Anderson East is skilled, confident, and exudes passion. He’s got a full – and huge – backing band that shares those attributes, too. On top of that, East works in a genre that, perhaps as much as any other, is simply a perfect fit for the Moody Theater stage. So, it’s no wonder his debut at Moody for an “Austin City Limits” taping on June 22 was a resounding success, going over big with the crowd.
Alabama-raised and now Nashville-based, East fills one of those niches that you hope people don’t forget about in today’s stylistically scattered music world: The soul singer who works some easy rock and touches of country into the mix. While Moody can and does host musicians representing dozens of different genres and subgenres, there’s just something about a captivating, powerful soul belter steadily and powerfully pushing a song to its climax that fits everything about Moody: Its lighting, its nighttime skyline backdrop art, and its condensed size. The environment was ripe, and East delivered.
East, 29, might be best described as a highly successful up-and-comer; he’s not an everybody-knows-him name yet, but he does have a pair of top-5 adult alternative hits, including No. 1 “All on My Mind.” He had plenty of reasons to step on the Moody stage as a confident man, and he did so. Here’s one sign of confidence: Kicking off your first-ever Moody set with a Willie Nelson cover. East’s version of “Somebody Pick Up My Pieces,” which appears on his newest album, Encore, won over the Moody crowd immediately. From there came one more cover, “Sorry You’re Sick” by semi-obscure folk singer Ted Hawkins, before Anderson’s originals carried him through.
Hearing East sing live for the first time, the first reference point that comes to mind is Van Morrison. His voice sounds nothing like Van’s, but his phrasing and dynamics carry a clear influence. The smokiness and gruffness are his own, although at times you can hear some James Brown during East’s loudest, highest vocal bursts, and even a little bit of Springsteen at times, too. He and the band – featuring a keyboardist, two backing singers, and several string players as needed – marched through all the adult alternative hits he’s accumulated since 2015, including “All on My Mind” and fellow AAA top-5’er “Girlfriend.” Pre-encore set closer “This Too Shall Last,” one particularly Van-reminiscent vocal performance, provided another highlight, as was “King for a Day,” the opening song on Encore.
Barring a premature and unlikely downturn in his career, it’s likely East will make a return trip to Moody before too long, and he’ll likely please the crowd just as much as he did the first time. He, his cowriters and his backing players are churning out resonant, genre-straddling soul that doesn’t have a lot of similar competition in the current alternative market. But as it marches toward a 45th season and beyond, “Austin City Limits” can always use more of it. So can we.
Anderson East – ACL Moody – June 22
Setlist (courtesy of Setlist.fm):
Somebody Pick Up My Pieces
Sorry You’re Sick
King for a Day
Devil in Me
If You Keep Leaving Me
All on My Mind
This Too Shall Last
Encore: House is a Building