ACL Live Shot: Pacha Massive, Blind Boys of Alabama, JD McPherson, and Jon Spencer Blues Explosion
An afternoon in the Gospel Tent no one could follow
By Thomas Fawcett, 11:07AM, Sat. Oct. 5
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The downtempo dub and Latin-electro grooves of Pacha Massive proved the perfect way to ease into a not-so-hot afternoon under the Zilker Tent. The abbreviated set by the NYC trio with Dominican and San Antonio roots was digital namaste, an aural appetizer of largely empty calories. At least there was shade.
The Blind Boys of Alabama, on the other hand, could’ve raised the dead with their heavenly harmonies and fourpiece backing band. From the first notes of Curtis Mayfield cover “People Get Ready,” it was clear that fans in the aptly nicknamed Gospel Tent were in for a treat.
Formed nearly 75 years ago, the Blind Boys shimmered in matching silver suits while delivering a masterful set of traditional spirituals, covers, and a sampling from new release I’ll Find a Way, produced by Justin Vernon of Bon Iver. On “There Will Never Be Any Peace (Until God Is Seated at the Conference Table),” the piercing falsetto of the Blind Boys’ newest member, Paul Beasley, proved heaven’s gift. A stirring, almost definitive version of “Amazing Grace” was filled with just that, the trembling howl of original founding member Jimmy Carter serving as an extended exclamation point.
The octogenarian then waded into the crowd, reaching out to grasp the hands of the screaming fans he was unable to see. An encore that appeared truly unplanned – it’s no simple task to exit four blind senior citizens offstage once, never mind twice (see photo gallery) – reached an even “Higher Ground.” The Blind Boys are a tough act to follow, a fact not lost on JD McPherson.
“We were a little nervous playing after the Blind Boys, I’ll be perfectly honest,” he said. “They just blew this stage up.”
The Okie wasn’t wrong, but he more than held his own, leading a crackerjack fivepiece – piano, drums, guitar, saxophone, upright bass – through a rollicking R&B and rockabilly jamboree tailor-made for the Continental Club. Sock hop single “North Side Gal” nearly raised the roof.
If the Blind Boys were a tough act to follow, the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion would have proved damn near impossible. The Nineties stalwarts returned with last year’s raw Meat & Bone after an eight-year hiatus. The power trio showed all grit and no rust, unleashing a deafening barrage of dirty blues, gutter punk, and no-frills rock & roll with a touch of distorted theremin for chaotic good measure. It was fast, furious, and fuck-off fantastic.
For more ACL Fest coverage, see austinchronicle.com/acl. For photo galleries from the fest, see austinchronicle.com/photos.