H.E.R. Schools Austin Fans in Music History and Instrumental Mastery During Stunning Moody Amphitheater Show

She isn't Prince, but she might be his No. 1 student

H.E.R. performing at the Moody Amphitheater on Thursday, April 21. (Photo by David Brendan Hall)

If you consider the meaning of H.E.R.’s namesake acronym – Having Everything Revealed – in the context of Thursday night’s full-capacity show at Waterloo Park’s Moody Amphitheater, there’s no question she lives up to those terms.

In the span of 90 minutes and about two dozen songs, the California-bred artist, born Gabriella Wilson, opened a window to her soul, unveiling everything from her undeniably arresting musicianship and performance skills to her collegiate level of music history knowledge.

“We’re gonna be going through a lot of different moods and vibes tonight,” she said following a solid grip of invigorating R&B anthems, which kicked off with DJ Khaled collabo “We Going Crazy” and eventually smoothly segueing into the Grammy-nominated “Damage,” one of many pulled from 2021 debut full-length Back of My Mind.

At most other shows, that would come off as a typical sentiment, but here it was a promise of something extraordinary. Throughout the rest of the show, she was a masterful maestro of those moods, effortlessly maintaining slack-jawed status among her faithful fans while she touched on most of her career highs and spotlighted her biggest inspirations.

H.E.R. (Photo by David Brendan Hall)

Much of that unerring wow-factor came from her stunning vocal range, which exudes serious Aretha Franklin x Beyonce vibes on “Girl Like Me” (a 2021 feature with Jazmine Sullivan) and achieved the level of Mariah Carey’s pristine falsetto flourishes on the blues-heavy Foy Vance cover “Make it Rain.” But just as much stupendousness sparked from her display of command on a band’s worth of different instruments.

She transitioned from vocals-only to piano accompaniment for singalong standout “Losing,” the “song that started it all,” then picked up an acoustic guitar to lead her four backup singer-dancers through the sultry “Comfortable,” a 2020 ballad off the Robert Glasper helmed soundtrack for The Photograph. The six-string stayed for a medley of upbeat groove “Cheat Codes” and Lauryn Hill’s “The Sweetest Thing.”

That was the first salute to her diversified influences, and – after drawing the evening’s loudest cheers on Daniel Caesar duet “Best Part,” which featured her 17-year-old (!) backup singer Miles Caton nailing a baritone take on the vocal accompaniment – she spent the remainder of the show honoring her forbears while cycling through her instrumental talents.

H.E.R. (Photo by David Brendan Hall)

The most direct instance was a cover of Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues,” a blast of jazz scatting and fortified funk, initially handled by her four-piece band spread out across the top of her backdrop visual screen, then rounded out by H.E.R. unleashing on an electric bass. She kept the four-string for the Grammy-winning “Fight For You,” then switched to electric guitar for “Hard Place,” which ended on a blazing solo (complete with Van Halen-style neck hammer-ons) not coincidently complemented by a purple hue to honor an obvious hero, Prince.

The Purple One’s skills are inimitable, but H.E.R. is undoubtedly a top scholar of his legacy, and that’s just a fraction of her schooling. Shred-heavy snippets of Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock ’n’ Roll” and Queen’s “We Will Rock You” ushered in the epic gospel of “Glory,” and the history lesson was routed out with a full cover of Lenny Kravitz classic “Are You Gonna Go My Way.”

And then she was on the drums, giving Anderson .Paak a run for his money as she unwavering navigated the skins while singing the first verse of “We Made It,” which ended with H.E.R. on her knees, blazing through one last screaming solo.

That would’ve been a formidable finisher, but H.E.R. is clearly the type of artist always seeking to top herself, and she did so with ease by playing a just-written, unreleased banger for the encore. The chorus, “With everything in my soul/ I’d lose it all for you,” could be interpreted as a declaration to a lover, but here it likewise felt like a tribute to the fans, who were singing the words flawlessly by song’s end. The moment revealed a definitive portrait of H.E.R.’s character: funneling every iota of (deserved) ego into learning about and conquering her craft in service of self-fulfillment and, more importantly, her audience.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle