By Jake Dromgoole
The autumn air was rich with the aroma of corn dogs and funnel cakes on Saturday night in downtown Austin. The biannual Pecan Street festival flooded the streets with families and vendors looking to sell and procure an assortment of arts and crafts.
One block over on Seventh and Red River, a couple hundred fans were gathering to celebrate another phenomenon: The legendary emo-rock band the Early November had made their headlining return back to Austin.
Touring in support of their upcoming full-length release Lilac (due out September 27), the Early November treated their audience to a setlist comprised of new and old favorites. After taking the stage at 9:45, the band (lead by singer-songwriter Ace Enders) launched in to “A Stain on the Carpet,” the opening track from the group’s 2012 effort In Currents.
The band sounded in top form with two of its original members (bassist Sergio Anello and drummer Jeff Kummer) making their returns to the band’s touring lineup. Rounding out the group was long-time guitarist Bill Lugg, and newest member, multi-instrumentalist Nate Sander.
The band included three new songs from Lilac in their set list, the second of which, “Ave Maria,” was the strongest selection of the night. The song (which recently received a music video inspired by the cult classic television show “Friday Night Lights”) is a poppier composition from the Early November; one that embraces the radio-friendly sounds of bands like the 1975.
Rather than performing the song as it is heard on record, Enders reinterpreted it on acoustic guitar accompanied by Sander on violin. Even though the single had only recently been released, the crowd sang along with Enders during the refrain of “ Ave Maria,” making this performance one of the most intimate of the night.
When a band has been around for nearly 20 years, they are going to amass a number of fan favorite songs. For the Early November, that number is well into the double digits. While it is not always possible for bands to satisfy every fan’s setlist desire, the Early November did not let down the crowd at Barracuda Saturday night.
“The next four songs go backwards in time,” Enders said before singing the opening lines of crowd favorite “Tell Me Why,” off of In Currents. The next two songs, “Baby Blue” and “The Mountain Range In My Living Room,” both off of 2003’s epic The Room’s Too Cold, transported the crowd back to 2003, to the days of Drive-Thru Records and Warped Tour. The band finished their throwback portion of the Saturday’s set by playing the hard-hitting fan favorite, “For All of This,” from 2002’s EP of the same name.
Towards the end of their set, the band once again exited the stage, leaving Enders and Sander as the sole performers. With a harmonic strum of his acoustic guitar, Enders hushed the room and sang the opening lines to what is arguably the Early November’s most recognizable song: “Ever So Sweet.” This song, also from The Room’s Too Cold, is traditionally performed solo by Enders, however in recent years he has incorporated Sander’s somber violin playing to recreate the string section as heard on record.
The crowd sang the lyrics back to Ace during the song’s breakdown, with Enders stepping away from the mic to allow his audience to be the lead singer during the chants of, “I’M NOT SPECIAL,” allowing for one of the more powerful moments in a night full of them.
As the crowd from Barracuda emptied out onto the streets of Austin, the smell of festival food still lingered. Just prior to the show’s ending, the University of Texas Longhorns had just defeated the Oklahoma State Cowboys at Darrel K. Royal stadium just a short walk from the Red River Cultural District.
The crowds from the show were slowly swept up in a sea of burnt orange. As both crowds intermingled, it was hard to tell who had attended the game, and who had attended the show. Everyone had a smile on their face Saturday night in Austin, Texas. However, a few lucky hundred of them had a little ringing in their ears too.
Featured image by Jake Dromgoole.