Just days before SXSW, The Arlie’s Angels tour created overnight converts to the psychedelic pop music of Arlie, right here in Austin, Texas. Behind the famous Moody Theater (home of the hundreds upon hundreds of historic ACL Live tapings) sits the very venue where the band reached far beyond an intimate performance and well into transcendence that will be a tough act for any SXSW performer to follow. In the company of opening bands The Sewing Club and Whitehall, the lineup was unmistakably curated for a quintessentially indie rock out-of-body experience. Proven heavenly in Arlie’s songwriting, recordings, and even acoustic renditions of their hit tracks, their packed crowd at 3Ten ACL were taken from general admission to cloud nine.
Arlie started as frontman Nathaniel Banks’ solo project back in 2015, eventually putting together an entire band by fall of 2016. Fast forward through the bedroom pop demos, beyond the millions upon millions of streams and countless shows over the last eight years, it all led up to one incredible show on March 8th on the Arlie’s Angels tour. Crushing it on the stage were drummer Luke Shepherd, keyboardist and backing vocals Ella Mine, bass player (with one hell of an entrance) Luke Saison, and shredding guitarist Aaron Umberger. Hailing from Nashville, their sound as a band transcended space and time altogether. With an energy unmistaken and near impossible to match, the chemistry between all the members quickly became one of my favorite components of the live Arlie show. Dressed in all white, they brought color through mind-melting sonic artistry unique to this indie pop band.
Kicking off the show with a presence of legendary caliber was the low-end rhythmic force and bassist. A shred-ready scowl under a gorgeous mustache amped up a crowd in kick ass rock and roll attitude, ushering in the drums in impressively tight and thunderous energy. By the time the keys and the guitarists came onto the stage to electrify the air, it wasn’t long until we saw the flapping wings and bouncing curls of Arlie’s frontman. He was so pumped that his heart shaped 60’s style shades flew high off his face, well before an impressive leap off the towering bass amp. Upon this angel’s landing, the band kicked it from first to third gear in no time flat, and the crowd was losing their minds. With a clear precedent for the over hour long set that was to come, they set a bar high as the heavens and floated right over top of it through to the very end of the show.
In pure rockstar fashion, the band ripped through a collection of stellar songs like barcelona boots, findaway, didya think and crashing down. Between distorted licks and drums hitting sweeter than your first hit of acid, I lost track of how many pedestrians stopped dead in their tracks to rubberneck towards the psychical guitar runs. The band riffed alongside each other with an organic synergy to power through the set, engaging the crowd like they were part of the band, too. When I thought it couldn’t get any cooler, Whitehall’s previous “mystery guest” in a blue curly haired wig and shades, saxophone and beer in hand, appeared on stage as Arlie’s frontman slipped away (in the same way that you never see Peter Parker or Spider-man in the same room.) One man in the crowd mentioned that, “Kenny G’s got a contender.”
The vocalist, complete with feathery wings on his back, came dressed for a clear demonstration of ascension. Effortless falsettos among playful wrist-flicks of the mic cable as the crowd’s faces lifted in beaming, impressed smiles. The spirited antics of his stage presence proved captivating with even more left up his sleeves. (I mean, his bright white top didn’t have any sleeves on at all, but I digress.) Vocal harmonics in an ethereal reverb made the restless crowd fall silent, finding a holy matrimony with a deeply resonant synth pad pedal note. Austin’s younger crowd has a bit of a reputation of losing attention more than it used to, but maybe we were in church after all given the miracle of captivation this had on the crowd alone. I’d go as far as saying Imogen Heap, unofficial patron saint of vocoders, would give her blessing on this part of the set.
There was a moment I’ll be revisiting many times when I think of pins dropping, of vulnerability, of being someone to be believed in; that was when the entire crowd fell from lofty heights of chatter to flat line silence when Arlie brought out a ¾ size acoustic guitar. No electronics. No insane saxophone skills (although, yes, that part of the show was insanely brilliant). Not even a mic. Just some chords with a voice gentle enough to fill the room so simply and powerfully; “All I wanted is to be someone you can believe in, someone you can count on, someone you can call.” I can’t name the song, which oddly enough contributes to a feeling like it was designed for just that moment between performer and audience, artist and witnesses.
The Arlie’s Angels tour came to a close on March 9th in Dallas, but I look forward to many more shows from Arlie and the incredible bands taken with them on this tour, The Sewing Club and Whitehall. It was an amazing experience to witness insane talent and showmanship toggling between high energy and illuminating high vibrations of a full emotional spectrum. Without a doubt, Nashville’s finest have made me an avid fan of Arlie in this unforgettable performance.
3/13/2023: written by Samson Winsor