As the rhythmic barrage at the top of “Pon De Floor” rang out and a corps of dancers marched onto stage sexy military style, pretty much everyone under 30 in Zilker Park stormed toward the Honda stage. This was clearly where the party was at.
Here are seven things that happened at Major Lazer’s Friday night turn up:
1. The dancers destroyed. “We’ve got the best dancers in the world!” one of the chanters declared near the top of the set. He wasn’t kidding. While the dance directives lobbed at the audience were pedestrian commands like “Jump!” and “Run!”, the onstage dancers whipped their bodies, high kicked and performed astounding gluteal acrobatics. Visual content for DJ-based acts can be a little iffy, but Major Lazer came with a full on stage show.
2. Ten percent of the audience possibly lost their shirts. Last time Major Lazer demanded ACL Festers strip down, the result was a raunchy bosom-bearing bonanza. This time the vast majority of the audience didn’t obey the command to remove their shirts, wave them over their heads, then throw them in the air. Hey, it was kind of chilly. And dark.
3. There was a sly Donald Trump dig. “This is what America’s about, not about building a wall to divide people, but everybody from every nationality having a good time.”
4. They worked the college angle. There’s a reason Major Lazer is one of the biggest acts in America right now. They know their audience and they feed them right. Not only did both the chanters rock burnt orange jerseys and direct the crowd to throw up their horns, UT mascot Hook ‘Em joined them onstage. Twice.
5. They brought (some) fire. Last year’s explosive Drake set probably set unrealistic expectations for ACL pyrotechnics, but at various points through their set — most appropriately, during “Blaze Up the Fire” — reasonably-sized balls of flame erupted around the stage.
6. They took us back. They revisited their own early dancehall fusion days with “Get Free,” one of their first hits, but they also took us back to last year’s ACL 2015 with a quick remix of “Jumpman,” a song Drake and Future debuted live in Zilker Park last year. Other quick cuts they threw in included Rihanna’s “Work” and Macklemore’s “Can’t Hold Us.”
7. They called for unity. During the afore-mentioned Macklemore jam, the audience was instructed to put their hands up and grab the hand of the person next to them. Then they began to close the set out with “Lean On” while a graphic of clasped hands with the words Major Lazer unity splashed across the stage. While there was still top-notch twerking aplenty onstage, the set felt less like it had evolved from boozy bacchanal they brought last time they hit ACL. This time, it was a super lit dance party infused with a message of peace, love and togetherness.
My patronus during M83’s evening set at Austin City Limits Music Festival was a woman in a black Louise Brooks-style wig, a few real hairs wisping out from under the bob, who was wearing red eyelash appliques and one of those fake tattoo sleeves made of stretchy fabric. She was dancing without a care in the world. There was something about her costume and her lack of inhibition that fit the mood of the most bombastic, sax-loving space rockers to come out of France.
There’s certainly nothing real about M83’s cinematic, synthy opuses, which sounded forever like the soundtrack to a sci-fi flick Friday. They perfected a blend of resonant electro-tones, continuous crescendos and mysteriously faraway robo-vocals that constantly flirted with intergalactic absurdity. I mean, c’mon. These are the lyrics to show opener “Reunion” (the one with all the oh-oh-ohs):
Across the time and space
A never-ending dance
A blooming and a trance
You make me feel my soul
There’s no more loneliness
Only sparkles and sweat
There’s no more single fate
You make me feel myself
There is no way on Earth or any other planet that you’re supposed to take that entirely at face value.
After the third sax solo at M83’s set, I surrendered to the laser lights and let Anthony Gonzalez and crew take me away. Kaela Sinclair’s bewitching vocals sounded like ten ladies singing at once, her purple-and-red hair and lace-up Morticia Addams gown making the whole set seem a little more supernatural. Jordan Lawlor, running in place when he took to a drum, at times felt like he was keeping the whole show spinning in orbit.
Not every song was a warp-drive psych trip. “Do It, Try It” was suitably sinister in a ragtime sort of way, and “Go!” featured the most shameless electric guitar solo this side of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” As M83 was given to extended, clattering jam sessions, they occasionally wandered into (beautiful) monotony. “Road Blaster,” a slinky slice of noir rock, help bust up galactic grandeur a bit.
The evening ended in a final sonic wormhole, but the functional end of the show was slightly before that, during the “Midnight City” that those who don’t normally listen to French dance rock came for. People in the crowd mimicked that famous synth line with their mouths, right as the sun went down for good. Those same people were probably the ones that lost their damn minds when the sax emerged from nowhere to bleat the sexiest riff in the universe from the edge of stage.
M83 might be wearing a bit of a musical costume, but as far as special effects go, they’re fully committed to the illusion. And I’m a believer.
By Ramon Ramirez, special to the American-Statesman
Radiohead let the late activist Nina Simone introduce the band with a resonant, agenda-setting quote: “I’ll tell you what freedom is to me: No fear.”
Amid a haze of red lights, one of the most critically heralded bands of the last 20 years finally broke ground at the Austin City Limits Music Festival’s Samsung stage Friday night.
“This is a low-flying panic attack,” bobble-headed frontman Thom Yorke, here rocking a manbun, sang on set-opening “Burn the Witch.”
The lyrics doubled for anyone who had enjoyed legroom in the lawn chair area during the day: This space filled up fast. Even for a band that put out an album this summer (“A Moon Shaped Pool”) quickly buried in the zeitgeist by surprise streaming releases from Beyoncé and Frank Ocean, Radiohead remains a gigantic draw with name recognition for crowded acres.
The initial tracks largely ran down the latest record’s opening statements in chronological order with seasoned pace and a calming build. Droning bass, urgent and hurried drumming — it’s enough to get lost in deep thought and conclude that the worst people at festivals bring blankets and become indignant as hundreds of people walk near them.
“Good evening,” the 47-year-old frontman said three songs in, just before the band raised hands with 1997’s driving, guitar-seasoned “OK Computer” opener “Airbag.” That accounted for just about all of the onstage banter.
The band is a patient unit that can match the noisy downpour of last year’s ’90s-era ACL headliners the Foo Fighters, but picks its spots to drop the sky. 2003’s George Orwell-referencing “2+2=5,” which opened a record, “Hail To the Thief,” that caught the cultural frequencies of George W. Bush at his most politically charged and globally feared, simply rocked with anti-authority vitality that seemed written for the 2016 presidential election.
“Go and the tell the king that the sky is falling when it’s not,” Yorke sang.
Later in the 24-song set he went acoustic for “Exit Music (For a Film),” a pathos-heavy, crescendoing epic cool enough to play during the closing credits of Baz Luhrmann’s “Romeo + Juliet.” In a cruel twist, the house audio went out during its swelling ending for a good 25 seconds — but the faithful sung together and stuck the landing.
The band turned to its seasoned blend of genre-bending electronics halfway in, piping in “Everything In Its Right Place” from 2000’s benchmark “Kid A” record, then stacking the pivot with a muscular, percussive version of “Idioteque.”
The Abingdon, England, rockers — Yorke, Colin and Jonny Greenwood, Ed O’Brien, Philip Selway, and touring second drummer Clive Deamer of Portishead — excel at tweaking dials and honing in on humanity’s soul. At ACL, the band can make you stare at the void in self-reflective despair, then swiftly thrill with the warm, vibrant guitars of 2007’s “Bodysnatchers.”
Twenty-three years since debut release “Pablo Honey,” it’s a stunningly crafted two-hour best of that leans on the heft of opening and closing album tracks like “Street Spirit (Fade Out),” and encores like sprawling suite “Paranoid Android.”
“Thanks guys, have a wicked weekend,” Yorke said just after “There There” supplanted karaoke staple “Creep” from the setlist. Then he sang “Karma Police” to close the loop.
You’ll hear some awkward falsetto from brave participants standing within earshot if you see them next week, but in the pantheon of rich and space-attacking ACL headliner sets, this is a gold-star instant classic.
by Erin J. Walter
First and foremost: “The Funeral” is one of the greatest songs of all time, and if all Band of Horses songs were this epic, they’d be headlining ACL Fest.
There is precious little as moving as seeing and hearing “The Funeral” in person again tonight — from the quiet parts, where frontman Ben Bridwell alone is lit from above by a narrow white tunnel of light and his haunting voice pierces the dark, to the robust full-band sections, with all seven instrumentalists bursting into a wall of sound, their figures bathed in red strobe lights.
Eleven years have passed since “The Funeral” was released on Band of Horses’ debut record, Everything All the Time, and somehow the song still feels urgent and essential. People who up and leave home to follow a band from city to city make perfect sense in those five minutes that Band of Horses are playing “The Funeral.”
“The Great Salt Lake” and “No One’s Gonna Love You” (the second and fourth spots, respectively, in the band’s 12-song, 7 p.m. set) resonate almost as strongly, in their own ways.
“If ever beat down / we know who we are,” the huge Friday night crowd sings along with Bridwell in “The Great Salt Lake,” and it feels like a lyrical lifeline connecting the hillside sea of thousands.
Bridwell changed the end of his “Love You” ballad to pointedly declare to the crowd, “No one’s gonna love Y’ALL more than I do.” And indeed, the band’s set created a country family reunion vibe. What Band of Horses lacked in smooth transitions between songs, Bridwell made up for in aw-shucks affection.
“I love music! The sound! The feeling!” he called out after jangly pop jam “Laredo.”
“I feel like we’re just shooting the s— together,” he said after “NW Apt.” “What have you guys been up to? … Here’s a song!”
The affection of the crowd was loose and mutual. Newer songs came across as less essential than the older ones, and the set’s omission of 2010’s spiritually perfect “Compliments” does sting.
But the band rose above a brief glitch with drum gear — “The drum thing broke! It’s all right because we are best!” Bridwell half-joked — and competing sound from M83 across the park. (“Wow, that’s loud over there!” the singer interjected during a quiet part of “The Funeral.”)
Band of Horses’ shimmery sound and joyful energy, topped by Bridwell’s piercing, singular singing voice, are not to be taken for granted more than a decade in. They are what the most beautiful windchime would sound like if it were an indie rock band that sang about lakes, ghosts, and first apartments.
Is There A Ghost
The Great Salt Lake
No One’s Gonna Love You
In A Drawer
Throw My Mess
[Indeciferable mystery song with lots of “oh oh” in it. Help me out, BoH superfans. What was it?]
The General Specific
It seemed odd that two-time Grammy winner Corinne Bailey Rae was placed in the relatively tight quarters of the Tito’s Tent at the Austin City Limits Music Festival. No surprise, then, when the crowd that showed up extended well beyond the covered space on all sides — a fitting metaphor, in some respects, for the way Rae’s music overflows even a big-tent approach to genre classification.
Combining elements of pop, jazz, R&B, folk, funk and more, Rae and her impressive four-piece band delighted those who managed to find a spot in view of the stage. Dressed in radiant green velvet, Rae alternated between acoustic and electric guitar, sometimes simply singing and grooving to the sounds.
Many in the crowd did the same as Rae served up old favorites such as “Breathless” and “Put Your Records On,” from her self-titled 2006 debut disc, alongside selections from 2016’s “The Heart Speaks in Whispers,” her first album in six years.
The best from that strong lot of new tunes was the set-closing “The Skies Will Break,” a beautifully uplifting number that she stretched out at the end to allow her drummer, guitarist, keyboardist and bassist/keyboardist to have a moment in the spotlight. Arms reaching for the sky and with a smile that could outshine the sun that was settling on horizon as she played, Rae was a delight to watch, hear and experience.
For some of her Austin fans, the performance might have been their second Rae fix in less than a week. “I was going to say it’s been a long time since we’ve been in Austin, but we were here just a week ago, opening up for Alabama Shakes” at the Austin360 Amphitheater, she noted, later asking if some folks would be back for the second weekend of ACL Fest. When many folks responded affirmatively, she suggested “we’ll switch the set list up for you guys” next Friday.
This is New York electropop outfit St. Lucia’s first year playing Austin City Limits Music Festival. You wouldn’t be able to tell, though, because they practically own Zilker Park after Friday’s set. Mayor Adler, get that deed ready.
This does not come as a surprise — Jean-Philip Grobler pulled out all the stops at South by Southwest this year. But the white-clad dandy, his mint guitar, his band and a potted plant on stage grabbed the crowd at the Miller Lite stage by the collective collar and wouldn’t let go. (For his part, Grobler’s collar belonged to a Sade T-shirt.)
Grobler worked the stage like an Olympic athlete, voice belting so impressively that you weren’t sure if it was him or the wind that was blowing his hair just so. On buoyant songs like “Dancing On Glass” and “Closer Than This,” which bubbled like a can of tropical-flavored La Croix, he was poised and polished, in a sweaty way. On “Love Somebody,” the traditional St. Lucia “diplomatic mission” brought the South Africa native out into the crowd into a garden of iPhones. In a set that was nothing but home runs, signature song “Elevate” turned the perfect festival party. Grobler screamed “EVERYBODY (EXPLETIVE) JUMP” in a way that really made a concert-goer appreciate a jump command that seems organic. He spun as he played, he walked backward as he played.
The synthpop pot boiled over as the hour drew to an end. On show-closer “Physical” — well, accidental show-closer, as the band ran out of time for a mysterious last song they didn’t get to play — Grobler laid down, slapped the stage floor and slid on his knees. In a poised and polished ACL Fest debut, nearly the only flaws were the scuff marks on Grobler’s pants.
Toronto’s Tory Lanez made it through one song before ditching the brown jacket. He’s an attack-minded bully breed rapper who uses his entire frame to elicit jumping. But he’s also a song-and-dance crooner. He writes hollow, commanding bangers and wears gold chains with royal purpose.
It’s a pop prototype you’d invest in–high school kids in replica jerseys rock with him, and their hulking spirit will knock the phone out of your hand mid-tweet. Their girlfriends huddle together and dance.
To cement the energy, Lanez’s DJ infused his Friday afternoon Homeaway stage set with familiar radio rap. Fetty Wap and Chief Keef to warm up the audience, ’90s covers of classics like Ginuwine’s “My Pony,” a righteous remix of Drake’s “Controlla.”
Lanez performs brash dirtbag rap that commemorates cheating. He wants to hang out backstage and hook up. He wore a “Sandlot” T-shirt, and took a breather 15 minutes in to take off his jewelry. Then another mid-set break 30 minutes later.
That’s because Lanez is a crowdsurfing expert, who walked across his legion of kids within striking distance of the “no chairs” ACL border.
“Are y’all trying to have some fun?” he asked. “I know I’m up here performing all these classics.”
Dude’s been a fixture here in town–rocking high-profile South by Southwest gigs at the Pandora and Spotify stages in March, and mythical rap party the Illmore.
“In this moment we are family,” he said, having concluded his surf and plopped among his supporters like a fan a good 25 feet from the stage. “I’m not going to the stage. I want to stay right here with the family.”
It was an extended, defiant gig that evolved the standard rap concert where artists karaoke over canned tracks. Same thing to be sure, but you can do a lot when you put your heart into it.
Lanez also has the hits–some fixtures on rap radio like “Say It,” which he didn’t bother to perform; others on deck like “Everyone Falls In Love” and epic trap bangers like “Diego.”
He wrapped up the set in a tank top and ball cap. He may have heartbreak appeal, but he’s a blue-collar everyman with a punk soul. And that’s why he nearly fulfilled his campaign pledge to surf all the way to back. If he was only a little bit more famous, the set could have been a hazardous overflow. Maybe next time.
[Updated with a statement from ACL Fest: Artist Maren Morris’s set was delayed by 20 minutes on ACL Fest Day 1 due to a miscommunication by the festival organizers. ACL Fest takes full responsibility for the error and wants to acknowledge that this was the fault of the festival, not the artist.]
Starting a set at the Austin City Limits Music Festival 20 minutes past its scheduled time slot could cause problems, as everything is carefully set to avoid conflicts on other stages. But once rising country star Maren Morris and her three-piece band were allowed to take the BMI stage at, uh, 4:20, they knew exactly what they were doing.
Playing about 35 minutes instead of her full allotted hour (she ended at 4:56 p.m.), Morris exuded confidence delivering 10 songs taken largely from “Hero,” her first album on Columbia Records but fourth overall. A Metroplex native who relocated to Nashville to pursue her country music dreams — a move she documented in her song “Second Wind” — the 26-year-old singer seemed thrilled to be playing in front of a crowd that was much larger than what usually gathers on the comparatively small BMI Stage.
“Austin, y’all look good!” Morris exclaimed early on, later adding, “It is so good to be back in Texas, I cannot tell you.” Many of the locals clearly were big fans; some sang along boisterously to her set-closing numbers “80s Mercedes” and “My Church.”
Morris falls somewhere between the current camps of chartmaking country music. If she’s not trying to be a bro-country femme, she still happily adapts a bit of hip-hop flavor to her pop and twang. And she isn’t really in the Americana vein of Jason Isbell and Sturgill Simpson, but she has a hand in writing all of her material, which helps set her apart as her own artist.
A longer set may await her at a future ACL. Here’s hoping she gets to use the entire time slot next time around.
What can I say about my opinion of Cold War Kids going into their ACL Fest set that couldn’t be said about the Cold War itself? “How did we let this be a thing for so long, and why? Was there a point to this?”
So, yeah—not the biggest Cold War Kids fan here. But, I am a big fan of the surprise enjoyment that comes from walking into something with low expectations and finding that that something ends up being OK. That makes for a pleasant music experience, the kind I was hoping to find as I stood baking in the afternoon sun waiting for Cold War Kids to take the stage Friday afternoon and win me over.
Frontman Nathan Willett didn’t help matters arriving on stage chewing gum (???) and in a sleeveless shirt. But, I soldiered on, still in it to have my expectations turned upside down.
The band opened with “All This Could Be Yours,” a song that sounds to these ears like a Modest Mouse cover band playing with the piano chords from Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ “Can’t Hold Us.” Then they went into “Miracle Mile.” Neither song was particularly bad—or interesting to me. But, man, the crowd ate it up like so many trays of nachos and kimchi fries, as evidenced by flash-tatted youths smiling and screaming the lyrics in each other’s faces.
A couple more songs in and I started to feel like me coming around on Cold War Kids just might not be in the cards. That’s when Willett asked the crowd,”Austin, you know this?” A series of fuzzy guitar and bass notes bounced in unison. His query was met with cheers. They did know this. So did I. This is the “old stuff”—songs I knew I had a taste for and the band’s best chance to convert this hater.
“Hang Me Out to Dry” came first followed a song later by “We Used to Vacation.” Both are fine little earworms that seem to borrow liberally from Kill the Moonlight-era Spoon, a sound I’m more than happy to hear bands borrow from, and both were irresistible hits live just as they are on record, even to a skeptic like me.
In the end, I felt unswayed, but even as a skeptic, I can concede that Cold War Kids have a certain undeniable appeal. If they happen to appeal to you, you can catch Cold War Kids playing at Emo’s Tuesday night with Prinze George or when they return to Zilker for weekend two of ACL Fest 2016.
It’s very possible no one in the crowd of several hundred who gathered for Raury’s 1 p.m. set was really looking to change their life. The top discussion topic among the twenty-somethings who pressed up to the guardrail before he took the stage was best strategies for sneaking elicit substances into the fest.
But no one told the 20-year-old Atlanta rapper that.
From the moment he took the stage, bowing his head to the audience with prayer hands as body-shaking bass blasted from the speakers, he carried himself with the energy of young man on a mission.
“Are you ready to step into my world?” he asked the audience, adding,”you can trust me,” as a note of reassurance.
From there it was a 60-minute blitz-kreig of syrupy Southern singing, rapid-fire righteous rap and occasional wistful guitar strumming. all delivered with the wide-eyed idealism of an artist who has, as yet, refused to succumb to cynicism.
“I want everyone to turn to person next to you and give them a hug or a high five,” he said, a few songs in, reminding us that the real point of coming together at a music festival was the union of spirits that comes from all of us being together as one.
Raury’s music is all over the place, a blend of pop, soul, singer-songwriter earnestness and rap. Some songs landed better than others. The ghetto cautionary tale “Trap Tears” was a hit, while the post-hippie strumming on “Peace Prevail” seemed to wash over the crowd with minimal ecstatic response.
But when he took out the set the only way he could, with an explosive rendition of “Devil’s Whisper,” it was clear this young man, just starting his musical journey, is rich with potential.
And in these troubled times, his unabashed idealism was enough to offer all of us a little faith in the idea that maybe, just maybe, love can still win.