Noah Gundersen displays poignant lyricism, pared-down instrumentation in acoustic set at 3TEN ACL

Chandler Rowley

On the corner of Lavaca Street and West 22nd Street, a statue of Willie Nelson and his trusty guitar Trigger stands proudly in front of the Moody Theater in downtown Austin. Several hundred feet down the street, singer-songwriter Noah Gundersen and his Gibson dreadnought acoustic guitar took over 3TEN ACL for a two-night residency from Nov. 18 to 19.

Home to the filming of world-renowned musical artists for the Austin City Limits television program, the Moody complex towers over the smaller, unassuming sister venue. The club, often referred to as “the basement,” resides near the back of the ACL Live conglomerate. Though quaint, the intimacy and character of the lesser-known concert destination surpasses that of the rarified parent venue.

Gundersen, donning a black hoodie and equally ironic beanie, quietly made his way on stage to the jubilation of the 200-person audience. The 32-year-old indie artist may fit the aesthetic stereotypes associated with alternative singer-songwriters, but he mesmerizes listeners with the piercing timbre of the first line of “Poor Man’s Son.” In a departure from their studio recordings, the tattooed troubadour performs with minimal aid from his guitar, displaying his uncanny ability to fill every crevice of a room with sound.

Gundersen performed at SXSW in 2014 following the release of his first full-length LP, Ledges Somewhat appropriately, his first show back in the Texas capital following a two-year touring hiatus primarily included tracks from his first two albums. Written in his late teens after leaving an ultra-religious home, the songs drip with the angst and confusion brought on by a transitional stage of life. While modest in instrumentation, the authenticity and nuance of the lyrics stand the test of time.

The precise fingerpicking of “Isaiah” ribboned throughout the room, with an occasional downstroke of Gundersen’s bare thumb serving as the pulsating beat the ballad revolves around. The song juxtaposes a forbidden relationship with religious motifs, distorting the line between the morality offered by religion and how it relates to love and loss. No track touches on this subject more directly than “Jesus, Jesus,” a heart-wrenching meditation by the then-teenager musician on the validity of the social teaching of Christianity and the rationale behind suffering in a world with a supposedly benevolent divinity.

While the ability to relate to an audience often defines the overall success of a musical artist, not many can bare their true self the way Noah Gundersen does. The intensity and candor offered by the baritone musician seep into the listener’s psyche and refuse to let go. With six full-length LPs under his belt, it may seem that the meditative lyricist already reached the proverbial glass ceiling, but the young singer’s rich voice and distinctive lyricism have the potential to one day send him several hundred feet down the street to the hallowed halls of the Moody Theater.