In 2014, Jack Antonoff began hosting a yearly concert for the Ally Coalition, a non-profit started by his band Fun. that provides funding to on-the-ground organizations who support at-risk LGBTQ youth. Over the past half-dozen years, Antonoff’s Ally Coalition Talent Show has blossomed into a star-studded night of surprise musical collaboration, with previous special guests and performers including Taylor Swift, the National, Kacey Musgraves, Lana Del Rey and Lorde.
Thursday night’s show was no different (“Our best year yet,” Antonoff said at the conclusion), featuring mini-sets from Jason Isbell and surprise performances from Ezra Koenig and Carly Rae Jepsen. But the evening’s clear-cut high point came late, when the Dixie Chicks took the intimate Town Hall stage to a rapturous standing ovation before launching into a note-perfect four-song performance.
A slew of stand-up comedians also performed, with Mike Birbiglia, Roy Wood Jr., and Jacqueline Novak all delivering first-rate sets. But the most memorable moments of the evening were all musical. Here are the five best.
Jason Isbell debuts a sweet new song about fatherhood.
Isbell, who is apparently collaborating with David Crosby in Nashville, sandwiched a touching solo version of “If We Were Vampires” with two brand-new songs from his upcoming 2020 album, which he told the crowd he had just recently finished. The second, “Overseas,” has been showing up in setlists with the 400 Unit over the past few months. But it was Isbell’s opener, the world premiere of a yet-untitled reflection on fatherhood and watching one’s daughter grow up, that hit the hardest Thursday evening. “Being your daddy comes natural/Roses just know how to grow,” Isbell sang during its chorus. “It’s easy to see that you’ll get where you’re going/But the hard part is letting you go.”
The Dixie Chicks triumph with return to the stage.
“It’s been a long time since we played on a stage,” Natalie Maines told the crowd before launching into the group’s opening “Truth #2.” Two and a half years after the end of their 2016-2017 comeback tour, the Dixie Chicks (introduced by Antonoff as “my literal favorite band”) triumphed during their 25-minute headlining performance, which included a sing-along performance of “Landslide,” “Not Ready to Make Nice,” a happy-birthday song for Maines’ niece Esther, and a touching night-closing cover of the 1971 Joni Mitchell Christmastime classic “River.” The trio shied away from testing out any new material, despite having been long at work on their first studio album since 2006 with Antonoff (“We have been taking up most of Jack’s time for the past two years,” Maines told the crowd). “Play every song you wrote!” screamed one fan halfway through the Dixie Chicks’ too-brief set. Most everyone at Town Hall felt the same.
Bleachers cover Bruce Springsteen.
During Bleachers’ stripped-down set, Antonoff segued from “Everybody Lost Somebody” directly into an endearingly sloppy cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Tougher Than The Rest.” Halfway through the song, he shared that Bleachers listen to the Tunnel of Love classic together as a band each night before they take the stage, but had never performed it before. After a decent knockoff Clarence Clemons solo and a few choruses, however, Bleachers had sufficiently paid tribute to their Jersey roots.
— Rich Russo (@DJRichRusso) December 13, 2019
Ezra Koenig and Dev Hynes trade verses on Vampire Weekend’s “Married in a Gold Rush.”
After running through a feel-good version of “A-Punk” with Bleachers, the night’s first surprise guest, Ezra Koenig, brought out yet another surprise guest, Dev Hynes (Blood Orange), and Jason Isbell for a spirited version of “Married in a Gold Rush,” his understated Kenny Rogers/Dolly Parton homage from Vampire Weekend’s Father of the Bride. “This is very loose right now,” Koenig said of the newly formed group, which featured Antonoff on drums. Hynes and Koenig traded verses on a wonderfully fresh rendition of the song, with Hynes taking Danielle Haim’s parts and singing the high-harmony on the chorus.
Carly Rae Jepsen offers an unreleased deep cut.
Later in the evening, the Town Hall crowd gave a thunderous welcome when surprise guest and Ally Coalition Talent Show veteran Carly Rae Jepsen joined Antonoff for a three-song set that included a duet on Bleachers’ “Shadow’ and a feel-good victory lap on “I Want You In My Room.” But Jepsen’s second song, an unreleased two-minute mid-tempo ballad she had worked on with Antonoff, was the pinnacle. “I don’t know what I’m feeling/but I believe,” sang a nervous Jepsen, who said she had never performed the song before. “I was thinking about making a comeback/Back to me.”
— Scott Interrante (@InterranteScott) December 13, 2019