Once again Austin City Limits is thrilled to host a rising star: Andra Day. The jazzy soul singer and songwriter gained a ton of attention for her inspirational, Grammy-nominated single “Rise Up” from her debut Cheers To the Fall, and hasn’t looked back since. The Spokane-born/San Diego-raised vocalist and her five-piece band gave us a magnificent performance of soulful originals and some choice covers, which we streamed live around the world.
After a taped intro of the Flamingos classic “I Only Have Eyes For You,” Day came out and the band eased into “Forever Mine,” a show-stopping ballad from Cheers To the Fall that really takes advantage of her range. Without pause, she launched into “Gold,” a peppier, defiant R&B tune that packed a powerful vocal punch and a jazz-soaked piano solo from Sir Charles Jones. Love then took a backseat to social commentary, as Day took on Nina Simone’s chillingly angry “Mississippi Goddamn,” recasting it in a more contemporary but no less incendiary style with a furious guitar solo from Dave Wood. Day introduced the next number as a song about two loves, “one of them true.” Jones gave the dramatic “Honey on Fire” a classically-influenced intro, with Day falling to one knee to let her pipes fly, and the tune segued directly into “Gin & Juice (Let Go My Hand),” a gospel-inflected ballad offering contrast to its immediate predecessor.
Before going into Kendrick Lamar’s “No Makeup,” Day explained the significance of the song to her and turned the hip-hop tune into a groovy soul number. After that groovefest, the band stripped down to Day and Jones, letting piano and voice carry a medley of “Rear View” and “Red Flags.” The band returned to pay tribute to another key Day influence on a medley of Bob Marley’s songs “Is This Love” and “Could You Be Loved,” highlighted by crazy falsetto from Jones (a R&B/gospel singer in his own right). Day then took a moment to acknowledge the terrible shooting in Orlando, Florida, which happened that very morning, and dedicated the next song to the victims. That song was “Rise Up,” her anthem about pulling power from tragedy and finding – and spreading – hope in the worst of times. The audience joined her for several choruses, turning the song from performance to communion.
The set shifted back into upbeat mode for “Mistakes,” a funky celebration of where the titular happenings can take one’s life. Day introduced her band, maestros all, and took them into “City Burns,” a soul/jazz tune that’s as consummate an example of her remarkable talents as anything she’s done. The band kept the groove going as she left the stage to wild applause, but the show wasn’t over yet. Day and her band came back with a surprise: a cover of Queen’s aggressively confident “I Want It All,” altered from its original hard rock arrangement into a slinky, pleading blues ballad – a bravura performance that made the song her own. Day left the stage blowing kisses as Wood took the band out with a burning solo. It was a fitting cap to a great show, and we can’t wait for you to see it when it airs this fall on your local PBS station.