16 years later: Austin’s … Trail of Dead on that defining record

Released in 2002 on Interscope Records to immediate and overwhelming critical acclaim, “Source Tags & Codes” became the defining album for Austin art punks …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead before anyone in the band could really process what was happening to them.

Austin band …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead performs June 1 at Beerland. Katherine Fan for American-Statesman

Marked by constantly shifting soundscapes – languid and introspective one moment, aggressive and violently loud the next – it was an album that embraced a feeling of ambition and reach, and succeeded. It’s a record that felt capital-I important right from the drop. Although it hasn’t exactly overshadowed the rest of the band’s quality recorded output in the 16 years since, it’s the creative work they’ll be most quickly associated with for however long they remain an active unit.

Prepping for a string of international tour dates that start next week, the band called upon friends booking Beerland to throw a quickie tour prep show on Friday and used the occasion to perform their defining album in its entirety.

It’s an occasion that could have felt overly serious and grandiose, but with a mix of between-song levity from founding members Conrad Keely and Jason Reece throughout the night – lots of “Thanks for coming to our first show,” and “Here’s a new one”-type jokes – it instead felt like a celebration of a very specific time in Austin music.

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The live presentation of the album’s 10 core songs – interstitial “connective tissue” passages don’t translate live – reinforced how sturdy and well-composed a piece of work it is. This reviewer has long felt that the opening in leadoff track “It Was There That I Saw You” – a slowly building guitar figure interrupted by a single gigantic bass note, followed by an immediate cyclone of distorted guitars and thunderous drums – is pretty much the band’s best base components captured in just 20 seconds.

That was born out on Friday, with band friend and longtime Austin music compatriot Aaron Blount filling in on second guitar and fitting in seamlessly. More aggressive songs like “Homage” and “Days Of Being Wild” galloped even faster and louder than on record, but the restraint and tension of tracks like “Baudelaire” and “Heart In The Hand Of The Matter” were also on display throughout the nearly hour-long set.

In all it was verification that … Trail Of Dead circa 2018 is comfortable with their master work and more than capable of keeping the material fresh and vital for listeners old and new.
After the performance Reece and Keely sat down to talk about the album’s legacy and inspiration, and where they’re headed.

Austin band …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead performs June 1 at Beerland. Katherine Fan for American-Statesman

Austin360: How does it feel to kind of live in those songs 16 years after the record was released?
Jason Reece: For us it’s like going back in time. At the time we were very ambitious and thinking bigger picture. Not in a mainstream way, but we wanted to make an impression with an album that would go in a direction almost like what Public Enemy did with “Fear Of A Black Planet” or Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side Of The Moon.” The mentality was “Let’s make an album that is connected.” Tonight was weird because we didn’t have the segues between songs that were the connective tissue for the album that link everything together conceptually, like albums did often in the ’70s.

Revisiting the album this week, it struck how cinematic it felt, creating these vivid scenes and landscapes lyrically and with the music. Is that what you were trying for?
Reece: Of course. For us film is very important. Everybody in the band at that time was super into movies. The guitar player, Kevin Allen, worked at a video store before we got the “big money” from Interscope. Neil Busch was turning me onto these movies by (Rainer) Werner Fassbinder and we were weird arty punk rockers who were into film. Film was our common language and where we flourished. Lots of the songs were written off of inspiration from film and paintings.

The lyrics are absent any proper nouns or specific people and situations. Were you trying to make things more general and open?
Reece: We were trying to be egalitarian. At the same time we were in the Austin scene looked at as kind of a bunch of (expletive). At that time there was the Stevie Ray Vaughan blues rock, then a bunch of noisy experimental music, and then you had us and we were friends with lots of arty college students along with crusty punks. We didn’t fit in any of that stuff at the time. We were too arty for the punks, and too punk for the art people.

Conrad Keely: We played the “Source Tags” material for the first time at a house party opening for (blues punks) the Crack Pipes. We were still writing the songs at that point.

A-LIST PHOTOS: See more from Friday’s Trail of Dead show at Beerland

When the record came out it had such a huge reception. Was there pressure from that?
Keely: The kiss of death. There was never outside pressure because we always demanded more of ourselves. We wanted to make it ambitious. Sometimes when you do that you fall on your face, but that was the only pressure we felt. When we were writing it we were part of the rock scene here but I personally was part of the rave scene, before they passed the law that closed all the parties. I would go to raves because no one I knew would be there. I had my secret place with rave friends. That’s what I was into, with lots of house music. There’s actually references to that in the album. “It Was There…” is actually about a rave and one of the original lyrics is “I saw you at the rave,” but I changed it. So there were influences on the record from all over.

It’s such a product of where you all were at a specific time. It’s kind of a lightning in a bottle thing, isn’t it?
Keely: Definitely. We’d been touring Europe and met the band Mogwai and that got in there. I’d have to say most of our influences were our friends’ bands here in Austin. I was friends with the Prima Donnas and I thought we were in direct competition with that band, and others like Knife In The Water. I loved the eclecticness of that time in Austin. I wasn’t listening to what was going on nationally because I was so focused on the music from around here.

This many years on, how do you feel about how the album represents you as a band?
Keely: At first I disliked that. I would say at times that it was my least favorite of our records. When we were first asked to perform an album version of it about five years ago, I fought over it. But when we performed it, it felt really cool and felt good about the songs. I gained an appreciation for it that I’d lost.

What’s going on with the band creatively now?
Keely: We’re working on our 10th album, doing it a little bit differently since I’ve got a home base studio and I’m working out at Mosaic Sound Collective and we’re doing it there. It’s coming together more in bits and pieces, which is sort of how we wrote (2005’s) “Worlds Apart.” I’m curious to see how it all comes together.

Jack White shreds — his guitar and his songs — in show that’s basically all over the place

Maybe there’s something to be said for zigging when everyone wants you to zag.

Case in point: Jack White’s third solo album “Boarding House Reach” easily has been the most critically derided of his career, delivering musical and lyrical “What is he thinking?” moments every few minutes in what could be interpreted as a willing attempt to challenge as many fans as possible.

Jack White performs Saturday, Jan. 24, 2015, at the Austin Music Hall. Matthew Danser/For American-Statesman 2015

And yet, the Detroit native is at probably the most commercially successful point in his career, playing to packed arenas and amphitheaters around the country on a tour that looked close to selling out Austin360 Amphitheater on Wednesday night. Rather than turning away, White’s fans appear to be embracing his “We’ll try anything” approach, which has grown unchecked since retiring the White Stripes and saying farewell to his once-promising side projects.

If White’s fans were seeking a musical mystery tour he comfortably wore his captain’s hat on Wednesday, letting the material from his three solo albums squeal and sprawl all over the place and dramatically reworking material from the White Stripes’ catalog with a four-piece backing band that at times rendered the songs unrecognizable.

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The degree to which White was willing to bend and reshape old material was teased early, with a medley that featured snippets of the Stooges’ “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” the Raconteurs’ “Broken Boy Soldier” and early White Stripes favorite “Astro” swirled in noise, feedback and a cloud of other effects from his two keyboard players.

That those came after two new cuts – “Over And Over And Over” and “Corporation,” which itself is more a musical idea than a full song – provided a contrast that would remain for the bulk of White’s 100 minutes: The new stuff is pretty far out there and won’t get messed with too much, but everything else is getting chopped and shredded.

It’s worth saying that as adventurous as White was on “Boarding House Reach,” it contains a flat-out great rock song (“Connected By Love”) and a synthy thought experiment that was a somber highlight Wednesday (“Why Walk A Dog?”) that should keep their places in the meaty upper middle of his songbook. If they have to share a set with the rapping misfire of “Ice Station Zebra” and complete mess that is “Hypermisophoniac,” well, sometimes we’ve just gotta pay that freight as an audience.

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It helps that White was able to regularly follow the curiosities with moments of delight, such when the instrumental guitar shredding of “Battle Cry” gave way to a honky tonk reimagining of “Hotel Yorba” that chugged atop a new upright piano feature, with a mostly straight playing of the easy pop nugget “My Doorbell” providing a welcome 1-2 punch of familiar but not rote material.

By the time the send-‘em-home-happy riff of “Seven Nation Army” rang out, with the audience overhead clapping to the tribal stomp of White’s most defining song, both artist and fans celebrated the moment and the journey. A Jack White show is certain to be chock full of moments unexpected, with enough of the familiar favorites to keep both coming back again and again.

Set list:

Over And Over And Over
Corporation
I Wanna Be Your Dog/Broken Boy Soldiers/Astro (medley)
Battle Cry
Hotel Yorba
My Doorbell
Hypermisophoniac
Blunderbuss
Missing Pieces
I Think I Smell A Rat
Why Walk A Dog?
Astro (reprise)
Trash Tongue Talker
Love Interruption
Little Bird
Connected By Love
Slowly Turning Into You

Encore:

Sixteen Saltines
Ice Station Zebra
We Are Gonna Be Friends
Lazaretto
Seven Nation Army

Shakey Graves on new album ‘Can’t Wake Up,’ opening for Paul McCartney at ACL Fest

“Can’t Wake Up,” the first new full-length from Austin’s Shakey Graves since his 2014 breakthrough, “And the War Came,” drops on May 4, and sonically, it’s a departure for the Americana standout. The folksy sensibility and witty lyricism are still there, but the new songs emerge through a psychedelic haze. No longer the singer-songwriter with a one-man band who charmed audiences at the Hole in the Wall, he’s now making rich indie rock for a full ensemble.

Shakey Graves in Austin in May 2018. Deborah Sengupta Stith/American-Statesman

Austin fans who pre-purchase the album are invited to a special performance at GSD&M’s Back Lawn at 5 p.m. Thursday, May 3. You can pay for your copy of the album and pick up a wristband for the show across the street at Waterloo Records. Fans who already pre-purchased online should check their email for an invite.

After the release, the artist also known as Alejandro Rose-Garcia embarks on an extensive North American tour, playing large venues across the country including a Stubb’s show in Austin on June 16. Many of the dates are already sold out. He wraps the tour with a headlining gig at Denver’s magnificent Red Rocks Amphitheater in August. Then he’ll be back home for the Austin City Limits Music Festival in October.

We caught up with Rose-Garcia to talk about strange daydreams, the state of the world and what we can expect from his live shows this year.

Austin360: Talk to me about the title of the album, “Can’t Wake Up.” Where did that come from?

It kind of came naturally … really far on. I kind of waited until I had all the music and lyrics and kind of looked at it as a piece and tried to figure out what ties it all together. Something that I subconsciously did was talked about dreams a lot. Not dreams, like specifically dreaming, but fantasy and kind of irrational fears and regret. Just sort of like a bunch of head stuff, when you get trapped in your own head. I guess “Can’t Wake Up” is that. It’s when you get trapped in and you kind of can’t snap out of something.

There’s a hazy, dreamy quality to a lot of the songs.

I feel like there’s something zeitgeist-y that feels like that in the world right now. Not in a negative sense, but it feels like we’re kind of stuck in the middle of something, I’m not sure what. But as humanity we’re like, “We’ll go to other planets and Teslas and free thought and medical breakthroughs,” and also just like burning coal and hating each other … just destroying everything.

Shakey Graves performs for a small crowd of fans, friends, and contest winners at Geraldine’s on Rainey Street during SXSW 2018 in March. JAMES GREGG/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Your sound is very different on this album.

That’s funny too, because it’s still recorded in the same way that I’ve always made music. I made most of it in my house. A lot of the songs are me playing everything. It’s just that I’m into different stuff now. I seek different audio experiences. It’s very surreal.

Is part of it that you can afford to hire a band now? In the early days it was always just you.

That is true, but that also didn’t really affect my recording process, because I would just fake something. … There’s a lot more at my fingertips (now). I can play a piano or a mellotron or play drums or bass. I used to just have a guitar and so, of course, the music that comes out of me is going to be different. But it doesn’t mean that I wasn’t hearing this even when I just had a guitar. And it doesn’t mean that we have arrived at what I actually sound like. I hope to continue to just grow, I guess.

You say that the stuff you’re listening to is different. What kind of stuff are you into right now?

There was a time when I was only listening to prewar music or music from the ‘30s or Alan Lomax. There was something that I really liked about old music. And then also, I’ve always supplemented that with a really odd dosage of contemporary saccharine pop music. I’ve just always liked pop music and really loud aggressive noise music. Somewhere in between that is what I like.

That actually makes sense. I see you as somebody who’s approaching old-timey Americana with a very aggressive attitude.

Absolutely … I was one of those people who didn’t grow up liking the Beatles … kind of revolted against it. Now is the time I’m getting to actually experience the Beatles … and a bunch of the Kinks and stuff like that. A bunch of British pop music is now kind of in the forefront.

Shakey Graves performs for a small crowd of fans, friends, and contest winners during SXSW 2018 in March. JAMES GREGG/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

So you’ve moved from the ‘30s to the ‘60s is what you’re saying?

That’s exactly right … you nailed it.

Speaking of the Beatles, you’re on ACL Fest with Paul McCartney this year. How does that feel?

I’m really excited to check that out. ACL can be a tough festival to watch music at. Even when you play … you still have to fight your way in. I felt much less urge to fight my way to the front to see Deadmaus play. … But yeah, I’ll push my way forward to see Paul McCartney. I’ve never seen him and might not again.

David Byrne’s who I’m the most excited about. I’m reading his book right now and it’s saving my brain. … He put it out a little while ago. It’s called “How Music Works”… as I’m trying to design a new show … it’s helping me brainstorm ways to translate this record … and not have it seem alienating or inconsistent with other songs during the show. And also to make sure that even though there are going to be a lot of new soundscapes on the stage it still feels like you’re watching me do it.

What’s going to be different?

For instance, I play keys a lot on the record. … It’s all the questions. Do I want to stand and play a keyboard? Am I cool with sitting down? What does my stage look like? Can I make sitting down … feel like you’re in my house with me? Is there a way to make synthetic instruments feel homey? I’m going to try. … I have some tricks up my sleeve.

Shakey Graves poses for a portrait during SXSW 2018 in March. JAMES GREGG/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

IT’S McCARTNEY: A deeper look at the 2018 ACL Fest lineup

Ty Segall, Parquet Courts play it loud and loose as Levitation opens

Over the past 12 months while outdoor clubs along Red River Street have enjoyed a trial period of later weekend noise curfews as a tactic to increase bar business, Austin city staff closely monitored noise levels in surrounding neighborhoods and kept a close eye on any increase in complaints of loud music.

With no statistically significant uptick in noise disturbances to report and economic data showing modest increases in ticket sales and bar tabs – both a plus for Austin musicians – on Thursday the City Council voted to make the later weekend concerts permanent.

In this file photo, Parquet Courts performs at the Austin City Limits Music Festival in 2013. The band played Thursday as part of Levitation Fest’s opening night. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

In a fun bit of circumstance Thursday also happened to be the day that indie guitar hero Ty Segall wound up on the calendar at Stubb’s and delivered a majestically ear-shredding set so intense and just plain loud it’d be hard to imagine the folks up in Hyde Park didn’t get at least a little rumble and opportunity to head bang, if they were so moved. No word on whether the city’s 311 call center saw a spike on Thursday, but let’s all be grateful the later noise curfews are here to stay.

Wonkiness and wisecracks aside, the Segall/Parquet Courts double bill that was one of the opening volleys of Levitation Fest 2018 was as dynamic and energizing a touring show as you’re likely to have seen in Austin this year.

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After a raucous opening set from local punks A Giant Dog – themselves afforded a spot in front of a sold-out crowd because of the later noise curfew providing an hour more of show time – New York quartet Parquet Courts spent an hour displaying the many hues of post-punk they’ve become adept in since their formation in 2010.

A key to their success is an absolutely enormous bass and bottom end sound in nearly all of their material, making it danceable and somehow more personal than most of the spiky and jagged sounds favored by bands who trace their influences back to Pavement, Modern Lovers and Gang Of Four.

The more aggressive, almost hardcore leanings of the band’s newer material has clearly bled into some of their back catalog as well, with an early, extended run through “Ducking & Dodging” turned up in volume and vocal intensity as a pit of roughly 50 crowd members churned and jostled in front of singer Andrew Savage as he barked out a small epic poem’s worth of lyrics.

With stylistic turns aplenty – a two-song suite featuring an Omnichord synthesizer turned things slow and trancelike near the end – the set was an example of the variety crowds can enjoy with Levitation Fest expanding its scope from its beginnings as Austin Psych Fest.

At various points throughout his 90-minute set, Segall hued a bit closer to straight psychedelic rock, but any languid and trippy moments were soon to be swallowed up by a tornado of violent and noisy guitar. Acclaimed as one of the most talented and adventurous songwriters of recent indie rock vintage, it was at times hard to fathom how Segall makes a coherent, unified sound in songs where layered melodies and Brian Wilson-esque pop hooks lead into a vortex of guitar distortion and feedback.

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That contrast was on constant display Thursday but hearing the pristine beauty of “My Lady’s On Fire” braced against the noise-rock alto sax squawks and guitar shredding of “Can’t Talk To You” a few minutes later was a lesson in how performers can enrapture an audience by being willing to try anything creatively.

By the time Segall and his bandmates edged up to their close at 11 p.m. there wasn’t much sonic territory from the rock music canon that hadn’t been explored. As an indicator of what might be in store for the rest of the festival weekend, the show set an extremely high bar for the rest of the Levitation roster to try to reach.

En Vogue’s set and a tribute to Draylen Mason set powerful mood at Austin Urban Music Fest

By Kayleigh Hughes, special to the American-Statesman

The weather could not have been better on Friday night for the musical celebration that went down at Auditorium Shores during Austin’s 13th Urban Music Festival. On a crisp, clear night with a big full moon hanging bright in the sky, families, friends and lovers — our photographer snapped some great photos of a newly engaged couple — gathered to embrace the power of music, browse handmade art and fashion from local entrepreneurs, and, of course, sing and dance to one of America’s greatest girl groups, En Vogue. (Shoutouts to City Council Member Ora Houston and new Austin City Manager Spencer Cronk, who both made appearances onstage.)

En Vogue performs Friday, March 30, at the Austin Urban Music Festival at Auditorium Shores. Photo by Tess Cagle/For American-Statesman

Texas Jazz Explosion rocked it out as the first musicians of the festival’s evening stage show. While every performer in the group had a chance to shine with the kinds of solos and improvisations that make jazz performances so special, flute player Althea Rene stole the show with a presence and star quality I’ve never seen in a flutist.

FROM 2014: Soul Tree Collective trains young R&B musicians for the Austin Urban Music Festival

Singer Vivian Green took the stage next, delivering soulful R&B to a fun and receptive crowd. Green showcased her powerful vocals with songs from throughout her almost two-decade-long career as a performer, pulling out feelings of heartbreak, empowerment, sensual desire and playful nostalgia at various turns. Giving her backup singers plenty of opportunities to highlight their own strong voices, Green fostered an environment of collaboration and sharing, both on the stage and with the audience, who she encouraged to love themselves and had singing and dancing for almost her entire set.

Behind the scenes, the kids of Soul Tree Collective, sharply dressed in all white and glowing with youthful energy after performing onstage earlier in the day, donned pins honoring fellow musician Draylen Mason, who was killed in the recent Austin bombings. The gifted 17-year-old Mason was a bassist in Soul Tree Collective, the Austin nonprofit that supports and trains local young R&B musicians, and his life was honored throughout the evening. The young performers got to speak with the members of En Vogue backstage, even singing a few bars with the iconic group.

Members of Austin’s Soul Tree Collective hang out with En Vogue backstage on Friday, March 30, at the Austin Urban Music Festival. Photo by Tess Cagle/For American-Statesman

And before En Vogue took the stage, the Urban Music Festival took time for a moving tribute to Mason, showing videos and photographs of the remarkable young man and calling for the entire crowd to shine their cell phones and light up the night for him. Looking out at thousands of tiny dots coming together to form a sea of light, you could feel the weight of loss and the equally strong sense of community support that builds love and keeps people close during hard times.

It was a cathartic moment of release when the celebrated headliners finally took the stage, charging immediately into one of their most-loved tracks, “My Lovin’ (You’re Never Gonna Get it)”. Dressed in cool black ensembles, Terry Ellis, Cindy Herron and Rhona Bennett rocked choreographed dance moves and a vibrant energy that shows just how consistent these musicians have been throughout their remarkable career. During their concise, carefully planned set, the trio delivered hit after hit while taking several moments to speak directly to the crowd.

After the group poured out a performance of “Give It Up Turn It Loose,” Ellis spoke of Mason, requesting a moment of silence and dedicating En Vogue’s show to the memory of the young musician. Then, in what was perhaps the highlight of a night full of them, the musicians burst into an electrifying performance of “Free Your Mind” in honor of Mason.

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Playfully warning that Salt-N-Pepa were not onstage with them tonight and that “you don’t wanna hear us rap,” Ellis provided an introduction for the group’s smart, contemporary arrangement of the beloved single “Whatta Man,” which had the audience dancing, swaying and more than once shouting declarations of love toward the stage.

That evening, the savvy performers of En Vogue brought a celebratory experience to Auditorium Shores, sharing in the joy of the audience as they belted out one of the greatest soul, disco and R&B medleys of all time. From Diana Ross, Cheryl Lynn and Donna Summers to the Emotions, Marvin Gaye and Aretha Franklin, Ellis, Heron and Bennett held a crackling time-traveling party through some of the best of music history. The kids of Soul Tree Collective, stationed right up front, grooved along with as much passion as audience members from older generations.

Finishing with smash hit “Hold On,” En Vogue took their leave with an elegant choreographed bow and some final dance moves as they left the stage, closing out the night with one final reminder of what music can do for all of us.

(Urban Music Fest continues Saturday, with gates at noon and music starting at 3 p.m. Saturday’s headliners: Zapp, Dave Hollister and Johnny Gill. Soul Tree Collective is scheduled to play at 5:15 p.m. followed by a tribute to Draylen Mason at 5:45 p.m.)

• PHOTOS: See more from Friday at Urban Music Fest (including that newly engaged couple)

Review: ACL Live isn’t ACL Live without St. Vincent

By Bryan Rolli, special to the Statesman

“There is no place in the world I’d rather be than right here in Texas,” Annie Clark — better known by her stage name, St. Vincent — said three songs into her Thursday night ACL Live set, beaming as the audience applauded wildly.

Annie Clark, aka St. Vincent, plays Thursday, Feb. 22, at ACL Live. ERIKA RICH/For American-
Statesman

I, on the other hand, would have preferred she move 6 inches to the left.

A moving curtain obscured three-quarters of the stage for the first several songs of Clark’s 90-minute performance, blocking many viewers’ lines of sight. Not exactly the best way to build momentum, but if the show opened with a smolder instead of a roaring flame, it also served to represent Clark’s metamorphosis into a live solo artist. The avant-garde pop star’s decision to perform without a backing band on her Fear the Future tour has polarized some fans, but her steely determination and cacophonous outbursts proved so captivating that, by the time the curtains opened completely to reveal the singer in a pink leather bodysuit and matching thigh-high boots, it was clear St. Vincent would be running her own show. (She plays a second show Friday night.)

• PHOTOS: See a full gallery from Thursday’s St. Vincent show

Clark has divided her current tour into two acts, the first a chronological romp through her first four albums: 2007’s “Marry Me,” 2009’s “Actor,” 2011’s “Strange Mercy” and 2014’s “St. Vincent.” As the demure pop leanings of her earlier material gave way to more abrasive sonic textures, the author lost herself amidst the explosive beats and disorienting strobe lights. She wrung dissonant slabs of noise from her signature Ernie Ball Music Man guitar and spat off the stage during “Cheerleader,” swishing the lyrics around in her mouth before delivering them with a sneer: “I don’t wanna be your cheerleader no more.”

She wasn’t. We were all hers.

Annie Clark, aka St. Vincent, plays Thursday, Feb. 22, at ACL Live. ERIKA RICH/For American-
Statesman

Moments like these showed Clark’s penchant for vintage arena rock largesse, but she displayed pop star candor when she unstrapped her guitar and sat down in the center of the stage to sing the vulnerable alt-ballad “Strange Mercy.” Artists often use their stage personas to build a wall between themselves and their fans, but Clark eagerly engaged the audience between cathartic performances.

“We all know the world is on fire right now and everything is insane. We’re at a crucial arc in human history,” she said before playing electro-funk banger “Digital Witness,” whose “What’s the point of even sleeping?” refrain sounds like Prince’s “1999” updated for disenfranchised millennials. “But you know what? There’s always something to dance about. There’s always something to be joyful about. So let’s (expletive) go!”

Annie Clark, aka St. Vincent, plays Thursday, Feb. 22, at ACL Live. ERIKA RICH/For American-
Statesman

Clark devoted act two exclusively to her latest album, October’s “Masseduction.” A close-up of the singer wearing a stupefied expression swelled on the video screen behind her and gave way to the album’s crackling opener, “Hang on Me.” Surrealistic videos of crumbling telephone cakes, bandaged women receiving plastic surgery and hyperspace time travel accompanied other songs, and Clark hurled herself into the material with such vigor that an already-spirited act one turned out to be merely a warm-up. She ripped tasteful solos on the hypnotic “Los Ageless” and the sensual “Savior,” and she silenced the room with the spellbindingly melancholy “Happy Birthday, Johnny.”

Before playing the yearning, towering “New York,” which solicited the loudest applause of the night, Clark thanked the audience for their enthusiasm and boasted that she had “been to at least two keg parties here when my sister was at UT.” She buttered them up further by changing the song’s opening line — “New York isn’t New York without you, love” — to something more geographically appropriate: “Austin isn’t Austin without Texans.”

“It’s a little bit of circular logic, but just go with it,” she deadpanned after the ad-lib. And go with it, we did — because ACL Live isn’t ACL Live without St. Vincent.

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Austin’s Capyac serves up pancakes, the most fun to be had at ACL Fest

[cmg_anvato video=”4187546″]

Austin’s bizarro disco dance duo and co. Capyac are a flesh-and-funk-powered party machine. With infectious house beats, porno guitar, a pair of rappers, backup dancers, a pancake maker (yes, you read that right), saxophone, bongos, synth, and a sampler, the Austinites raised the bar for fun to a near insurmountable height during their early afternoon set Saturday at ACL Fest 2017.

The costumed bunch looked like they’re from a “Mad Max” future where funk is the most valuable resource—and the band is sitting on all of it the motherload (and letting it flow freely into the ears of all who pass).

A member of the band Capyac cooks pancakes on stage during their 12:15 p.m. performance at the Austin City Limits Music Festival in Zilker Park on Saturday October 7, 2017. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

After a series of stretches with the crowd and (apparently) giving one member of the troupe acid, the band opened with a slow, building take on jam “Speedracer,” a would-be monster hit played at least once daily around the world if there were radio justice in the world. From there, the setlist unfolded like one monster mix, seamlessly moving from one booty-shaking song to the next.

Capyac marked the third band I’ve seen within one-and-a-half days at ACL Fest featuring saxophone, but the group takes the honor for the most sax per minute you’re likely to see all weekend. And, boy, did that sax wail.

Between working the crowd into an uncontrollable boogie, the band injected some levity into the fest with their not-self-serious antics: singer and guitarist “P. Sugz” dressed like a cross between a cartoon pimp and a Joel Schumacher Batman villain and cheesed it up with the crowd (“Raise one hand… Now raise the other.”), beat-master “Potion” wore a necklace of fresh cilantro and a fuzzy Buckingham Palace guard hat, rapper KD Kinect donned a vinyl horse mask over a fishnet onesie, and an apron-wearing young woman flipped up fresh flapjacks from an electric griddle and tossed them into the crowd. It’d just be funny if they weren’t so seriously good at delivering a good time.

Even a lengthy sound issue couldn’t stop the band, who powered on as music only played through the stage-facing monitors for several long minutes, only to stick the landing as music was restored.

The fun stops (for now) for the locals, who were a Weekend One-only act and were previously penned in to play the now-canceled Sound on Sound Fest.

Roger McGuinn guides Austin audience through a six-decade musical journey

By Wes Eichenwald, special to the American-Statesman

In recent years, there probably haven’t been too many reviews of Roger McGuinn’s solo concerts that fail to mention either his age – currently 75 – or the enduring clarity and versatility of his tenor voice, which helped define 1960s commercial folk rock via the Byrds, the group he co-founded in 1964 with Gene Clark and David Crosby.

Roger McGuinn. Photo contributed by John Chiasson

Dressed largely in black and gray, with a rakishly tilted hat, McGuinn spoke and sung his way through a nearly two-hour account of his six decades in the music world on Saturday at the Paramount Theatre.

Alternately standing and playing, and sitting in a chair amid potted plants, three guitars and a banjo – the instruments seeming as organic in this setting as the plants – McGuinn, in a self-directed interview of sorts, conversed easily about his early life in Chicago, becoming inspired to perform from hearing Elvis on the radio (upon which he sang a few bars of “Heartbreak Hotel”), and spun tales of his eventful life, from his early days with folk groups the Chad Mitchell Trio and the Limeliters and pop singer Bobby Darin to later encounters with Bob Dylan and the Beatles. McGuinn spun a hypnotic mood in his stories-behind-the-songs tour de force, weaving a connecting thread between the likes of “Rock Island Line” and old sea shanties and gospel hymns, through to the Byrds hits “Mr. Spaceman,” “Eight Miles High,” and “Chestnut Mare.”

Roger McGuinn’s simple stage design for his solo concert tour. Contributed by Wes Eichenwald

With the precision of the folk-music archivist he’s been for over 20 years, McGuinn noted that he’d last played the Paramount in May 1991 and said some kind words about the efforts to preserve and maintain beautiful old theaters. McGuinn knows something about historical preservation, archiving a large number of traditional folk songs on the “Folk Den” section of his website and recording a four-CD set from the archive.

If McGuinn was at the right places at the right time to ride the waves from the cresting folk scene at the dawn of the ‘60s through his glory days with the Byrds, he also made clear he was willing to throw twists and turns into his musical career – as when, refusing to have the Byrds be pigeonholed as either folk rock or psychedelic, he related how they went to Nashville in 1968 to record the “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” album, helping to pioneer country rock in the process.

McGuinn showcased his vocal versatility on “Mr. Tambourine Man,” singing it first much as Dylan did in the original version, then as McGuinn reimagined it with an ear to radio airplay, with the help of Bach and his inner Beatle filter (from the first time he heard the Beatles, McGuinn recognized folk chord changes in the songs and realized the potential of “Beatleizing” songs with folk bones).

The audience of mainly graying baby-boomers ate up McGuinn’s clinic, rising easily for more than one standing ovation. Yet it wasn’t just a nostalgic exercise, it was a compelling journey to the still-beating heart of ‘60s folk, rock, and assorted creative exercises from the mind, throat, and hands of a master musician.

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Demi-charmed life: Demi Lovato shares her lighter side with lucky Austin fans

By Kayleigh Hughes, special to the American-Statesman

At the Austin stop of her intimate “Sorry Not Sorry” house party tour, pop superstar Demi Lovato showed she’s ready to embrace happiness. The singer brought smiles and jams on Saturday for a breezy, would-have-been-a-boat party along the shores of Lake Travis at Ernie’s on the Lake.

Demi Lovato performs a mini-set Saturday, July 15, for a small group of fans in Austin. Photos by Tony Fuentes-Ortiz/Contributed

The event’s premise — celebrating the release of Lovato’s new single with a private boat party for her biggest fans — was complicated by weather. (There must be some exasperation for artists who book weather-reliant events in the notoriously often-drought-ridden Austin, only to be faced with wicked horizontal rain on the day of their event.) But Lovato and her team handled the complication with grace, relocating the party to the lower-level of Ernie’s and decking the space out with giant balloon letters spelling out “Sorry Not Sorry.”

Demi Lovato arrives at an intimate appearance with fans on Saturday, July 15, in Austin. Lovato has been promoting her new “Sorry Not Sorry” song and video on a short house party tour.

Speaking to the Austin American-Statesman, Lovato explained that the house party tour is “a play off the music video” for “Sorry Not Sorry,” which is centered on a big bash. Lovato entered the venue with the poise of a seasoned professional and took to the stage to perform two songs in a jovial, high-energy mini-set. The first tune was, of course, the fierce “Sorry Not Sorry,” a ferociously confident pop banger. Lovato followed the new song with her smash hit, the sultry “Cool for the Summer,” before hopping offstage for a meet-and-greet with eager fans.

Lovato’s many fans, all grins and big hugs during their few shining moments with the star, are dedicated to her — and the relationship goes both ways. “I’m always connected with them,” the singer told the Statesman of her dedicated legions of “Lovatics.” “They’re just continuing to inspire me, and I’m just continuing to open up my heart and help them in whatever way I can.”

For Lovato, that help comes in many forms: speaking out about women’s rights; sharing photos on Instagram with inspiring body positive messages, such as an April 13 post that says “I don’t have a thigh gap and I’m still beautiful the way I am”; and writing anthems that are unafraid and unapologetic — and perfect for pumping loud when you need to build yourself up. When asked if that brazenness was natural or learned, she said, “I think it’s just a part of who I am.” Lovato added, “Growing up, I’ve always been unapologetic. I’ve been outspoken about the things that I believe in… I’ve never quieted myself for anybody.”

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Lovato has fought bipolar disorder, addiction, and eating disorders in her past, and the former Disney Channel star has bravely put much of her private life on display in service of starting real conversations about these issues. In 2015, she launched a mental health campaign, and in 2016, she performed at the Democratic National Convention, openly stating that while she was lucky to have been able to receive outstanding mental health care, not everyone is so fortunate. Of being an activist and a musician, Lovato said Saturday, “I feel like everyone can make a difference, and it’s important to use your platform for more than just your talents.”

But Saturday’s event indicated that the star is in a new place, both for her career and her personal life. For one thing, she’s not taking questions about mental health right now. Given how valuable Lovato’s frank, honest voice has been for reducing stigmas, you can hardly blame her for wanting a break. At 24, the lifelong performer has been through more than many 40-year-olds. And as any activist can tell you, it’s a draining business talking about such serious topics — made exponentially moreso when there’s a personal connection.

“I’ve shared about my struggles,” Lovato said. “But what people haven’t seen is the lighter side of me, the happier side of me.” With the house party tour and upcoming documentary “I Am: Demi Lovato,” she’s aiming to reveal — and revel in — that happier side. And what makes her happy? Lovato is quick to answer, zeroing right in on her biggest support systems: friends, family and fans. “The three Fs,” she calls them.

“I Am: Demi Lovato” also documents the artist’s experience recording a new album, which she confirmed to the Statesman would be released “by the end of the year.” Lovato says the project will have an R&B and pop focus. If “Sorry Not Sorry” is any indication, the singer is at the top of her songwriting game and will be dominating arenas on her next big tour. For now, though, she’s taking a moment to enjoy performing in small venues for her fans. “It’s been so much fun,” Lovato said. “I feel like I know my fans.”

Demi Lovato makes time to meet with fans during a stop Saturday, July 15, in Austin.

Review: Jason Isbell is at the top of his game and still climbing

By John T. Davis/Special to the American-Statesman

Sometimes the good things are worth waiting for.

Jason Isbell has spent the past few years collecting new fans, critics’ plaudits, Grammy awards and media attention with a near-mechanical regularity. The process seems to be peaking with the very recent release of his latest album, “The Nashville Sound.” It takes some serious momentum and buzz to pack ACL Live for three nights running.

07/14/17 Suzanne Cordeiro/ for American-Statesman Jason Isbell, along with special guests Mountain Goats, performed at ACL Live in Austin, Texas.

But there he was, onstage with his crackerjack band, the 400 Unit, in front of a crowd buzzing with anticipation. And there I was, laying eyes on him in person for the first time.

Well, better late than never. Oh, I’d seen Isbell in his former incarnation as a member of the Drive-By Truckers. But this new guy — the bandleader, the astringent, insightful songwriter, the forceful vocalist — was still, to me, a largely unknown quantity.

But not for long. That Isbell made one more convert during the course of a tight, 18-song set Friday night probably meant less than nothing to him. But to this audience member, watching a musician emerge onto a new and higher plateau of craft, assurance and showmanship was a rare treat to experience.

The musical template from which Isbell draws is full of sunny Americana-tinged hues that include folk, rock, country and blues. But many of his lyrics mine the same blasted landscape of fraught dead ends that has been mapped by James McMurtry, Steve Earle and Bruce Springsteen. Isbell’s music is the soundtrack of a man trying to prove to himself he’s still alive.

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“I used to think this was my town/What a stupid thing to think,” he sang on his opening number, “Hope the High Road.” “I hear you’re fighting off a breakdown/I myself am on the brink.” And he followed that with the Tom Petty-esque rocker “24 Frames,” which warned ominously, “You thought God was an architect/Now you know/He’s something like a pipe bomb/Ready to blow.”

Hard-hitting sentiments, to be sure, but Isbell isn’t a doom and gloom merchant. Rather, he was selling stoicism and transcendence: marching forward no matter what, clutching the hand you’re dealt.

He was aided in his efforts by the 400 Unit, an airtight quintet that features his wife, fiddler and vocalist Amanda Shires (she’s opening the shows Saturday and Sunday). Whether in semi-acoustic mode, as in “The Last of My Kind,” “If We Were Vampires” or “Something To Love,” or rocking like a Saturday night bar band on “Cumberland Gap” and an encore cover of the Allman Brothers’ “Whipping Post,” the band made the kind of multi-layered, full-throated sound that filled up every corner of the room. It was an exhilarating experience.

There were a couple of false moments. To these ears, “Something To Love” and “If It Takes a Lifetime” didn’t work in the context of the rest of Isbell’s taut and wary lyrics. There wasn’t a lived-in feel to the songs, and they seemed self-conscious. But that’s a subjective judgment, and a small caveat to what was a revelatory evening.

To judge by last night’s show Isbell certainly seems to be at the top of his game. That doesn’t mean he’s peaked, by any means. But you know he’s got to be enjoying the view.

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