Monday, that most dreaded of days, turned out to be the perfect day for Margo Price to make her “Austin City Limits” debut.
Price’s melancholy-tinged country with a hint of hope was the perfect soundtrack for any world-weary fan who graced the doors of ACL Live on Monday night.
It was Price’s first taping of the long-running television show, but you’d never know it from how self-assured she sounded. Performing is nothing new to her. She cut her teeth on the East Nashville circuit for years, developing a sound that is equal parts Tami Wynette, Loretta Lynn, honky-tonk anthems and Memphis blues. Her ACL Fest debut was Sunday, and she seemed equally comfortable on the HomeAway stage there, too.
“Midwest Farmer’s Daughter,” Price’s debut solo album on Jack White’s Third Man Records, arrived on the Billboard country charts at No. 10 in March. For an independent female solo artist who had no previous history on the magazine’s country songs chart, it was a first-of-its-kind moment.
Her set Monday night focused on her ability to mine the light out of the pathos of everyday life. She makes mournful songs sound upbeat. Her philosophy seems to be that if the only way to deal with an ordeal is to write a song about it, at least you have that song.
“We went down on this epically bad tour in Florida about two years ago,” Price told the audience before playing “Desperate and Depressed.” “It was bad, but at least we got this song out of it.”
It’s one thing to hear songs from “Midwest Farmer’s Daughter” through headphones or car speakers. Listening that way, it’s easy to get caught up in the storytelling and songwriting in songs like “Desperate and Depressed” and “Since You Put Me Down.” Seeing those same songs performed live, the focus turns more to the musicianship. It’s an impressive feat when the audience is toe-tapping along to lyrics like “I killed the angel on my shoulder when you left me for another, I’ve been trying to turn this broken heart to stone.”
That’s a testament to Price’s five-piece band, the Price Tags, who used the live environment as an opportunity to add an electronic keyboard to “Tennessee Song” and an accordion to “This Town Gets Around.”
The audience couldn’t get enough, especially during the blues grooves in “Four Years of Chances” and the old-school twang of “Hurtin’ (On the Bottle).” For the latter, Price walked off the stage into the crowd, finishing the song dancing and surrounded by fans.
Despite the somber, world-weary nature of many of her songs, Price seemed to be enjoying herself, and she interacted freely with the audience.
“I love you too!” she shouted back after someone in the crowd yelled. “I mean, I’m married, but I love Austin.”
Those who saw her ACL Fest set Sunday — she’ll be back there again this coming Sunday — might have noticed a similar set list order. But Monday’s performance also featured a new song, “Learning to Lose.” Backed by a heavy amount of pedal steel guitar, Price crooned the song’s thesis: “Sometimes a blessing is a curse in disguise.”
Only Price could make such a cautious statement sound so catchy.
1. Swarmin’ (instrumental intro)
2. About to Find Out
3. Tennessee Song
4. Learning to Lose (new)
5. Black Rose (Billy Joe Shaver cover)
7. Since You Put Me Down
8. Desperate and Depressed
9. It Ain’t Drunk Driving (If You’re Riding a Horse) (Steven Knudson cover)
10. Hands of Time
11. Four Years of Chances
12. This Town Gets Around
13. I Wanna Be Your Mama Again (Doug Sahm cover)
14. Paper Cowboy
15. Hurtin’ (On the Bottle)
16. Travel On (Billy Grammer cover)
17. Old Ways (Neil Young cover)
18. Ooh Las Vegas (Gram Parsons cover)
The day after her ACL taping, Price joined us on Doug Sahm Hill for a more casual take of Sahm’s “I Wanna Be Your Mama Again,” with Doug’s son Shawn Sahm joining her: