Chart-topping British soul singer and songwriter Sam Smith topped off a whirlwind 2014 with an astonishing six major Grammy nominations. There is virtually no contemporary vocalist as stylish and elegant as Smith, a throwback to an elite crew of singers from an earlier generation. A beautifully soulful singer, the 22-year old London native makes a stunning ACL debut performing the songs of unrequited love and heartbreak that drive his landmark platinum album In the Lonely Hour. Like soul singers of yore, Smith takes to the ACL stage as his eight-piece band is already a minute into the show-opener “Nirvana,” the title track of his early EP. The vocal stunner pays tribute to one of his idols with an aching piano rendition of Whitney Houston’s “How Will I Know”. Smith demonstrates his considerable range with an inspired mashup of his “Money On My Mind” fused with 90’s club anthem “Finally”. Bringing the gorgeous set to a rapturous close with his signature song, the double-platinum “Stay With Me”, Smith bares his soul with the Austin audience in the palm of his hand.
“Sam told me after the show that it was probably the best performance he’s given in America so far,” said ACL executive producer Terry Lickona. “This show deserves to be seen and heard by fans of great music and great singers everywhere!”
Baltimore’s Future Islands share the episode, also making an epic ACL debut. Having steadily built a fan base since their first album in 2006, the synth-pop trio became a breakthrough smash in 2014 with the critically acclaimed Singles, landing on top of many year-end best lists including Pitchfork, Stereogum, Spin, Rolling Stone and NPR. Dynamic live shows featuring charismatic frontman Samuel T. Herring’s hip-swiveling swagger and dramatic chest-beating have inspired their own internet memes. Spin raves “Calling on his Sam Cooke-meets-Tom Jones growl, Herring charges into every song, roaring with impassioned heart and soul.” As the band bound into their six-song set, Herring commands the ACL stage, delivering song after song of glistening pop while creating an emotional narrative of love, loss and inspiration. It’s a transfixing debut, highlighted by a performance of their dazzling hit “Seasons (Waiting On You)”, crowned Song of the Year in the influential year-end Village Voice Pazz + Jop critics poll.
“I was mesmerized the first time I saw Sam Herring onstage, and booked him on the spot!” ACL executive producer Terry Lickona exclaimed. “In fact, I’ve never seen anybody put so much of himself into a performance. He’s like a man possessed!”
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. Next week: Foo Fighters.