vocalist, songwriter, and producer Cassandra Wilson makes her ACL debut, armed with her acclaimed new LP Coming Forth by Day (Legacy Recordings), an homage dedicated to the beauty, power, and genius of Billie Holiday. The album boasts a surprising cast of characters: produced by Nick Launay (Nick Cave’s producer), string arrangements by Van Dyke Parks, guitar from T Bone Burnett and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Nick Zinner, and rhythm section from The Bad Seeds (drummer Thomas Wydler and bassist Martyn P. Casey).  Critic Gary Giddins describes Wilson as “a singer blessed with an unmistakable timbre and attack who has expanded the playing field” by incorporating blues, country and folk music into her work.  A native of Jackson, Mississippi, Wilson moved to New York City in the early 80s, met saxophonist Steve Coleman and became one of the founding members of the M-Base Collective. She signed with Blue Note Records in 1992 and released the landmark album Blue Light ‘Til Dawn, which paved the way for a new generation of jazz singers seeking an approach and repertoire that challenged the supremacy of the American Standard songbook.

The broadcast version of this show will air this fall on PBS.  Join us for this live webcast of the Austin City Limits debut of Cassandra Wilson.

Sleater-Kinney wow ACL fans with 22-song set

photo by Scott Newton

When innovative indie rockers Sleater-Kinney reunited in 2014, fans were thrilled. The excitement doubled earlier this year when the Pacific Northwest trio released No Cities to Love, a brand new, highly acclaimed record. That energy reached an apex of sorts when we welcomed the band to their first Austin City Limits taping, which we also streamed live on our YouTube Channel.

The band opened with little fanfare but tons of energy on the jagged rocker “Price Tag,” the danceable power popper “Fangless,” both from No Cities to Love, and crowd-pleasing new waver “Oh!” The cuts showcased not only the band’s way with uncommon hooks, but also the combustible chemistry between the clashing guitars and vocals of Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein and powerhouse drums of Janet Weiss. “This is one of our favorite cities and we’re so excited to be playing Austin City Limits,” noted Tucker in a rare between-song comment, before the band launched into “What’s Mine is Yours,” a sprightly rocker that detoured into grinding guitar noise. Following that avant interlude, Sleater-Kinney eschewed respites and simply rocked out for another hour, hitting tracks from nearly every LP they’ve released. The band ripped through the bouncing power pop of “Get Up” and “Words and Guitar,” urgent punk of “Light Rail Coyote” and the ironically titled “No Anthems” and the bristling rock & roll of “Bury Our Friends” and “Start Together.” With a one-two punch of the excessively melodic “Entertain” and “Jumpers,” both from the band’s masterpiece The Woods, Sleater-Kinney brought the main set to a close.

Packed with loyal fans, the crowd didn’t want the band to leave. Fortunately, their persistence was rewarded with a four-song encore, including “Sympathy,” “Dig Me Out” and the early fan favorite “I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone,” closing with the winsome pop tune “Modern Girl.” At a generous 22 songs, there was no way any Sleater-Kinney fanatic could be unsatisfied. We think you won’t be either when you see this episode, broadcasting this fall on your local PBS station.

 

New taping: Courtney Barnett

photo by Mia Mala McDonald

Austin City Limits is happy to announce the ACL taping debut of Australian singer/songwriter Courtney Barnett on June 4th.

Mixing witty, often hilarious, occasionally even heartbreaking observations with devastating self-assessment, Courtney Barnett’s debut album, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, cements her standing as one of the most distinctive and compelling new voices in indie rock. After leaving art-school in Hobart, Tasmania, Barnett moved to Melbourne and became a mainstay of the local scene. She paid her dues and honed her chops in short-lived garage outfits before playing lead guitar in the twang-psych band Immigrant Union. When she went solo, Barnett launched her own label, which she dubbed Milk! Records, to release her own material as well as music by some of Melbourne’s finest singers and songwriters. With the 2013 release of The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas (which combined her first two self-released EPs), she embarked on an almost never-ending tour that took her to North America and Europe, barely stopping long enough to record her first true album. Sometimes I Sit and Think is a beguiling collection of songs that reveals her as an ambitious writer with an ear for clever turns of phrase and an eye for story-song details that are literate without being pretentious – Barnett even did the artwork and hand lettering for the liner notes. The Guardian calls the record “fun, intelligent and sets up Barnett as a voice who can tread between both high and low culture and treat them the same.”

“There’s something about the way she sings where I feel like I know that person,” says Britt Daniel of Spoon, who have invited her to play a show with them and the Decemberists at Red Rocks. “Her songs are fairly simple in their construction, and they’re carried by her lyrics, the way she finds humor in the mundane.” We’re thrilled to host this rocking singer and songwriter. Please join us in welcoming for the first time: Courtney Barnett.

Want to be part of our audience? We will post information on how to get free passes about a week before the taping. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for notice of postings.

 

The War On Drugs’ psychedelic classic rock

photo by Scott Newton

For its debut ACL taping The War On Drugs lived up to the critical acclaim that’s been showered upon them since their 2011 breakthrough Slave Ambient. Drawing mostly from last year’s Lost in the Dream, widely praised as the Philadelphia band’s best so far, topping critics year-end Best lists, TWOD performed a strong set of its patented blend of spacey psychedelia and classic rock to an adoring audience.

Starting with a hazy synth intro, the sextet eased in “Under the Pressure,” also the first song on Lost in the Dream. Over a driving motorik rhythm, leader Adam Granduciel overlaid Dylanesque vocals and tasteful guitar solos, painting a vibrant picture that coaxes attention instead of demanding it. TWOD worked that formula even more successfully on “Red Eyes,” “Baby Missiles” and the midpoint anthem “An Ocean Between the Waves,” crowd-pleasers all. The band didn’t stick only to that groove, however. “Disappearing” added an almost disco rhythm to the drumming, giving the song its own buoyancy. “Lost in the Dream” and “Eyes to the Wind” worked more dynamic melodies, adding a certain wistfulness to the vibe, even as Granduciel traversed his fretboard. TWOD combined everything into “In Reverse,” the penultimate tune that served as the set’s climax.

Following that peak, the band closed by taking the crowd into the lush green valley of “Suffering,” the cathartic ballad pushing us gently into the good night. Eschewing the Big Rock Finish was the perfect way to bring this stunning, shimmering show to an end. We hope you’ll feel the same when this episode airs this fall on PBS.

 

Sturgill Simpson’s forward-thinking tradition

photo by Scott Newton

Country singer Sturgill Simpson is exactly the kind of artist we like on Austin City Limits: mindful of tradition but with a forward-thinking attitude. Inspired equally by Waylon Jennings and Carl Sagan, the Nashville-based Kentucky native makes hardcore country that comes from another place, as his acclaimed breakthrough LP Metamodern Sounds in Country Music proves.  Aaron Taylor, one of our live stream viewers on YouTube, remarked, “No boots like a fake cowboy, no cowboy hat, just pure country.” So we were thrilled to welcome the recent Atlantic Records signee to his debut ACL.

Simpson and his four-piece band wasted no time once they hit the stage, launching into “Sitting Here Without You,” a high-speed burner with plenty of room for skillet-licking guitarist Laur Joamets to shine. Indeed, Simpson often featured Joamets’ picking, letting the Estonian native rip through the trucking “Long White Line,” the hot-rocking “Life of Sin” and the bluegrass-blazing Ralph Stanley cover “Poor Rambler,” on which Simpson traded licks with his lead guitarist. “Found myself stomping my floorboard,” exclaimed theoskeewhoat on our YouTube live stream. As happy as he was to showcase his band, though, Simpson ultimately is about songs, and he has plenty of good ones. From the philosophical “Time After All” and “Water in a Well” and the angry “Some Days” to the romantic cover of synthpop band When in Rome’s “The Promise” and the pitch-black “Living the Dream,” Simpson gave a masterful performance. He and his band closed the main set with the back-to-back killers “Turtles (All the Way Down” and “It Ain’t All Flowers,” which started honkytonkin’ and ended rockin’.

Of course, it wasn’t quite over, as the audience didn’t want the band to leave. Simpson paid tribute to the outlaw country scene that inspires him with a cover of “I’d Have to Be Crazy” by Austin cosmic cowboy Steven Fromholz, before digging into the repertoire of his old band Sunday Valley for a ripping take on the Osborne Brothers’ “Listening to the Rain,” which incorporated T.Rex’s “The Motivator.” With that, Simpson brought down the house, leaving the crowd wanting more. “Hard to believe how absolutely great Sturgill is!” enthused Chris Durand on our Facebook page. It was a great show and a strong debut, and we can’t wait for you to see it when it airs on PBS this Fall.