September 30th, 2008 5:33 pm | by MARK STOCK Music | Posted In: Columns, Live Cuts

Ambassador Ward (LC at ACL, Part One of Three)

WardandOberstWe're insanely jealous that freelancer Mark Stock spent last week in Austin for the Austin City Limits Festival. Luckily, he was willing to share a few stories with us. Here's his report on M Ward's show, the first of three LocalCut at ACL installments.

In the land of salt and twang, M. Ward could not have served as a better ambassador for our fair city. His warm reception at this year's Austin City Limits Festival was certainly deserved, but it was not until a more intimate aftershow when he truly made his case. Austin's petite club La Zona Rosa played host to a prime bill including Conor Oberst and Jenny Lewis, both currently involved with their own, unmistakably country-tinged bands. The set list read “Matt Ward,” his real name but more likely the product of either unfamiliarity or genuine southern cordiality.

Whereas Ward's City Limits set was full-forced and backed by a full band, his Rosa performance was entirely himself. Almost all at once, the cramped crowd asked, “how does he get so much sound out of a single guitar?” His smoky voice pleased even the pickiest of critics, silenced by his lyrical storytelling. And the good ol' boys could not argue with his trouncing folk and frequent shifts from mellow plucking to crashing finger dancing. You could smell the smoke of his burning frets by the time he took his first breath and rolled into "Sad Sad Song." The stage seemed to mold to Ward's stomping feet and could not let him go. Back he came for Jenny Lewis, and again for Oberst.

Despite weary legs from three days of standing, the audience stood speechless and motionless. Oberst and Ward strummed together for the last half an hour, splitting songs like firewood, one after another. It seemed like a reunion tour for our a brand of music that has fallen to the popular wayside. Yet, the two are very much on the rise and Austin, educated and immune to the high caliber live performance, was drinking it all up.

Just when I began to worry that Austin had adopted Portland's folk hero as their own, Ward chimed in with a slow and wonderfully sedated version of "Paul's Song." “Well every town is all the same, when you've left your heart in the Portland rain,” he sang. It's good to know that after all the fame, he's still our troubadour.

Mark Stock's ACL Photo Gallery:

M WardSpace

Photo courtesy of M Ward
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