The spectacular and entertaining Cyndi Lauper

photo by Scott Newton

Icon, pop trailblazer, Tony Award-winning Broadway composer, Emmy-winning actress and prolific hitmaker, Cyndi Lauper has made a career of defying expectations. A musical omnivore with a thirst that’s led her to drink deeply of genres like blues, standards and country music in recent years, she brought all this and a series of lively anecdotes from throughout her three decade-career to her first-ever performance on the Austin City Limits stage, and it was as spectacular and entertaining as one could imagine.

Primed by Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long” on the sound system, the crowd welcomed the band as they kicked into the rollicking “Funnel of Love,” the Wanda Jackson tune on Lauper’s latest album Detour. The singer herself strutted onstage in a black hat over hot pink hair, carrying a small suitcase and belting the song. Star and band jumped right into her bucket of hits, lighting into “She Bop,” Lauper doing call-and-response with the audience and contributing a recorder solo. She returned to Detour, explaining the genesis of this LP of country covers with a hilarious monologue that covered Nashville, Seymour Stein, Dolly Parton, Ethel Merman and a very large cockroach. A faithful cover of Ray Price’s “Heartaches By the Number” followed, with fiddle provided by Andy Burton’s synthesizer and pedal steel player Jon Graboff contributing a traditionalist solo. Then it was into “I Drove All Night,” the propulsive late 80s hit from A Night to Remember.

Lauper then stepped onto a platform on stage right shaped like a vinyl LP. Sure enough, it began to spin, serving as the perfect setting for Skeeter Davis’ show-stopping ballad “The End of the World.” She revisited her rockabilly roots with the band Blue Angel by swaggering confidently through Patsy Cline’s immortal classic “Walkin’ After Midnight.” Using a stick pony as a prop, Lauper talked about seeing both Cline and serial Westerns on TV as a child, and how it inspired her to be a singer and to discover country music. It was a lead-up to her faithful cover of Patsy Montana’s Western Swing hit “I Want to Be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart,” featuring frisky solos from Burton and guitarist Alex Nolan, harmony yodeling from Lauper and backup singer Elaine Caswell and the stick pony (which remained silent). She then went back to her own catalog for “You Don’t Know,” an anthemic shoulda-been-hit from her overlooked LP Sisters of Avalon.

Lauper revisited her breakout debut She’s So Unusual for “When You Were Mine,” Prince’s heartbreaking pop tune that she’s made her own. As drummer Sammy Merendino provided a backbeat, Lauper introduced the band, before said backbeat led into the rockin’ “Money Changes Everything,” the Brains song she took into the top 30 in 1984. That was the end of the main set, but not the end of the night. After giving the audience plenty of time to work themselves into a frenzy, the band retook the stage and started “Misty Blue,” the Bob Montgomery ballad recorded by Eddy Arnold, Ella  Fitzgerald and others. Using the handset of a prop payphone as a mic, Lauper added her name to the list of luminaries who put their stamp on the song.

As Lauper talked about watching ACL while on the road, the crew brought up a mountain dulcimer on a stand. Strumming the familiar chords of “Time After Time,” Lauper invited the audience to sing along, letting them have the song’s final note to themselves. That earned a standing ovation. The big hit followed – you know the one. Lauper started the song accompanied only by Graboff’s steel, and that first verse was all it took to make the crowd go wild. Then that familiar guitar riff kicked in, and “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” brought the audience to their feet and Lauper into their midst. One massive call-and-response singalong later, the house came down and the band quit the stage. Lauper came back alone for a stunning closer: an a cappella take on her inspirational ballad “True Colors,” once again with the crowd as her backup. It was a moving performance, with a lot of tears in the audience. We can’t wait for you to see it when Cyndi Lauper’s episode airs early next year on your local PBS station.  

Ben Harper & the Innocent Criminals’ run the musical gamut

photo by Scott Newton

Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals staged their triumphant return to Austin City Limits supporting the brand new album Call It What It Is. Thirteen years after their first appearance in Season 29 (and seven since Harper’s last visits in Season 35 with Relentless7 and as a guest of Pearl Jam),  Harper and the six piece Criminals showcased the new LP with a diverse performance.

The band opened with the rocking “When Sex Was Dirty,” a sardonically nostalgic look back at a more repressive time. The Les Paul-wielding Harper then jumped back to the Criminals classic Burn to Shine for the blues-rocking title track. The group stuck with the same album as percussionist Leon Mobley brought out a cajon for the percolating groove of “Steal My Kisses,” augmented by crowd clapping and bassist Juan Nelson’s baritone asides. Harper took a moment to thank ACL – “it’s the most incredible music institution I know” – before moving into “Finding Our Way,” a tribute to music in a reggae style from the new album.

Settling onto a chair with his lap steel, the instrument for which he’s best known, Harper then launched into the soulful, upbeat “Shine,” adding some liquid solos. He introduced the band, including Austin’s own Jason Mozersky on guitar, before moving into the slow burning “Call It What It Is,” an explicitly political kick against the darkness. Strapping on an acoustic guitar, Harper brought on violinist Rebecca Schlappich and guitarist Kyle Crusham for a brand new, unrecorded song: the honky-tonkin’ “Bottle Wins Again.” Another reconfiguration found drummer Oliver Charles coming from behind his kit to man a set of congas, keyboardist Jason Yates on acoustic guitar and Harper himself shaking a maraca for the Latin-styled “How Dark is Gone,” enlivened an organ/guitar duel by Yates and Mozersky that drove the crowd wild.

Harper then went all the way back to There Will Be a Light, his 2004 collaboration with the Blind Boys of Alabama. Mining deep soul and gospel roots, he pulled out all the vocal stops for “Where Could I Go,” even singing part of it off- mic with little loss of power or passion. It was a show-stopping moment, and the audience loved it. Harper strapped a Telecaster on for the set-ending “Goodbye to You,” the gently melancholic closer of Call It What It Is. But the band didn’t leave it like that, returning for the title track of Harper’s 1995 second album. The funky “Fight For Your Mind” blended its defiant stance with an excerpt of Buddy Miles’ “Them Changes” and extended call-and-response solos from Nelson’s bass and Harper’s lap steel. “It really is the greatest stage in the world,” Harper said as the crowd applauded wildly. It was a fitting closer for a show that ran the gamut of Harper’s musical expression, and we can’t wait for you to see it when it airs this coming winter on your local PBS station.

New taping: St. Paul and the Broken Bones 11/20

photo by David McClister

Austin City Limits is pleased to announce a new taping with rising soul/rock stars St. Paul and the Broken Bones on November 20.    

Formed in 2012 in Birmingham, Alabama, the sextet hits the ACL stage in support of its new album Sea of Noise. Recorded in Nashville with producer Paul Butler (Michael Kiwanuka, Devendra Banhart), the LP is a successor to the Broken Bones’ 2013 debut album Half the City, which introduced the group’s blazing mating of ‘60s soul fire – daubed with latter-day influences like Sly Stone, David Bowie, and Prince — to frontman Paul Janeway’s impassioned singing and writing. The new album witnesses a deepening and broadening of the unit’s musical reach and lyrical concerns, including strings arranged by legendary Stax Records arranger Lester Snell and words influenced by Tom Waits, Nick Cave and Bryan Stevenson’s book Just Mercy. The album’s lyrical and emotional richness is heard loudly in stunning new compositions like “Burning Rome” (which Janeway describes as “a letter to God, if I could write it”) and the startling “I’ll Be Your Woman,” which knocks traditional soul music gender roles on their heads. Of the finished work, Janeway says, “Sea of Noise is not quite a full-blown concept record. It is focused in terms of subject matter – finding redemption and salvation and hope.” Hot off gigs opening for the Rolling Stones and a slot at this year’s Austin City Limits Music Festival, St. Paul and the Broken Bones brings their take-no-prisoners live show to our studio for what promises to be a memorable ACL debut.

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.

Hayes Carll charms crowd during second ACL appearance

photo by Scott Newton

Hayes Carll charmed the crowd last night at Austin City Limits with a strong set featuring songs from his critically acclaimed new album Lovers and Leavers. The leading candidate for inheritor of the Texas singer-songwriter tradition, Carll last graced the Austin City Limits stage in 2010. Since that time he earned a 2016 Grammy nomination for Best Country Song and walked away with top honors at multiple Americana Music Awards.

Carll took the stage joined by steel guitarist Geoff Queen and drummer Mike Meadows on a treated drum kit for the sardonic “Bad Liver and a Broken Heart,” from his 2008 breakthrough Trouble in Mind. He stayed with the trio format for the “you and me, baby” love song “Love is So Easy,” a cut from the new record which really got the crowd going. He dedicated the self-explanatory “Sake of the Song” to the “lion of the songwriting world,” the late, great Guy Clark, about whom he told an amusing story concerning an attempt at co-writing. Carll returned to the subject of Lovers and Leavers for “Good While It Lasted,” as good a song about the dissolution of a relationship as any written in the past decade. The unrecorded, melancholy “Jesus and Elvis” had a local flavor, as it was inspired by the owner of the Austin bar Lala’s. He then returned to Trouble for the jaunty, good-humored “Girl Downtown,” a clear audience favorite. Carll closed the trio set with the gentle “The Magic Kid,” dedicated to his twelve-year-old son Eli who is indeed a magician.

Queen and Meadows left the stage for Carll to play “Beaumont,” another audience fave, by himself. He talked about how ACL inspired him as an aspiring songwriter as the musicians returned with bassist John Michael Schoepf and pianist Emily Gimble (last seen on our stage with Asleep at the Wheel). Gimble joined the bandleader in a duet on the country ballad “Love Don’t Let Me Down,” another tune from the latest record. Mood and tempo rose sharply on the roadhouse country of “The Lovin’ Cup,” highlighted by Queen and Gimble trading solos. Carll and co. followed with “The Love That We Need,” a catchy bit of folk rock philosophy that asserted “We got the life that we wanted, not the love that we need.” Carll and Queen picked up electric guitars for “KMAG YOYO” (“Kiss my ass, guys, you’re on your own”), a frisky country rocker that tells a fanciful tale of a young man’s tour of duty in Afghanistan gone awry. “This song has a lot of words,” he noted when he fumbled some of the lyrics, bringing the song to a premature close. Two tries later, he laughingly gave up, promising to return to the song after playing something else. That turned out to be the salutatory waltz “My Friends,” followed by the lovely “Long Way Home,” a tribute to one of those friends, since passed on. Carll closed the main set with “Wish I Hadn’t Stayed So Long,” an old favorite from his second LP Little Rock.

The band came back for a well-deserved encore and, as promised, tried again with “KMAG YOYO.” After reciting the vexing lyric he kept stumbling over earlier, Carll romped through the song like he’d never forgotten it, to the cheers of the audience. He kept the vibe going by with the equally rough ‘n’ ready “Stomp and Holler,” bring the show to a rollicking close. It was a great way to close an excellent show, and we can’t wait for you to see it when it airs early next year on your local PBS station.

New taping: Cyndi Lauper

photo by Chapman Baehler

Austin City Limits is pleased to announce a new taping with a pop culture icon: the one and only Cyndi Lauper. We’ll be taping this special performance on Friday, Sept. 9th.

The New York native scarcely needs any introduction. She’s a two-time Grammy-winning, multi-platinum selling singer and songwriter with a string of instantly recognizable hits: “True Colors,” “She Bop,” “I Drove All Night,” “Change of Heart,” “Time After Time” and, of course, the immortal “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.” She’s also a recent Tony-winning Broadway composer for the smash musical Kinky Boots as well as an Emmy-winning actress for her role on Mad About You. Her current project, however, blazes a new trail. Detour, her eleventh album, takes an unexpected Southern turn, as Lauper puts her signature spin on a dozen country classics. Detour showcases Lauper’s unmistakable voice on tunes from the 40s, 50s and 60s, and features guest performances from some of country music’s finest: Vince Gill, Emmylou Harris, Alison Krauss and Willie Nelson. She recorded the album in Nashville alongside a band comprised of the city’s top session players. “When I was a really young kid, country music was pop music, so this is what we grew up listening to,” Lauper says. “These songs are part of some of my earliest memories.” Magnet calls the record “a great showcase for Lauper’s vocal range and prowess,” while Uncut asserts that “she flexes both empathy and interpretive might.” People says “that New Yawk spunk and those frisky, agelessly girlish vocals are…even more charming when paired with a steel guitar’s whine.” Lauper will showcase both Detour and her catalog of hits in an ACL performance sure to be one for the ages.

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.

New taping: Ben Harper & the Innocent Criminals

photo by Danny Clinch

Austin City Limits is delighted to announce the return of an ACL favorite: Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals. Revered singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Harper is set to return to the ACL stage on Thursday, September 1st, 2016. Harper will be joined by The Innocent Criminals, who recently teamed with Harper to release, Call It What It Is, their first record together in nine years.

Since his 1994 debut, Ben Harper has amassed worldwide acclaim as a genre-spanning singular talent with an unmatched ability to blend the personal and political. The Innocent Criminals – percussionist Leon Mobley, bassist Juan Nelson, drummer Oliver Charles and keyboardist Jason Yates – reunited with Harper for a tour in 2015, but quickly discovered that he had more in mind than simply revisiting the group’s prodigious collection of hits. In fact, Harper had been quietly amassing material for a new record with his long-time band mates. “I thought we would be more energized and revitalized by thinking outside the box and starting with new material in the studio before we dug into the old stuff,” explains Harper. “It was meant to be a signpost that we’re here to forge new ground musically and personally. Because of that, the older material started to sound brand new too.”

Released via the legendary Stax Records in April 2016, Call It What It Is explores themes of deep cultural and emotional resonance. Plaudits have poured in from around the world. Uncut called the album “a well-honed primer in what Harper does best, fusing blues, rock, folk, country, R&B, gospel and reggae with politically conscious lyrics into a dynamic stew.” And Entertainment Weekly raved, “A welcome homecoming…his most diverse collection in years. Grade: A-.”

“I gave everything I could to it,” says Harper. “To be able to say that we’ve left no stone unturned just feels great.”

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.

Grupo Fantasma and family’s delirious groove

photo by Scott Newton

Few bands on Earth bring the party like Grupo Fantasma. The Austin-based Latin funk orchestra throws down its irresistibly danceable grooves like no other, as evidenced by a lively global fanbase that included the late genius Prince, who often jammed with the band. The music icon wasn’t Grupo’s only famous friend, however, as evidenced by this second taping for our hometown heroes. Jam-packed to the tune of twenty-two musicians with special guests, family and alter egos, the show, which we livestreamed around the world, never let up on delirious groove.

Taking the stage to enthusiastic applause, the nine-piece Grupo Fantasma kicked things off with a surprise – a cleverly salsafied take on Led Zeppelin’s groover “Immigrant Song,” with the horns subbing for Robert Plant’s iconic wail. The band then hopped into its own catalog for “Nada,” an acid-dipped cumbia that’s a highlight of its latest acclaimed album Problemas. The first of the group’s guests, Los Texmaniacs accordionist Josh Baca and former Grupo founding member Adrian Quesada arrived to add rippling squeezebox and crackling guitar to the conjunto-flavored “Esa Negra.” “Ausencia” put the rhythm back in salsa time, the groove augmented by Beto Martinez’ psychedelic guitar solo. The rubbery cumbia “Otoño” followed, as did the roiling salsa “Descarga Pura Y Dura,” with dueling trombone licks and ringmaster Jose Galeano’s skittering timbales.

Jazz/funk guru Karl Denson joined the band on stage, adding his flute to the infamous Grupo Fantasma horns for the slinky funk rock of“L.T.” With Denson still onstage, a barrage of polyrhythmic handclaps from band and crowd signaled the beginning of the ambitious, multi-faceted “Solo un Sueño,” which added Afrobeat and a Sweet Lou conga solo to the groovy stew. After that triumph, Galeano and fellow singer Kino Esparza left the stage and Quesada rejoined, allowing Grupo Fantasma to transform into its funk alter ego Brownout. In that configuration, the band laid down some serious jams. Bassist Greg Gonzalez powered the soul-inflected “Aguilas and Cobras,” as Sweet Lou rocked the congas and Martinez and Quesada their guitars. Percussionist Alex Marrero took the mic for a new song, the hard rocking “The Blade,” an outgrowth of Brownout’s well-received covers of Black Sabbath.  “You didn’t expect me to stay back there all night,” joked Marrero as he came to the front of the stage for another new Brownout tune, the free-flowing “ThingsYou Say (Denver Funk).”

Galeano and Esparza returned and the band transmuted back into Grupo Fantasma. Joined by Austin’s preeminent mariachi ensemble Mariachi Estrella, the group essayed the gorgeous “Porque,” a Spanish cover of the Beatles’ “Because.” As Estrella exited, Denson and Los Lobos saxist Steve Berlin, who produced Problemas, came on for the flute-enhanced “Cayuco.” Berlin remained, manning the keyboard for the Esparza-crooned cumbia “Roto.” Grupo then launched into the title track of Problemas, with Galeano giving dance instructions to the front row and Mark “Speedy” Gonzales laying down a powerhouse trombone solo. The high-energy salsa of “Montañozo” got hips swaying hard before running directly into the hyperspeed of “Caña Brava,” a song going all the way back to the band’s first album in 2002.

Berlin, Denson, Baca and Quesada came back for the final song, a tribute to the band’s friend and champion Prince. Galeano was at a loss for words – “There’s not much we can say. We’re just gonna play.” And so they did, 15-strong across the stage, with Denson joining in on vocals for the Purple One’s discofied early hit “Controversy.” Solos were traded all around, with the guitars going to the accordion going to the saxophone and the groove burning a hole in the stage. The crowd went appropriately nuts, yelling for more. Grupo answered the call, returning with Baca in tow for “Salsa Caliente,” a  favorite that had the audience dancing and singing along. After bringing the house down and the show to a close, Grupo Fantasma quit the stage and the lights came up. It was a marvelous show by one of Austin’s best bands, and we can’t wait for you to see it when it airs this fall on PBS.

New tapings: Band of Horses, Margo Price and Foals

photo by Andrew Stuart

Austin City Limits is pleased to announce three new tapings from artists featured at this year’s ACL Music Festival: indie rock staples Band of Horses on Oct. 2, rising country queen Margo Price on Oct. 3 and British alt.rock sensations Foals on Oct. 6.

Returning to our stage for the first time since 2010, Band of Horses is riding a wave that saw their latest album Why Are You OK hit the Billboard 200 chart at #9. The sixth album from the Seattle, WA-born/Charleston, SC-based quintet, Why Are You OK was written in leader Ben Bridwell’s garage in Charleston and recorded with producer Jason Lytle (Grandaddy). The result is a record informed by experience and at the same time retaining the vulnerability that birthed their greatest songs. Creating capsule worlds populated by the strange but true cast of characters from Bridwell’s hometown, Why Are You OK‘s songs combined universal sentiments with Bridwell’s patented knack for storytelling—all wrapped in the lush melodic textures that have long been the bedrock of Band of Horses’ signature sound. Putting a finer point on it, Record Collector calls the album “a shimmering thing of beauty; a fresh summer breeze blowing in full of character and heart,” while The Guardian calls it “beautifully moving…the place where wistfulness and euphoria collide.” Following a triumphant set at Bonnaroo, BoH is taking their intimate show back on the road, playing crowd-pleasing sets that perfectly showcase a band that, as Rolling Stone says, “always find[s] a way to make the mythic feel down to earth.”  

photo by Angelina Castillo

A staple of East Nashville’s thriving music scene, Margo Price has made one of 2016’s biggest splashes with her debut album Midwest Farmer’s Daughter. Price grew up in Aledo, Illinois, and after dropping out of college, moved to Nashville in 2003. She soon met bass player/future husband Jeremy Ivey, and formed a band called Buffalo Clover. They self-released three records and built a local following, but it was personal tragedy that brought Price’s calling into even sharper focus. “I lost my firstborn son to a heart ailment,” Price says, “and I was really down and depressed. I was drinking too much. I was definitely lost. I thought, ‘I’m just going to write music that I want to hear.’ It was a big turning point.” Recorded at Memphis’ legendary Sun Studios and funded by Price pawning her wedding ring and selling her car, Midwest Farmer’s Daughter (released on Jack White’s Third Man label on his personal invitation) adds fresh twists to classic Nashville country, with a sound that could’ve made hits in any decade. From the honky tonk comeuppance of “About To Find Out” and the rockabilly-charged “This Town Gets Around” to the weekend twang of “Hurtin’ (On The Bottle)” and the hard-hitting blues grooves of “Four Years of Chances,” “Price’s sensibility is modern, turning these old-fashioned tales of heartbreak, love, loss, and perseverance into something fresh and affecting,” says All Music. “Price’s excellent debut wastes absolutely no energy trying to address her place in the country-music ecosystem,” says Exclaim, “and gets right to telling us who she is, rather than who she ain’t.” “I hope that the record helps people get through hard times or depression,” explains the artist herself. “That’s ultimately what music did for me in my childhood, and especially in my early adult years. It’s about being able to connect personally with a song, and hopefully, it makes you feel not so lonely.”

Foals have become one of the U.K’s most acclaimed rock acts. Hailing from Oxford, England, also home to Radiohead and Ride, the band formed in 2005, and released their first single the following year. Enlisting Dave Sitek from TV on the Radio as producer, Foals released its full-length debut Antidotes in 2008. The band’s widescreen alternative rock sound reached full flower on the follow-ups Total Life Forever (2009) and Holy Fire (2013), both nominated for the Britain’s prestigious Mercury Prize. All of the band’s success and experience has led up to its biggest and best LP to date, last year’s What Went Down, featuring the hit “Mountain At My Gates.” Uncut called it “their most fully realized yet,” while Exclaim marked it as “a varied and textured offering that will add depth to their high-energy live shows.” “Foals consolidate their position here by continuing to do what they do best,” noted Mojo,”namely expressing big emotions loudly through fizzing rock anger or unbridled, danceable joy.” “It’s unfettered communication,” says singer and songwriter Yannis Philipakkis. “Before, there’s always been that gap between the imagination, the romance and fantasy about what we wanted to create, and the actual reality, and that disparity has been difficult. But on this record, we’re the closest we’ve ever been to the vision in our heads. One thing that we really take pride in is that, through a series of beautiful accidents, we’ve got to the position where there’s no tethering to any preconceived idea of what we should do. So it feels like we can do anything.”

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.