The Texas connection continued for the fourth taping of our 47th season, with young Welsh native and current Austin resident Jade Bird delivering a stellar debut. Previewing her highly-anticipated second LP Different Kinds of Light, out in August, the singer, songwriter and guitarist brought her melodic, eclectic rootsy rock pop to the ACL stage for her debut taping, which was live streamed around the world.
After a rousing Terry Lickona intro, the white-adorned Bird and five-piece band took the stage and came out swinging with “Headstart,” her popular new single. “Are you ready to rock, Austin?” she declared, and went blazing into the next one: the sniping rocker “Uh Huh.” The ever-smiling songwriter lowered the energy level slightly – very slightly – with “Honeymoon,” the first song from the new record, before going into the folky “Punchline,” a song inspired by the small town in Wales in which she grew up. Noting that her sets tended to volley between emotional highs and lows, Bird shifted to the melancholy “Houdini,” an acoustic guitar-driven tune influenced by the tendency of “the male figures in my life to go on walkabout.” Most of the band left the stage, leaving only Bird and guitarist Bennett Lewis to sing a two guitar/one microphone cover of Radiohead’s “Black Star,” a gorgeous arrangement borrowed from Gillian Welch & Dave Rawlings. She then took to the piano for “Something American,” an early song that both celebrates her love of American music and presages her road to conquering the States. The band returned for the jaunty “Prototype,” a tune Bird’s grandmother says is a hit, because it’s one of her happy songs, and who are we to argue?
Continuing to showcase the forthcoming record, Bird kicked the energy level back into the red with the one-two punch of the sweet “Now’s the Time” and the anthemic, angry “Candidate.” She then revisited her first LP for the snarling “I Get No Joy,” a high energy diatribe she dedicated to the year 2020. “I’ve dreamed of playing this venue for a very long time,” she declared, before putting her heart into the seething ballad “My Motto.” Bird followed that with “Red, White and Blue,” a solo song from the new record that she had never played live before, inspired by guitarist Luke Prosser’s encounter with a Vietnam war veteran. Prosser and fellow guitarist Bennett Lewis returned with special guest singer Savannah Conley for a luminous take on legendary singer/songwriter and Bird hero Dolly Parton’s “Do I Ever Cross Your Mind” – Bird, Conley and Prosser’s harmonies would have done the Carter Family proud. Conley remained onstage as the band came back for the rocking “Trick Mirror,” another tune from the upcoming record. Bird then went back to her first LP for “Lottery,” a kiss-off to an ex set to an exuberant rock melody. “I can’t even tell you what a magical night this has been for me,” the joyful Bird exclaimed, before ending the main set with the wry, catchy “Love Has All Been Done Before.”
After enthusiastic applause from the crowd, Bird came back with a Telecaster in hand, as she and the band romped into “Open Up the Heavens,” another basher from Different Kind of Light. She closed the evening with “Going Gone,” a spirited rocker from her first album that took off like a missile, bringing the house down. What a way to end this fabulous show! We can’t wait for you to see it when it airs this fall on your local PBS station.