In spectacular 'ACL' debut, R&B artist H.E.R. flexes her chops, channels Prince
Quick recap of the ways 22-year-old R&B sensation H.E.R. blew our minds in her debut "Austin City Limits" taping:
She seamlessly switched between four instruments in her first five minutes on stage, ushering “Carried Away” in as a laid-back, acoustic guitar-driven summer jam, then transforming it into a bubbling funk groove as she broke it down on bass and then keys before shifting to drum pad to segue into the swaggering “playa got played” anthem, “2.”
With a spectacular demonstration of range, she folded her Grammy Award-winning hit single “Best Part” between covers of Denise Williams’ “Free” and Lauryn Hill’s “Nothing Really Matters,” capturing perfectly the sweet, high falsetto of the former and the earthy soulfulness of the latter.
She packed such raw power into a gutbucket blues rendition of “Make It Rain” that the crowd cheered for three minutes straight before she could sing the final notes.
And in a breathtaking act of moxie, she chose to close her set with “Purple Rain,” picking up her clear electric guitar and channeling the spirit of the supreme pop maestro whom we lost far too soon in an ecstatic closer that left the crowd screaming for more.
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In between, she imbued “Hard Place” with such rock ‘n’ roll bravado, the love crisis song resonated with a triumphant air. She led a full-throated singalong of Lauryn Hill’s “X Factor” and deconstructed R&B tropes with the ode to self-love “As I Am.” Despite the crowd’s insistent cheers, there was no encore, because, really, how do you follow up a blazing “Purple Rain" cover?
But her tightly constructed and flawlessly executed set delivered a message that was received loud and clear to a diverse and elated audience at ACL Live: The artist who cloaks her name in an acronym for “having everything revealed” and wears sunglasses to obscure her face when she performs is not trying to be known first and foremost as a singer. She’s not a pop starlet with a few catchy hits. She’s a rare talent, a musical boss, and at the beginning of her career she’s blowing through goalposts many artists labor for a lifetime to reach. The sky’s the limit, and it will be thrilling to watch her rise.