Review: New Austinite Jade Bird wins big with a splendid 'Austin City Limits' taping
It’s an easy word to use given that it was the title of her breakthrough single, but “Austin City Limits” — and Austin itself — won the lottery with Jade Bird.
“Lottery,” a 2018 radio hit that Bird wrote when she was still in her teens, lit up the crowd when she and her band played it near the end of her first “Austin City Limits” taping on Monday night at ACL Live. It was just one of many highlights in a magnetic performance that focused largely on Bird’s upcoming second album, “Different Kinds of Light,” due Aug. 13 on Glassnote Records.
Bird's move to Austin from her native United Kingdom late last year was a major gain for the city’s music community during the pandemic. And for “Austin City Limits,” which strives to strike balances in its lineups — upstarts and legacy acts, locals and visitors, the show’s traditional roots and its more envelope-pushing later years — Bird was a perfect add. She's a local rising star whose music appeals to fans of both singer-songwriters and indie-rockers.
Bird’s new album, recorded in Nashville with red-hot producer Dave Cobb, likely will raise the stakes from her 2019 self-titled debut, based on the enthusiastic reception from those who attended Monday’s taping (which also was livestreamed). Bird played 10 new songs, adding six from her first album plus a few odds-and-ends to pack nearly 20 tunes into an hourlong set.
She opened with “Headstart,” an immediately catchy single released late last year that’s a worthy successor to “Lottery” but curiously is not on the new album’s tracklist. After the intensely energetic “Uh Huh” from her debut album, six of the next eight selections were from “Different Kinds of Light.” They ranged from the fevered rocker “Punchline” to the more contemplative “Houdini” to the bouncy melodic pop tune “Now Is the Time.”
Bird prefaced the folksy, upbeat love song “Prototype” by explaining that her grandmother had heartily approved of her finally writing something happy. “When I sent my grandma this song,” Bird recalled, “she said, ‘Oh yeah, that’s a hit.’”
Sprinkled amid the new tracks were two songs from a recent EP that shed further light on Bird’s range and talent. She moved to piano for a solo rendition of the poignant “Something American,” the title cut of an EP that introduced her to the world in 2017. And she teamed with guitarist Luke Prosser on a lovely acoustic duet version of Radiohead’s “Black Star,” acknowledging that their version was based on a cover Gillian Welch and David Rawlings have been playing for years.
Later in the set, Bird offered a cover of a song by an entirely different artist: Dolly Parton, and her mid-’70s country ramble “Do I Ever Cross Your Mind,” with Nashville singer Savannah Conley joining Bird and Prosser in three-part harmony. She mentioned the joy of singing the song on "Austin City Limits," which Parton has also played. They're generations apart in age and have different styles, but Bird's wide smile and effervescent personality bring Dolly to mind at times.
Just before the Parton tune, Bird played a solo acoustic number from the new album that she revealed she’d never played live before. “Red, White and Blue” grew from an encounter Prosser had with a Vietnam War veteran. “Make no mistake, you’ve done all you can do," she sang, "but there’s so much more to you.”
Near the end of the set, a crew member brought her a towel to dab the perspiration from her face, apparently after the camera crew had noticed it. “Sorry I’m all sweaty,” she said with a laugh. “Don’t think I’ve ever been told I look sweaty before!”
About the only misstep Bird made all night was failing to introduce her band, which provided exemplary support throughout. Prosser, who moved to Austin with Bird, is a kinetic force of nature on guitar, enhancing the music’s energy with his livewire bobs and weaves. Bassist Toko Yasuda's ultra-cool presence at stage left was a perfect foil for Bird's emotive performance. On one song, they stepped back and forth with each other in perfect sync, radiating the joy they clearly drew from performing together.
Austinites might have recognized a familiar face on keyboards. Micah Motenko has his own band that plays the local clubs, and since 2019, he’s often backed another Europe-to-Austin transplant, Irish-born singer-songwriter Pat Byrne. Rounding out the five-piece crew were drummer Matt Johnson, a ringer from the late Jeff Buckley’s band who’s played with the likes of Rufus Wainwright and Beth Orton, and guitarist/percussionist Bennett Lewis.
Jade Bird's "Austin City Limits" setlist
- "Uh Huh"
- "Black Star" (Radiohead cover)
- "Something American"
- "Now Is the Time"
- "I Get No Joy"
- "My Motto"
- "Red, White and Blue"
- "Do I Ever Cross Your Mind" (Dolly Parton cover)
- "Trick Mirror"
- "Love Has All Been Done Before"
- Encore: "Open Up the Heavens"
- Encore: "Going Gone"