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.
It’s no exaggeration to say that Pavement is one of the most influential bands in indie rock since the days of the Velvet Underground. The five-piece from Stockton, California rewrote the rules of how rock & roll could be presented, using a slacker veneer suffused in irony to disguise superior songcraft and musicianship, scoring underground hits with “Cut Your Hair,” “Range Life” and “Harness Your Hopes,” among others. The band’s influence even went so far as to have their late-period tune “Spit On a Stranger” covered by Nickel Creek during their 2002 ACL taping. So we were pleased to have the original band on our stage, as the band continues its recent reunion tour marking the 30th Anniversary of their seminal debut Slanted & Enchanted with their first-ever ACL taping.
Coming onstage to wild applause, the quintet – singer/guitarist Stephen Malkmus, guitarist Scott “Spiral Stairs” Kannberg, bassist Mark Ibold (last seen on our stage with Sonic Youth in Season 36) and drummers Steve West and Bob Nastanovich, plus guest keyboardist Rebecca Cole – opened with “Grounded,” a languorous rocker from the band’s third album Wowee Zowee. “Summer Babe,” a near-perfect example of Pavement’s patented tight-but-loose approach to guitar rock, followed, revealing what caught the ears of rock cognoscenti with the release of Slanted & Enchanted, their 1992 debut album from which the tune hails. The band kept the engine running even hotter with “Stereo,” a blazer from Brighten the Corners that revels in discordance as much as tunefulness and earned huge cheers. Malkmus turned up the jangle with the intro to “Black Out,” his laconic singing offsetting the song’s inherent prettiness, before the crunch returned with the rock anthem “Embassy Row,” during which Nastanovich wandered the stage, blurting into his microphone. The brief “Zurich is Stained” was followed by the power popping “Trigger Cut,” one of those songs you don’t realize you know until you find yourself singing along.
Nastanovich then took the mic for the ranting, raving “Two States,” one of the group’s not-too-subtle nods to British postpunks the Fall, one of Pavement’s chief inspirations. After that short sharp shock, Malkmus brought the band back to (relative) sanity with the dreamy, psychedelic “Type Slowly,” which let the bandleader take an extended guitar solo. Fan favorite and streaming champ “Harness Your Hopes” arrived next, its laid back pop melody inspiring loud noise from the crowd. The hits kept coming with the equally catchy “Spit On a Stranger,” another late period Pavement perennial. “Unfair” once again featured the stage-prowling Nastanovich, providing more unhinged shouting to contrast with Malkmus’ languid croon. Pavement then went into the less frenetic “We Dance,” before giving Kannberg the spotlight for the rock ‘n’ rolling “Painted Soldiers,” the band’s contribution to the Kids in the Hall’s film Brain Candy that elicited some surprised cheers. That led into “Fin,” another dynamic ballad that lulls us into a false sense of calm before the guitars take over.
That served as a palette cleanser, however, for the final round. The band launched into its penultimate song, and one of its biggest faves, with “Range Life,” a sort of reworking of pastoral country rock that took shots at more famous nineties rocker of their era. There was only one way to close the show, as became obvious with the familiar “whoo-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo” that begins “Cut Your Hair,” the band’s Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain favorite that garnered fevered applause from the audience. This wasn’t so much a nostalgia show as it was proof that great songs hold up over time, 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.
Pavement tapes Austin City Limits, Oct. 10, 2022. Photos by Scott Newton.
We all found different ways to pass the time during the pandemic. Famed Austin guitarist and producer Adrian Quesada spent his time listening to classics from the balada movement of the 1970s Latin music world, becoming so enchanted he decided to record an album of songs in that style himself. Boleros Psicodélicos – literally “psychedelic boleros” – features guest vocalists from across the spectrum of contemporary Latin music, from indie rock to grand pop, garnering accolades across the board. For this special ACL taping, which is only the second time this music has been performed live, Quesada welcomed eight sensational guest vocalists to the stage, nearly every singer from the album, to bring to life their album performances, plus some special additional songs.
Dressed in variations on basic black, Quesada and his nine-piece band (including strings, horn, vibraphone and keyboardist Jaron Marshall from Quesada’s other band Black Pumas) opened the show with “Starry Nights,” a lush and funky instrumental taken from Jaguar Sound, his forthcoming LP that draws inspiration from library music, hip-hop, psychedelia and Italian film scores. Following that scene-setter, Quesada brought on Mireya Ramos, the leader of New York’s all-female mariachi Flor de Toloache, for the first song from Boleros Psicodélicos: “Tus Tormentas,” a ballad with a laidback hip-hop backbeat and spectacular singing and violin from Ramos. Marshall then laid down some ethereal organ as an intro to “El León,” a swaying, melodramatic bossa nova featuring Chicago rocker Rudy de Anya. Mexico City’s sultry R&B Latin singer Girl Ultra took the stage for a pair of tunes: the original ballad “El Payaso,” which featured a ringing solo from vibraphonist Carolyn Trowbridge, and a cover of the groovy “Trigal,” a 1969 hit for Argentine singer Sandro.
“How does this happen? You’re all here singing along to boleros at ACL Live,” noted Quesada happily, mentioning the chills he gets from playing in front of the iconic ACL backdrop. He then welcomed potent singer Angelica Garcia for another combo, starting with the opulent “Puedes Decir De Mi,” from the catalog of Cuban superstar La Lupe that earned a wave of applause, and ending with the sweeping, sensual original song “Ídolo.” Subbing for the absent Gabriel Garzón-Montano and carrying a colorful parasol, Mexico-to-Austin vocalist and Jumbo frontman Clemente Castillo joined the band for “El Paraguas,” an acid-tinged ballad in waltz time with a dynamic Quesada guitar solo. Explaining the concept of the album, Quesada welcomed to the stage Argentinian singer and Thievery Corporation associate Natalia Clavier, the first singer to grasp Quesada’s concept by recording “Esclavo y Amo,” a drama-filled 1975 hit from Pervuian/Mexican band Los Pasteles Verdes. She also performed the sprightly, synth-frosted, rock-accented tune “¡Adios!,” which she previously recorded with another of Quesada’s projects, the Echocentrics. Rising young Guatemelan singer Tita then came on to perform the sentimental, seductive “El Muchaco De Los Ojos Tristes,” a 1982 hit from Spanish singer Jeanette.
Quesada closed the show with a back-to-back dose of star power, as vocalist iLe – former frontwoman of Puerto Rican powerhouse Calle 13 and sister of ACL veteran Residente – took the stage for a stirring take on Cuban singer and queen of bolero Olga Guillot’s 1967 hit ballad “Bravo,” to huge audience reaction. She and the band closed the show with the lively Quesada/iLe original “Mentiras Con Cariño,” the opening cut of Boleros Psicodélicos, on which Ramos returned to add her emotional violin soloing. As a coda, Quesada introduced the band and the singers, leading them all in a final bow. It was an incredible show, one not likely to happen again anytime soon, 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.
Adrian Quesada brings his Boleros Psicodélicos to Austin City Limits on Oct. 9, 2022. Photos by Scott Newton.