It wasn't Martie Maguire and Emily Robison on stage with Natalie Maines, but the Dixie Chicks frontwoman had assembled a crack team of musicians – including Ben Harper, and a cameo from her father, Lloyd Maines – for her live solo debut last night. Taking center stage at Austin City Limits Live, Maines and co. worked through a handful of covers and originals that appear on her first solo effort, Mother, out May 7th.
As first songs are often wont to go, a few of the vocal turns during the chorus of opener "Without You" (off Eddie Vedder's Ukulele Songs) sounded a tad shaky, but Maines and Harper – who co-produced Mother – easily found their footing by the song's end, Harper's lap steel licks cozying up to Maines' vocals. Hardly a note was missed thereafter. Cheers came after Maines eased into "Mother," the LP's titular cover of Pink Floyd, though she gave the song a distinct, sprawling pang, as opposed to Roger Waters' clenched, pained original. Harmonies and the long draws from guest Brian Standefer's cello echoed throughout her gorgeous version of Jeff Buckley's "Lover, You Should've Come Over," though again it was Maines, sans guitar, who stunned as she let her voice run and burst sporadically into a falsetto.
A revved up cover of Patty Griffin's "Silver Bell" was another set standout, as was one of Harper's contributions to Mother, "Trained," a gritty, lighting-quick rocker that ended before anyone could catch their breath. While that track's three-guitar attack was undoubtedly impressive, Maines and co. peaked on their final song, "Take It On Faith," which she began by introducing her father, Lloyd. What started as a poignant ballad concluded in a riotous, roaring lap steel duel between the elder Maines and Harper, Natalie dancing and grinning wildly between the two.
A tough act to follow no doubt, but a new-look Iron and Wine was up for the challenge – even if this group had only been playing together for about a week. With a new album, Ghost on Ghost, out April 16th, the tremendously bearded Sam Beam lead this incarnation – complete with horns, strings, a pianist, and back-up singers – through new songs, and tweaked older cuts. In the latter category fell the woodwind whisked "Jezebel" and brassy renditions of "Belated Promise Ring" and "Wolves." (Props to Iron and Wine's horn section for nailing the side-to-side shuffle from the get-go.)
While the band closed their set with Ghost On Ghost's latest single, the jaunty, quick stepping "Graces for Saints and Ramblers," the true standout from the new material was album opener "Caught in the Briars." Starting with some appropriately prickly guitar picking from Beam, the sunny tune lurks towards an eerie, dissonant middle section with braying horns and sidling strings. But just as it seems like the song will fade into oblivion, it simmers back to life, Beam returning to the lyrics and melody of the beginning, only this time with a wonderful somber tinge, something a bit aching, almost mournful.
As the night dwindled to a close, so did the crowd, though Los Angeles folk-rock outfit Dawes were still set to take the stage, and they launched into tracks like "Most People" and "The Way You Laugh" as if ACL were still packed. "If I Wanted Someone," during which bassist Wylie Gelber found a supple groove for Tay Strathairn's bounding piano solo, elicited a much-deserved "That's how you do it!" from an enthused audience member. And as if to prove size really doesn't matter, Goldsmith – after unleashing a scorcher of a solo on "When My Time Comes" – turned his mic around as the band cut entirely and the crowd belted a resounding: "When my time comes! Woahh ohh, ohh, ohh!" You can't not call that a successful set.