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Taping recap: Phoebe Bridgers

Few songwriters hit the level of acclaim earned by Phoebe Bridgers right out of the box. But the California native captured the hearts and minds of critics and music fans alike with her 2017 debut album Stranger in the Alps, not to mention her work with side bands boygenius (with Julien Baker and ACL alum Lucy Dacus) and Better Oblivion Community Center (with another ACL vet, Conor Oberst). But it was 2020’s Punisher that catapulted her into the ring of stardom, thanks to singles “Kyoto,” “Garden Song” and “Savior Complex” and a raft of Grammy nominations. So we were jazzed to host Bridgers for her debut Austin City Limits taping as she played Punisher from start to finish. 

“All right, let’s do it,” Bridgers said as she and her skeleton-costumed band took the stage, opening with “Motion Sickness,” a highlight from her debut. She moved over to Punisher, starting with the instrumental interlude “DVD Menu,” which led directly into the ethereal “Garden Song.” “This is our first indoor show in two years,” she noted, donning a B.C. Rich Warlock guitar for the sparkling power pop tune “Kyoto,” frosted with JJ Kirkpatrick’s trumpet fills. Putting aside her axe, she plucked the mic from its stand and joined pianist Nicholas White on his stand for the shimmering ballad that acts as the title track for Punisher. She kept the mood downcast and beautiful for “Halloween,”  a song keyed in on Bridgers’ three-part harmony with drummer Marshall Vore and violinist/guitarist Emily Kohavi. Guitarist Harrison Whitford contributed vocal counterpoint to the coda as well. 

Bridgers strapped on her acoustic guitar for another Alps number, the melancholy “Funeral.” Electric guitar came back for the epic “Chinese Satellite,” a masterfully crafted blend of the personal and political. That was followed by the carefully detailed “Moon Song,” a heartbreaking portrait of a relationship’s slow disintegration. She followed with the equally emotionally fragile “Savior Complex,” before getting more assertive with “ICU,” a song inspired by a political argument in a Whole Foods parking lot. Her band recalibrated itself so that Vore could come forward to play banjo alongside Kohvai’s violin for the semi-acoustic beauty “Graceland Too.” “Thanks for coming,” Bridgers said as she prepped for the final song. “This is wild. It’s been a dream.” She and the band ended the set appropriately with “I Know the End,” the epic that concludes Punisher, going out in a hail of freeform noise and distortion. Bridgers kicked her mic stand over, waved to the crowd, and was gone as the amps fed back. The show was an auspicious debut for a remarkable singer/songwriter, and we can’t wait for you to see it when it airs later this December on your local PBS station. 

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Taping recap: Brittany Howard

Brittany Howard is no stranger to the Austin City Limits stage – she’s been on the show twice with her beloved band Alabama Shakes, plus appeared on our fortieth anniversary special. In 2019 she struck out on her own with her acclaimed debut solo record Jaime, named after her late sister, and garnered a fistful of Grammy nominations along the way. Originally scheduled to appear last year, before the pandemic put paid to that idea, Howard brought her long-awaited solo show to us at last, with a crack band, a setlist full of Jaime tunes and well-chosen covers, and an eclectic new sound. 

The eight-piece group of backing players arrived first, before the singer herself arrived in a glittering, sparkle-covered robe and bleached-silver hair. She picked up her guitar and went into a gutbucket take on Funkadelic’s “Hit It and Quit It,” featuring Howard and fellow axepeople Brad Allen Williams and Alex Chakour trading solos. She then dipped into Jaime for “He Loves Me,” her story of reconciling her sexuality with her spiritual upbringing. Howard discovered her inner Hi Studios groove for “Georgia,” singing about her desire for the titular entity over a mellow Memphis groove and organist Lloyd Buchanan’s foamy solo. She stuck with Southern soul for “Stay High,” her Grammy-winning radio hit. “Presence” upped the funk while keeping to the sensuous groove, and included more three-guitar action. Things got even greasier for “What I’m All About,” as Howard introduced the band, having them build up the song instrument by instrument, starting with jazz-soaked drummer Nate Smith. She and the band then kicked it old school, taking the Moody Theater to church with a rave-up cover of Jackie Wilson’s “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher & Higher.”  

“I wrote this song when I was on the low side of an 80/20 relationship,” Howard noted as she began “Baby,” a slow jam that explored the sorry side of love. Singers Karita Law and Shanay Johnson came over from stage left to join Howard up front for “Goat Head,” another Grammy-nominated track, and a forthright but danceable exploration of bi-racial identity. That midtempo groove continued with “Tomorrow,” a modern R&B showcase for how flexible and advanced Howard’s voice has become over the years. The funk came rumbling back for another Funkadelic cover, this time of the provocative “You and Your Folks, Me and My Folks” from Maggot Brain. The band followed with “13th Century Metal,” one of the most unique tracks on Jaime, a recitation on which she preached in defense of love and brother/sisterhood. She left the stage as she finished her proselytizing, as did most of the band, leaving the focus on Smith, a musician who knows how to make a drum solo compelling. Howard and her musicians came back to finish the song with exhortations to “Give it to love!” amongst Chakour and Howard’s guitar swirls. She left the stage again as the musicians brought the tune down in a psychedelic haze. 

That ended the first set, but not the show. Howard returned with a nylon-string acoustic guitar for another Grammy-nominated number, “Short & Sweet,” a jazzy ballad performed solo that was clearly an audience fave. The band returned to pluck another classic soul tune from the American repertoire, this time a faithful rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “For Once in My Life.” Howard went back to Jaime for the extra-funky, Grammy-nominated single “History Repeats,” featuring more synchronized dancing from Howard and the singers and plenty of audience participation. The momentum rolled on for “Revolution,” Howard’s unique psychedelic soul take on the late sixties Beatles hit, given an extra physical performance. The song sped up to “Shout” levels before crashing to a close to a hail of cheers and applause. “Y’all were a great crowd tonight,” she told the crowd. “I got charged all the way up!” With that, Howard quit the stage, ending a spectacular show that we can’t wait for you to see when it premieres November 20, 2021 as part of our new Season 47 on your local PBS station. 

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Taping recap: Duran Duran

At a time when so many of their early eighties peers have succumbed to nostalgia tours and the revival circuit, Duran Duran has remained on top, not only popular but relevant. That’s partly because the Birmingham superstars still clearly enjoy what they do – no paycheck-cashing cynicism here. But it’s also because the band acknowledges its past while continuing to move forward, making new music with the same interest and passion as it has since its eighties beginnings. As they proved with their debut taping for Austin City Limits, and with new album Future Past imminent, Duran Duran still has the fire. 

When Terry Lickona introduced the band, the crowd gave a roar like a tidal wave, the likes of which we rarely hear. Following a couple of minutes of funky instrumental groove building anticipation, the superstar act took the stage and the roar returned, singer Simon Le Bon, keyboardist Nick Rhodes, bassist John Taylor, drummer Roger Taylor, joined by guitarist Dom Brown, saxophonist Simon Willescroft and singers Anna Ross and Erin Stevenson, reveling in the kind of attention a group that’s thrived for decades deserves. The Durans opened with new song “Invisible,” a minimalist synth funker from the upcoming record that bodes well for the new music to come. Bona fides thus established, the band went right into one of its biggest hits: the 1985 #1 smash “A View to a Kill,” the theme song for the James Bond film of the same name. The energy level went up even higher with “Notorious,” the song’s funk beat clearly galvanizing Le Bon and John Taylor, to the audience’s delight. “Anybody celebrating a birthday tonight?” the perpetually smiling singer asked. “We celebrate our birthday every night!” That was the lead-in to new single “Anniversary,” a pop banger that doubles as a nod to the forty years that have passed since the release of the Durans’ first album. 

Backup vocalist Ross joined Le Bon at the front of the stage to duet on the melodic 1993 top ten hit “Come Undone,” from the group’s second self-titled album (AKA “The Wedding Album”). Doffing his white jacket, Le Bon got his groove on for “Pressure Off,” a late-career high point from the 2015 LP Paper Gods that reminded everybody that this band has never forgotten how to be danceable, the vocalist leading the eager crowd into a disco clap-along. The Durans then dug deep into their catalog for the cheeky rocker “Friends of Mine,” a highlight of the band’s very first album, and a song Le Bon seemed to particularly enjoy singing. “This is one of the best little shows we’ve played all year!” he claimed after the song finished. The band then got serious for a minute, with Le Bon dedicating the next song to everyone struggling in the past eighteen months. That song was, of course, “Ordinary World,” the band’s massive, ice-melting ballad from 1993, given new resonance in 2020s reality. From that undeniable classic the Durans offered up another new song, another upbeat dance rocker entitled “Tonight United,” driven by John’s grooving bass. 

The band kept the energy level high with “(Reach Up For the) Sunrise,” a vibrant, guitar-heavy rock anthem from their 2004 album Astronaut. “Put your hands up,” the song demanded, and the audience eagerly acquiesced. Ross and Stevenson returned to the front of the stage to assist the band for their outside-the-box cover of Grandmaster Flash’s anti-cocaine protest tune “White Lines (Don’t Do It),” just in case anyone had forgotten Duran Duran’s essential eclecticism. The group then boomeranged back to the beginning, with the distinctive synth intro and new wave groove to the band’s first hit, the still-thrilling “Planet Earth.” The audience went wild, but really upped their game when Le Bon asked, “Did you drink your champagne and eat your caviar…or is anybody hungry?” That led, of course, into “Hungry Like the Wolf,” the band’s hit of all hits, and one that turned the Moody into a monster dance party. The band wasted no time going right into “Girls On Film,” taking the performance and the crowd straight up to nirvana. The song segued into an appropriate cover of Calvin Harris’ “Acceptable in the 80s,” the groove of which Le Bon used to introduce the band, before going into the song’s chorus of “shooting star” – as appropriate a send-off to the set as could be hoped. The Durans quit the stage to wild cheers and applause. 

They returned, of course, as Le Bon extolled the crowd to raise their cell phones and turn the lights on. Sea of lights thus established, the band performed “Save a Prayer,” letting the fans sing the chorus and taking them out on a wave of  beauty instead of the expected bombast. “Austin City Limits, thanks for having us!” John Taylor said, with firm agreement from Le Bon, and Duran Duran left the stage for the final time. It was a terrific show, one for the ACL ages, and we can’t wait for you to see it when it airs early next year as part of our Season 47 on your local PBS station. 

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Taping recap: Joy Oladokun

Melody. Intelligence. Heart. Conscience. Soul. These are the hallmarks of singer/songwriter Joy Oladokun, a singular artist from Arizona who’s made major waves with her acclaimed debut album In Defense of My Happiness. She is exactly the kind of artist – fresh, distinctive, and extraordinarily talented – that we like to capture on ACL in the early stages of their career, so we were thrilled to showcase her debut taping.

Dressed in a “black sheep” cap and an obviously beloved Prince tee shirt, the musician and her five-piece band took the stage and began with “If You Got a Problem,” a slice of reggae-tinged, devotional R&B. “It’s been a weird year,” Oladokun noted as she donned her electric guitar at the end of the song. “I’m so honored that we can do this together.” After noting that “Problem” was about her girlfriend, she set up the folk-popping next song “Smoke” by explaining her use of weed to cut through the social anxiety from which she suffers. “This is a Fleetwood Mac rip-off song,” she cheekily admitted as she and harmony singer Jaime Woods went into the intro of “Sorry Isn’t Good Enough,” another subtly reggae-influenced pop song that injected venom into its sweet melody. Oladokun switched from the personal to political with “I See America,” a song reflecting both her anger at the continuing police brutality directed at Black Americans, as well as a commentary on the cycle of violence that’s been prevalent her entire life—she was born the same year as Rodney King—with the through line to George Floyd’s murder at the hands of police. The 70s soul groove made the acid easier to ingest, though switching to electric guitar and a faithful cover of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” kept the rage boiling, especially when it interpolated the chorus of “I See America.” 

“This next song is about going to Thai food with an ex,” Oladokun said as she re-donned her acoustic guitar. “That’s honestly more of an intro than she deserves.” Accompanied only by her acoustic, she, Woods and guitarist Elliot Skinner sang the ballad in soulful three-part harmony. She then addressed another old pal with “Breathe Again,” taking on her previously mentioned social anxiety with a luminous ballad. Inspired by the death of her friend, the late rapper Mac Miller, she sang “Taking the Heat” as a reminder to take care of yourself and your friends and not to assume everything’s always alright. Oladokun and band then reworked a Stevie Wonder classic, turning “Jesus Children of America” into a rock/funk/country hybrid that sounded distinctly her own. To keep the good vibes coming, she presented “Look Up,” a song intended to send courage into the darkness: “You know trouble’s always gonna be there/Don’t let it bring you to your knees.” Oladokun returned to her own life experience for “Jordan,” a song that deals with growing up gay while raised in a church that didn’t recognize the legitimacy of that life path. The track sublimated gospel into its passionate folk pop to shine the light of hope into what could have been a dark time of her development. “Trauma, processed through psychedelics” was how she describe the penultimate tune “Somebody Like Me,” a catchy new song that was a plea for understanding, patience and contact for folks with anxiety and inner pain. 

Oladokun ended the show with a “smoosh” of Prince’s Sign O’ the Times anthem “The Cross” with her own spiritual examination “Sunday.” It was a one-two punch of the desire for divine love and earthly acceptance, and a perfect way to end the powerful set. Oladokun is a treasure waiting to be discovered, and we’re thrilled that viewers will get the chance when the episode airs later this year as part of our Season 47 on your local PBS station. 

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Taping recap: Olivia Rodrigo

Few artists have had as stratospheric a rise as Olivia Rodrigo-the 18-year-old California native spent her teens writing songs, performing, acting and playing piano, so she was ready for the spotlight when it came to the smash success of “Drivers License,” her first single and first #1 hit. Her platinum-selling, self-penned debut LP Sour has turned her into a star-as reflected in her debut appearance on Austin City Limits

Rodrigo’s all-female five-piece band took the ACL stage and laid down an atmospheric intro before the star herself came bounding out barefoot for the defiant self-doubt of “Brutal,” the chorus of which immediately became call-and-response. The singer and band went immediately into the anthem “Déjà Vu,” on which the eager crowd became her backup singers. It was clearly time for a power ballad, which meant the heartbroken waltz “Happier” – “I hope you’re happy, but don’t be happier.” That was followed by the angry, power chord-kissed rocker “Jealousy, Jealousy,” an attack on the false expectations fueled by social media. Rodrigo introduced her all-girl band before sitting down at the piano for “the first song I ever put out, and it’s really special to me.” That, of course, meant the colossal hit “Drivers License,” amplified by delirious audience participation – adding handclaps on the build and singing a chorus on their own. 

Rodrigo remained at the piano for “Traitor,” a heart-on-sleeve piano ballad that turned into a showcase for her ability to channel her emotions into universal understanding. Guitarist Heather Baker fingerpicked her acoustic guitar, while fellow axeperson Arianna Powell moved to pedal steel for the folky “Favorite Crime,” which was clearly a crowd favorite. A crewmember brought a stool and acoustic guitar, which Rodrigo used for “Enough For You,” a compelling solo performance. She and the band ended the show with megahit “Good 4 U,” the blazing rocker that’s equalled the success of “Drivers License” on the charts and earned high-energy pogoing from the ecstatic audience. “Thank you, guys!!”, said Rodrigo, as the crowd went wild. It was a standout performance from a performer with a long and exciting career ahead of her, and we can’t wait for you to see it when it airs this December on your local PBS station. 

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Featured News Taping Recap

Taping recap: St. Vincent

We’re always happy to welcome St. Vincent back to Austin City Limits. The Texas-raised Annie Clark and her renowned project have gone from strength to strength since she first alighted on our stage back in Season 35 in 2009. Her latest record Daddy’s Home may be her most acclaimed yet, and we were thrilled to have her showcase it for her third taping in an electrifying career-wide set filled with highlights.

After a brief fakeout with a trench-coated double (Arianna Henry, who would make frequent appearances as roadie and dancer), Clark joined her crack band to open the show with a slinky, groove-approved version of “Digital Witness.” They launched into the first song from Daddy’s Home, the seething funk rocker “Down,” on which Clark was joined at the front of the stage by backing singers Navonnah Holley, Stephanie Alexander and Danielle Withers. She and ace co-guitarist Jason Falkner traded dissonant licks to kick off “Birth in Reverse,” a perfect example of how she’s re-written the rules of rock & roll. After a particularly egregious dad joke, she then powered, appropriately enough, into “Daddy’s Home,” the sleazy title track of the latest album. Keyboardist Rachel Eckroth hit the familiar piano open of “New York,” with the singers leading the crowd to add handclaps to the melancholy anthem. Falkner donned an acoustic guitar as the dancer returned in a waitress outfit to serve up drinks to the musicians, leading to Clark giving a toast – “To Austin City Limits and our third time here, and to all of us being back together again!” Then she sang “…At the Holiday Party,” a sedate but acidic pop tune on which she played tabletop steel with her microphone. 

Bassist Justin Meldal-Johnsen (last seen on our stage with Beck) began a synth pulse, joined by drummer Mark Guiliana’s rock-solid groove, to lay the foundation for the widescreen pop of Masseduction’s “Los Ageless” – “You know this one,” Clark said as she ripped out the signature guitar lick. She stuck with that album for the jittery glam rock of “Sugarboy,” which climaxed in an orgy of skronk, clatter and feedback.  The band then looked back to the early St. Vincent album Actor for the noisy art popper “Marrow.” The atmosphere subtly altered to a both more ethereal and more rhythmic vibe, which meant it was time for the brilliant “Slow Disco,” which showcased the singers and brought dancer Henry back onstage. After a round of band introductions, it was time for the bitter synth funk of “Pay Your Way to Pain,” which allowed Clark to remind us that she’s a powerhouse vocalist as well as a full-on guitar god. The band then took another trip to the past with the loud/soft dynamics of “Cheerleader,” from her third LP Strange Mercy, culminating with Clark and Falkner using each other’s guitars as plectrums in a hail of six-string noise. No respite for the weary, as everyone went right into the steely crunch of “Fear the Future,” which ended with more guitar raunch. 

Clark then reached way back, riding Guiliana’s pounding rhythm for the menacing “Your Lips Are Red,” hailing from St. Vincent’s very first album Marry Me. The band then ascended gently into space for the shimmering, floating “Live in the Dream,” leading the vocalists to traverse the stage in slow motion and Clark to finally indulge in some guitar heroism before ending in complete silence. Eckroth took to the Wurlitzer electric piano to begin “The Melting of the Sun,” a tribute to notable women performers from Joni Mitchell, Nina Simone and Marilyn Monroe to Clark herself. It was a great note on which to end the stunner of a set, as the crowd showed its love and the musicians took a bow. It was such a good show, and we can’t wait for you to see it when it airs this coming winter on your local PBS station as part of our Season 47.