Fresh from their “Life’s So Fun” U.S. headlining tour, arena dates with Taylor Swift and Lorde, the radio hit “Silk Chiffon,” and one of the most exciting sets at this year’s Coachella, MUNA are ready to conquer the world of pop. Having first visited Austin in 2016 for SXSW, the journey by Katie Gavin (vocals), Josette Maskin (guitar), and Naomi McPherson (keyboards, guitar) toward stardom brings them to the Austin City Limits stage for their debut taping in support of their latest, self-titled album.
Following a bombastic flourish, the L.A. trio – backed by bassist Geo Bothelho and drummer Sarab Singh – launched right into the equally expansive rocker “What I Want,” the musicians only staying in one place during their three-part harmonies. They kicked up the tempo a notch with the bright pop rocker “Number One Fan” – a clear crowd favorite, given that they started singing the lyrics with the band. Maskin’s closing guitar grunge segued right into the next song, the eighties Britpop-influenced “Solid.” But this band aren’t retro-stylish – the soaring pop anthemry of “Stayaway” (“If you know the words,” said Gavin, “sing it with me”) belongs in the twenty-first century.
More contemplative without stinting on rock energy, “Loose Garment” traversed the sky on the wings of Maskin’s lush e-bow and Gavin’s earnest voice. The latter then donned an acoustic guitar for the melancholy “Winterbreak,” a swirl of 12-string and slide guitar that wore its heart glistening on its sleeve. The same configuration drove “Kind of Girl,” a self-actualization ballad that will, at some point, result in thousands of lighters being waved. “I’m the kind of girl who thinks I can,” Gavin sang – a message taken to heart by the band’s queer and trans fanbase. The country-kissed power ballad “Taken” followed suit, before some dreamy synthesizers led the band into the dramatic widescreen electro-pop of “Pink Light,” which earned a huge cheer.
The band revisited their debut LP About U for “Around U,” another supercharged melody with a galloping beat. MUNA shouted out their backing musicians and crew before going into “Home By Now,” an anthemic dance rocker that practically demanded audience participation. Singh then laid down a walloping 6/8 beat for the cheeky “Anything But Me” (“I hope you get anything you need – anything but me”), before some overtly eighties bass and keyboards heralded the group’s brand new single “One That Got Away,” released only a week prior. “I’m curious,” pondered Gavin, “if any of you already know some of the words. So this is your test.” Many members of the MUNAverse passed with flying colors.
MUNA jumped happily back into anthemland for the hands-in-the-air energy of “I Know a Place,” one of the first songs Gavin, Maskin, and McPherson ever wrote together, and another tune cherished by the audience. To close the show, McPherson strapped on an acoustic guitar as a synth pulse built and MUNA slipped into “Silk Chiffon,” an ear-hooking song about “being queer and being happy” that had the crowd singing along at the top of their lungs. “We love you, Austin!” shouted Gavin, as MUNA capped off their debut ACL by bringing the house down. We can’t wait for you to see it when it airs this fall as part of our Season 49 on your local PBS station.
MUNA on Austin City Limits, April 24, 2023. Photos by Scott Newton.