SXSW Review: Natalie Maines, Iron and Wine, Dawes @ ACL Live
We opened our week-long South by Southwest coverage by hitting up one of Austin’s quintessential hole-in-the-wall bars, The Belmont, to witness music’s next generation amongst the sweaty masses. Last night, we went to the opposite end of the spectrum, visiting the new ACL Live at Moody’s Theatre comfortably tucked into the W Hotel. It is a 2750 capacity venue with a seated balcony where they film the long running, PBS series Austin City Limits. Coming to life in 2011, it took over ACL duties from Studio 6A in the Communications Building B. The top of the line venue features great acoustics and all the modern lighting upgrades.
Our draw for the evening was Dixie Chick Natalie Maines and Iron & Wine, but we were pleasantly surprised by the other gems we happened to discovered along the way. Indie-folk outfit Lord Huron opened our evening. Hailing from the bright lights of Los Angeles, they sounded like they’d be more comfortable playing a smoky, back alley bar than the glitzy Sunset Strip. Lord Huron have a very understated sound that has tints of Band of Horses and My Morning Jacket. Their debut album Lonesome Dreams hit last year, and they had a couple EPs to their credit in the years prior. They got to play a full 45-minute set so they tapped into their debut, playing tracks like “She Lit a Fire” and “Time to Run,” giving the uninitiated a healthy taste of their sound. The quintet is an impressive group that seems to be hitting all the right notes and grabbing the attention of the music industries movers and shakers. For those who missed their ACL Live set, Lord Huron will continue their SXSW run by playing Antone’s Wednesday (8:45pm) and Friday nights (11pm).
Natalie Maines of Dixie Chick fame took the stage next. She is currently performing to support her solo project, though she is getting together with her Dixie Chick sisters for a handful of festivals this summer. Maines was channeling her inner Pink with her punk haircut and leather pants.
Her new album Mother is due in stores on May 7, but we got an advanced look at the work. Looking at the playlist for the evening, Maines played the album cover-to-cover. Covers are a popular thing on Mother. Be it Eddie Vedders “Without You”, Pink Floyd’s “Mother” or Jeff Buckley’s “Lover You Should’ve Come Over,” Maines is stating emphatically with Mother that her ill-fated country days are behind her. It’s been a solid decade since her extremely controversial comments about the war in Iraq and George Bush that got the band exiled from country radio. That dark cloud that seemed to hover over her appear to have dissipated. Regardless, it’s good to see her shedding the skin of her past life to push her music career forward.
The audience got a surprise treat in the form of Ben Harper. Maines worked with Harper on two of his covers (“Trained” and “Vein in Vein”) for the album, so he grabbed a seat and played various guitars throughout her set, contributing backing vocals at times. It was strange to see a star of Ben Harper’s caliber relegated to the back seat, but it was pretty cool nonetheless. Harper did rise up for “Trained” to do a proper duet with Maines. Natalie Maines sounded great. She has weathered the years and seems to be stronger for it.
Samuel Beam, or better known to the music world as Iron & Wine, greeted us next. He broke onto the music scene in 2002 and seemed to make an instant impact on the indie low-fi landscape. He was prominently featured on the Garden State and In Good Company soundtracks. His quiet strum and understated voice seemed to make him stand out in the rock landscape. In the years since, he’s largely abandoned the sparse ballads to divorce his voice as the sole focus. Now the various elements of the song mingle together to complement one another for a much fuller sound. That was never more evident than his stage setup at SXSW. He brought his new band along that numbered 13 members complete with a string and horn section, a piano and backup singers. He was also debuting his upcoming album, Ghost on Ghost, during his set, Unlike Maines, he didn’t religiously construct his set list to highlight only his new material. We got plenty of looks though as he featured songs like “Grass Widows” and “Caught in the Briar.” The new work has a very Adult Contemporary vibe to it. I’m not sure if it’s the full band that takes the sound in this direction, but it is a bit of a departure from the Iron & Wine we’ve known of late. While it was a good set, I don’t know how the new material is sitting well with me. I’ll give the album a few listens when it hits April 15 before I make up my mind. For those who missed Iron & Wine at the ACL Live, you can catch him giving encore performances at the Radio Day Stage at the Convention Center on Friday (1:10pm) or at the Central Presbyterian Church on Saturday (12am).
Dawes wrapped up our evening at the Moody Theatre. Another Los Angeles band, they lean on their folk-rock sound that seems to have a bit of Wilco with a splash of Neil Young. The brothers Goldsmith recently snagged the plush gig of opening for Bob Dylan on his upcoming tour, and it’s easy to see why. They’ve got a great sound supported by Taylor Goldsmith’s vocals. Taylor has a great energy on the guitar and rips into jams at will. I look forward to following the path of Dawes to see how far up music’s totem pole they rise.
The ACL Live at Moody’s Theatre was a great venue to see this array of artists. It may not have the gritty club feel that seems to be SXSW’s signature, but there is a lot to be said for clean bathrooms and having space to breathe. Continue to follow our quest through Austin as we keep the South by Southwest coverage rolling through Sunday.