Lucius leaders Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig graced the ACL stage once before, singing backup for Wilco leader Jeff Tweedy’s family band Tweedy in Season 40. We knew then they would bring their own band to the show, and thus were thrilled to witness it actually happening. The band brought its unique blend of pop, electronica, disco and singer/songwriter folk to us having played a series of shows with our recent guest Brandi Carlile, and the seasoning showed with a sparkling set full of songs from across their decade-plus career.
Sporting their trademark identical hairstyles, Wolfe and Laessig descended in tandem from the drum riser to lead the band into the funky, hip-swinging “Second Nature,” the title track of their latest album, with synchronized stage moves to match their entwined harmonies. The pair picked up blinged-out keytars for the equally discofied, fuzz guitar-frosted single “Next to Normal,” to enthusiastic applause. Wolfe and Laessig then moved back in time to their 2013 debut LP Wildewoman for the groovy, dramatic “Tempest,” beating floor toms (and encouraging the crowd to clap along) and sharing the vocals with bassist Solomon Dorsey and guitarist Alex Pfender. The band returned to Second Nature for the soaring pop anthem “Promises” and the heartfelt, powerfully-sung ballad “The Man I’ll Never Find,” which made use of the sparkling pony mic that allowed Laessig and Wolfe to sing face to face. Lucius shifted to waltz time for the gorgeous “Dusty Trails,” a shimmering showcase for the band’s distinctive vocal blend. At one point the band dropped out and the frontwoman backed away from the mic for a minute of unamplified, a cappella glory, which the audience loved.
Lucius then stepped away from their original material for their lush cover of Gerry Rafferty’s “Right Down the Line,” recorded for their “unplugged” record Nudes – interestingly, the second time the song has been sung on our stage, following its appearance in Bonnie Raitt’s Season 38 set. The pony mic went away and the set leapt back to Wildewoman for the guitar-powered audience singalong, “How Loud Your Heart Gets.” Back came Second Nature and the keytars for the synth-heavy “Heartbursts,” which found Pfender and Dorsey joining Wolfe and Laessig at the front of the stage. The heart-wrenching “White Lies” followed, a yearning ballad perfect for waving lighters in the dark. In an unusual move, Lucius ended the main set with “Supernatural Girl,” an unreleased but glorious anthem that saw the band exit the stage and join the thrilled audience in a hail of soaring “ahhhhs” and synthesized and strummed feedback.
“Are we feeling nice and floaty and spacy now?” Wolfe asked, revealing that they hadn’t been part of the crowd since their first record and noting the continuing importance of Austin City Limits to live music, to exuberant applause. The dynamic duo launched into fan-favorite “Two of Us On the Run,” a tribute to their friendship and collaboration. The pair strutted back onstage as the band immediately kicked into the rocking grooves of “Turn It Around,” a song from the group’s 2012 self-titled debut EP. The song ended but the beat continued, Wolfe and Laessig singing the high harmony that signaled the 1970s Donna Summer electro-disco classic “I Feel Love,” to the absolute delight of the audience. The familiar pulse served as soundtrack for the introduction of the band, before returning to the song, climaxing with Laessig and Wolfe taking a tandem bow. The crowd went wild, as well they should have. It was an excellent show, and we can’t wait for you to see it when it airs this fall as part of our Season 48 on your local PBS station.
Lucius tapes Austin City Limits, July 18, 2022. Photos by Scott Newton.