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.
When we first hosted singer/songwriter Margo Price in Season 42, we knew, as did everyone, she was something special. Watching her blossom from a soulful C&W traditionalist into a brilliant, multi-faceted artist (not to mention bestselling author, via her 2022 memoir Maybe We’ll Make It) has been a pleasure, and we were thrilled to have her back, as both victory lap and in celebration of her acclaimed fourth LP Strays.
Following a Season 49 welcome from Austin mayor Kirk Watson, Price and her six-piece band took the stage to the strains of a Willie ‘n’ Waylon classic before going straight into “Been To the Mountain,” the hard rocking opener of Strays. Closing with a flourish of cowbell, Price, in a blue flowered Loretta Lynn-style vintage dress, donned an acoustic guitar for “Letting Me Down,” a driving country rocker from her 2020 album That’s How Rumors Get Started. She and the band then revisited her 2016 breakthrough debut Midwest Farmer’s Daughter, giving fan favorite “Four Years of Chances” a Southern psych rock makeover. Back to Strays with “Hell in the Heartland,” a minor key country rock epic that broke its tension by moving from trot to gallop. The band followed with “Change of Heart,” its theme of self-assertiveness and defiance emphasized by a loping guitar solo from Alex Munoz and Price herself bashing away at a second drum kit. She closed off this stunning mini-set of Strays with the melancholy “County Road,” driven by Micah Hulscher’s piano and a powerhouse James Davis lead, and the stirring rock anthem “Light Me Up,” which Price described as the product of her and husband/co-writer/rhythm guitarist Jeremy Ivey’s ingestion of psilocybin mushrooms on vacation.
Price went back to her debut for the Southern rock anthem “Tennessee Song,” bringing it in line to her current, more expansive sound. She and Ivey then faced each other with acoustic guitars for Strays’ shimmering, lovely ballad “Landfill.” The band eased into the psychedelic folk rock of “That’s How Rumors Get Started,” its extended coda allowing Price time to leave the stage for a wardrobe change into a sparkly Tina Turner-style showgirl number and man the second drum kit once again. Without a second’s breath, she led her group into the hard-rocking “Twinkle Twinkle,” which earned loud approval from the audience. C&W made a re-appearance with the cheerfully defiant “Don’t Say It,” dragging the arena back to the honkytonk for a tune. While the band was busy rocking out, a pink telephone quietly appeared onstage, heralding “Radio” and its handset vocals. Price closed the main set like a pageant queen with the brisk Rumors rocker “Heartless Mind,” while handing out red roses to the audience as Davis and Munoz squared off over Dillon Napier’s syncopated drumming.
The adoring crowd cheered Price and the band’s return for an encore. “You can’t come down to Texas and not play a drinkin’ song,” she joked as she launched into “Hurtin’ On the Bottle,” her breakout hit and one of the best honkytonkers written in the last decade. She smoothly segued into her thematic inspirations via Merle Haggard’s “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink” and Willie Nelson’s classic “Whiskey River,” the first song ever broadcast on Austin City Limits. It was a hell of a way to close out her smoking return to ACL, and we can’t wait for you to see the broadcast episode during our upcoming Season 49 on your local PBS station.
While it hasn’t happened often enough to become a tradition, Austin City Limits does have precedent for Halloween shows. Both Joe Ely and Widespread Panic recorded memorable shows in front of crowds full of costumes. So we were tickled to welcome country star Maren Morris for her debut taping that just happened to fall on All Hallow’s Eve. The Arlington, Texas-born singer/songwriter is riding a new career high with the acclaim following her third major label album Humble Quest, and she seemed happy to showcase it in front of a colorful ACL crowd.
“This is a huge honor to be playing this – I grew up watching this,” noted Morris. “I’m not gonna cry – we’re just gonna do this.” With that, she and the band kicked into “Circles Around This Town,” the first hit from Humble Quest. She and the band upped the vibe going into “I Can’t Love You Anymore,” engaging the audience to clap along during the breakdown. Garnering enthusiastic screams from the audience, an a cappella intro from Morris, bassist Annie Clement, backup singer Rachel Beauregard and guitarist Bennett Lewis signaled “80s Mercedes,” kicking the performance into high gear with its good time power rock. Acknowledging both the holiday and her roots growing up in Arlington, Texas, Morris also mentioned that this taping was one of her two last shows for the year, “and I’m glad we can close it out in Texas.” Drummer Christian Paschall then hit the backbeat for “Humble Quest,” an atmospheric rocker that serves as the title track for the new record, before the band went into the luminous ballad “Background Music.” Keyboardist Jaime Portee, guitarist Eric Montgomery and Lewis then kicked up dust with a collage-like intro that led into the powerhouse “Nervous,” to huge applause.
Shifting gears once again, Morris showcased her vocal chemistry with Clement and Beauregard on “I Could Use a Love Song.” After that wry downer, Morris shifted into party mode with the good-natured, pop-flavored celebration of “Tall Guys,” written by the 5’1” singer to make her 6’3” husband laugh. The pregnant Clements then put down her axe to join Morris at the front of the stage for the close-harmony ballad “Hummingbird,” dedicated by Morris to Clements’ unborn son, “because he’s onstage with us every night.” The easygoing folk rock of “Detour” followed, completing a trilogy of songs from Humble Quest. “Alright, Austin,” Morris declared, “let’s pick this up a little bit” – in particular by revisiting her major label debut Hero for the classic-rocking hit “Rich,” a clear crowd favorite. The band went back to Humble Quest for the final time this evening with “Good Friends.” “This is really a dream come true,” Morris said. “I’ll come back any time y’all invite me.” Then it was time for “The Bones,” Morris’ smash #1 country ode to the foundational secret to lasting love that got the biggest round of applause of the night.
The cheers continued as Morris ended the show with her gospel-flavored rocker “My Church,” a fan favorite anthem that brought the audience to its feet, clapping and singing along – even singing part of the chorus by themselves. Morris left the stage to a huge standing ovation as the band played her off. It was a sensational ACL debut, and we can’t wait for you to see it when it airs early next year as part of our Season 48 on your local PBS station.
It goes without saying that an ACL Hall of Fame taping is something special. The combination of ACL greats being saluted by their peers and fans always makes for an emotional, exciting evening. For our eighth HOF show, we were privileged to honor Austin music icon Joe Ely and superstar singer/songwriter Sheryl Crow. This year’s Hall of Fame, honoring a pair of inductees, featured a deeper dive into each artist’s work, highlighted by extended tributes, allowing the guest performers to share personal stories about their connection for a very special night.
Following introductions from Austin PBS CEO Luis Patiño and Austin City Limits executive producer Terry Lickona, who introduced perennial bandleader Lloyd Maines and the ACL All-Stars house band, renowned Texas author Lawrence Wright arrived to induct hometown hero Joe Ely. “The driving beat of a Joe Ely anthem tells us right away where he’s coming from,” Wright noted. “He’s a honky-tonk poet, an outlaw country minstrel, a corrido balladeer, a rocker with a broken heart, all these traditions experienced, captured, and transformed into his own distinctive style. The traditions that shaped Joe have been shaped by him in turn. He absorbed the legends and became the legend, and because of his gifts to our culture, the emptiness is filled with understanding, with connection, with meaning.” Ely accepted his award graciously, encouraging the show to get back to the music, which roared to life at the piano bench of ACL Hall of Famer Marcia Ball. The Austin legend recalled with obvious pleasure how she was introduced to Ely’s music in the seventies, watching the Amarillo native move from Lubbock expatriate to Texas rock star. That led immediately into a joyous take on Ely’s rip-roaring piano tribute “Fingernails,” because what other song should be in Ball’s capable hands?
While the audio crew struck Ball’s piano, Lloyd Maines came to the front of the stage to introduce the ACL All-Stars: ace players David Grissom, Chris Gage, Bill Whitbeck and Tom Van Schaik, plus special guests Jimmy Pettit and Davis McLarty, both mainstays (along with Grissom) of Ely’s band in the 80s and 90s. Country great Rodney Crowell took the stage next to sing Ely’s rockabilly anthem “Cool Rockin’ Loretta,” including an improvised testimony in the midsection paying tribute to “cool rockin’ Joe Ely.” Then it was time to hear from the man himself, who returned to the stage, guitar in hand, turning in a spirited performance of his classic tune “All Just to Get to You” to loud applause.
The only way to follow that was for Ely to be joined by his decades-long pals and peers Butch Hancock and Jimmie Dale Gilmore – AKA the Flatlanders. Sitting in a row on stools, the trio jumped into a rollicking “I Had My Hopes Up High,” not only the first song on Ely’s 1977 debut album, but also the song that kicks off Ely’s debut ACL episode in 1980. “This is one of the most beautiful West Texas songs you’ll ever hear,” remarked Hancock, as Gilmore led them into Ely’s extraordinary ballad “Because of the Wind.” As another pair of mics were set up, Gilmore talked about what music means to humanity, and specifically to his old friend Joe. “One thing all of us had in our homes was Woody Guthrie,” he said, as Ball and Crowell returned for a round robin, Western swing-flavored take on the great American troubadour’s “Goin’ Down That Old Dusty Road,” a staple of Ely’s sets for many years. Leave it to Ely, at his own tribute, to insist on paying tribute to his own primary influence. “Thank you, Austin City Limits!” said Gilmore, as the crowd cheered and the Flatlanders took a grateful bow.
While the crew reset the stage for the next segment, the audience was treated to a pair of videos from the ACL archive, both featuring the late, great Loretta Lynn, in tribute to her passing earlier this month. Brandi Carlile took the stage to induct her friend Sheryl Crow. “She’s so charming and humble you almost forget that she’s Sheryl fucking Crow,” Carlile said about her mentor. “But we must never forget. When it comes to empowerment, Sheryl has always been on the right side of history.” A clearly moved Crow thanked Brandi and ACL, noting how many of her heroes performed on the show and how much it’s meant to her. Then her pal Jason Isbell took the stage, mentioning how Crow became the rock star she is while remaining a normal person – a rarity in this business. Joined by Crow’s longtime guitarist Peter Stroud, Isbell and the All-Stars then laid down a devastating version of Crow’s masterfully crafted ballad “Run Baby Run.”
The show then welcomed a very special guest: breakout country singer Brittney Spencer. She recounted first encountering Crow at her day job in a coffee shop, which became the root of a continuing friendship. It was also the spark that led to Spencer appearing on our stage to pay tribute to her hero with a soulful take on Crow’s soulful rocker “My Favorite Mistake.” Singer/songwriter Jess Wolfe from Lucius arrived to “literally sing the praises” of her friend. With Wolfe’s Lucius partner Holly Laessig sidelined by illness, Crow herself took Laessig’s place for a lovely version of her hit “Strong Enough” with Wolfe. The duo quit the stage to make way for the return of Carlile, who thrilled in getting to sing “the most fun Sheryl Crow song,” i.e. the Crow staple “If It Makes You Happy,” a tune perfect for Carlile’s lonesome wail. She didn’t leave, however, welcoming the inductee back onstage to duet on the massive hit and fan favorite “Every Day is a Winding Road.” The pair’s obvious joy in singing together translated to both the band and the audience, leading to a delightfully fun performance that earned enthusiastic applause.
With a Wurlitzer piano arriving onstage, Crow, Carlile, Isbell, Spencer and Wolfe returned for the grand finale. “It’s a huge honor to share a stage with Joe Ely,” Crow said, also praising the ACL All-Stars and her friends. With Carlile, Spencer and Wolfe acting as a gospel chorus and Isbell contributing guitar solos, Crow passionately sang “I Shall Believe,” turning the brokenhearted ballad into a rousing optimistic anthem. “Thank you, Terry Lickona! Thank you, Austin City Limits! I love you so much!” The audience gave that love back to her with huge applause. And it was over – a fantastic Hall of Fame show that we can’t wait for you to see when it airs January 7, 2023 as part of our Season 48 on your local PBS station.
Austin City Limits 8th Annual Hall of Fame induction ceremony, honoring Joe Ely and Sheryl Crow, Oct. 27, 2022. Photos courtesy Austin City Limits.
The deans of Austin alternative rock for over twenty-five years, Spoon hit another milestone in their impressive career: hitting the ACL stage for the fifth time. It may not seem like it, what with the Willies and Haggards and Lyles and Asleep at the Wheels, but the number of artists who visit that many times or more is pretty small. That it’s a band from our hometown makes it even more special – especially a band that’s hitting a new peak in its own career. The quintet’s tenth album Lucifer On the Sofa is one of their most acclaimed, and its songs formed the heart of their taping.
Driven by Jim Eno’s pounding kit, Spoon kicked off the show with the hard-rocking “Held,” the powerhouse opener from Sofa. Leader Britt Daniel’s famed pop sense took hold on follow-up “Feels Alright,” without losing the rock & roll fervor. Spoon next looked back a few years to their breakthrough Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga for “Don’t You Evah,” a choice that earned immediate cheers, before moving on to Transference for the brow-furrowing rock tune “The Mystery Zone.” Daniel took a moment to reminisce about the free beer that was available at tapings in the pre-Moody Theater days before digging into the grooving boogie of “The Hardest Cut,” on which the band essayed their own take on old school classic rock. Daniel and company then reached all the way back to 1998 for the popwise “Metal Detektor,” wasting no time before moving into the blazing, beat-heavy “Got Nuffin.”
Three saxophonists and a trombonist then joined Spoon onstage for the chunky rock of “The Devil & Mr. Jones” and the melody-rich title track to the new album, with splashes of reverb splitting the difference between the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The horns stayed with the band for a spirited zip through the ultra-catchy “The Underdog,” which, as Spoon’s breakthrough radio hit, garnered the loudest, longest cheers yet. As the horn section exited the stage, Daniel kept the acoustic guitar he’d donned for “Underdog” and solicited requests, ending on the vibrant pop of “My Babe,” which just happened to be the next song on the setlist. “Inside Out” followed, its keyboard-heavy pop featuring Daniel singing on his back on the stage in one of his rare turns without a guitar – at least until the song’s outro. Back to his trusty Telecaster, Daniel ended the main set with the dynamic, danceable “Wild,” driving the audience, yes, wild.
Given the fans’ enthusiasm, Spoon had to come back for more. Keyboardist/guitarist Gerardo Larios arrived first, starting with a familiar piano melody, drawing out Daniel and the rest of the band for an impassioned performance of John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band standout “Isolation.” “Do us a favor,” Daniel said after finishing, “act like we’re the Who for a second.” Then he led the band into “Utilitarian,” a song from the band’s second LP A Series of Sneaks. After a brief false start, Daniel and crew then took us to Gimme Fiction for the dramatic “My Mathematical Mind,” which built into a frenzy of noise rock and flashing strobes. Despite the Big Rock Ending, Eno went straight into the bashing garage rock of “Rent I Pay,” with a second BRE, and a crowd of fans proclaiming their appreciation for as loud and as long as possible. It was a great show, possibly our best Spoon taping yet, and we can’t wait for you to see it when it airs early next year on your local PBS station as part of our Season 48.
Spoon tapes Austin City Limits, Oct. 19, 2022. Photos by Scott Newton.
The War on Drugs is one of those bands whose music sounds familiar, yet contemporary, all at once. Led by singer/guitarist Adam Granduciel, the Philadelphia outfit has deftly blended gritty heartland rock with motorik-influence rhythms and sparkling analogue synthesizers on a series of beloved albums, culminating in 2017’s Grammy-winning A Deeper Understanding and last year’s highly acclaimed I Don’t Live Here Anymore. Following their first appearance on Austin City Limits back in 2015, TWOD returned to our stage with a seasoned live show that drew heavily from those albums.
Taking the stage to enthusiastic applause, the band opened with IDLHA‘s “Old Skin,” a lush ballad that evolved into a dynamic rock anthem, its heart on its glistening sleeve. The septet followed with the more overtly rocking “Pain,” a cut from Deeper that perfectly highlights their ability to blend bright melodies with brooding synth textures and uplifting Granduciel guitar solos. For “An Ocean in Between Us,” drummer Charlie Hall leaned hard on the vibrant repetition of the motorik beat, laying down a skittering propulsion for the band to ride – one painted by near-ambient baritone sax moans from keyboardist Jon Natchez and an especially powerful Granduciel solo. The song melted into a haze of synth washes, which resolved into the gentle waves of “I Don’t Wanna Wait,” one of IDLHA’s most bluntly emotional tunes. “We’re honored to be here,” noted the bandleader as the group went into the beat-driven rock of “Victim.”
As the band set up for “Strangest Thing,” Granduciel mentioned that the tour began in Austin, and was ending with this ACL performance (which explained both the ultra tight performance and the giddy energy). So he dedicated the evening to TWOD’s hard-working crew, who made their presence felt with a dramatic light show near the end of the atmospheric ballad. Granduciel then led the band into one of their most representative songs: “Harmonia’s Dream,” combining the sparkling synthesizers and vocoder-style vocals implied by the title’s citing the eponymous pioneering electronic band, with the acoustic guitar and soaring melodies of the heartland rock that they love equally. The fingerpicked guitar of Anthony LaMarca and the beautiful piano riffs of keyboardist Robbie Bennett heralded the arrival of “Living Proof,” another of IDLHA’s most earnest emotional explorations, TWOD kept that vibe going with the dreamier, but still affecting, “Occasional Rain.” As a familiar synth ‘n’ guitar intro of “I Don’t Live Here Anymore” began, the crowd began to cheer – Granduciel used the good will to introduce the band (including keyboardist/guitarist/harmony vocalist Eliza Hardy Jones, who had the unenviable task of subbing for Lucius), before diving into a magnificent performance of what has probably become the band’s signature song. The audience made its appreciation known loudly.
“Thinking of a Place” indulged in more lush textures, with guitarist LaMarca providing subtle slide, keyboardists Bennett and Natchez layering on the ear candy, and Granduciel cutting through with an industrial strength Jazzmaster solo. “Thanks for having us on the legendary Austin City Limits,” Granduciel remarked. “Growing up without cable TV, this is one of the only things I grew up watching.” Following a brief tech fix, a wave of heavenly synthesizers essayed the beginning of “In Chains,” a tune that deftly mixed shimmering dreampop and anthemic rock that earned ardent huzzahs. Granduciel donned an acoustic guitar for the first time this evening for the lovely ballad “Rings Around My Father’s Eyes,” in honor of his dad’s ninetieth birthday. The War on Drugs ended their set with “Under the Pressure,” the epic lighter-waving opener from their breakthrough LP, 2014’s Lost in the Dream. The song ended in walls of tremelo, looped feedback and electronics, the audience going wild with their hands in the air. It was incredible end to an incredible show, and we can’t wait for you to see it when it broadcasts this winter on your local PBS station as part of our Season 48.
The War on Drugs tape Austin City Limits, October 16, 2022. Photos by Scott Newton.