We still have a good six months or so before we’ll know the lineup for the 2018 Austin City Limits Music Festival, but if you’re an ACL die hard who’s in it for the experience your first opportunity to scoop three-day passes to the festival is Thursday morning at 10 a.m.
That’s a wrap on this year’s Austin City Limits Music Festival. Whether you gave Zilker Park your fest best or if you sat this round out, here are 10 scenes from the final day of the fest to make you feel like you were there — or help you relive it.
“How you doing mate? Catch a late flight?” Damon Albarn asked De La Soul’s DJ Maseo Sunday night, just before dazzling mass single “Feel Good Inc.”
The long-tenured rap crew was home to turn out the enduring radio hit from 2005. Ditto Del the Funky Homosapien for the evening-wrapping “Clint Eastwood.”
The big chorus-powered one-offs punctuated one of ACL’s most ambitious headlining sets to date.
“Are we the last living souls?” Albarn, the Gorillaz singer and art director, posited earlier on the Honda Stage. A five-person choir heightened his melodies, and the 49-year-old Blur singer offered a dystopian vision full of scrawling cartoons and wired Britpop.
In a black Gorillaz hoodie, Albarn ushered in sweater season as joyous Texans clapped—and scratched their heads, bewildered. This fully realized Gorillaz gig had bunches of moving parts, and boy was it a lot to breathe in.
“It’s our last night,” Albarn told Zilker Park. “We’ve been here for five weeks and we’ve had a very good time.”
His band’s hour-plus bonanza was a playscape. The Gorillaz moniker—where members 2-D, Murdoc Niccals, Noodle, and Russel Hobbs are animated characters with an accompanying storyline that peppers the public output—mostly exists for Albarn to flirt with genres he digs like rap, soul, trip-hop, and reggae. It’s the same live.
Dancehall artist Popcaan raps on “Saturnz Bars,” and rather than omit his song-making verse because he wasn’t in Austin, Albarn’s band beamed it on a big screen, and filled in the blanks with swelling live orchestration.
This is a festival headliner most ACL attendees know of but few have thought critically about. The two big hits are fine singles, but what about the accompanying cartoons or the buoyant disco ballads like “Stylo,” belted out by touring R&B vocalist Peven Everett?
It’s ponderous and cinematic, zip-tied together by captivating songs.
The cosmic synthesizers zoomed. The gothic “Sex Murder Party” was seasonally spooky and unhinged. Fans watched the genre collage all the way back to where the dueling songs from the Killers, appearing simultaneously at the American Express stage, mixed in near the Miller Lite pop-up bar.
The final third of the show was a rotating showcase for lesser-known rappers like Kilo Kish and Zebra Katz. Here Albarn slid to the background and let the colorful circus take a life of its own. Kudos to him for building such an open-sourced, inclusive touring platform.
Almost 20 years into a fake band, Gorillaz is still challenging conventions.
On Monday morning, the dusty, sun-dried masses of Austin City Limits Music Festival will return to their individual drudgeries: offices, classrooms, warehouses, kitchens, whatever four-walled spaces they fill with their counted-down heartbeats. But wherever they’re going, it probably isn’t drenched in Sin City neon, and there’s definitely not a man with a porcelain grin and a well-tailored space suit there to greet them.
In the interest of savoring every last moment of music, here’s the annotated final set of ACL Fest 2017. Killers frontman Brandon Flowers put it best: “Are we gonna do this thing in style or what?”
The Man: Mr. Flowers was getting his life in a sparkly white John Travolta suit. He demonstrated that “Saturday Night Fever” would have been much more entertaining if it was about a Mormon rock star cosplaying as Liberace on an MGM musical set dressed up like an adult video store. The song, the lead single off the band’s newly No. 1 album “Wonderful Wonderful,” was cheeky swagger from top to bottom.
Spaceman: Bold move to lead with two lesser hits in the canon. Despite an awkward, stalled-out attempt at a singalong, Flowers sold it. All televangelist swagger, preaching the gospel of David Bowie.
Somebody Told Me: This was the moment when we had a ballgame. The glitz and the glam of Las Vegas are inseparable from this band and its catalog. Though the Killers, as their career has progressed, have increasingly embraced a dust-worn, “get outta this town” brand of American rock, they remain cozily at home in hedonism. It’s not confidential.
The Way It Was: Even last-chance-at-romance power ballads about daddy’s car are razzle-dazzle showstoppers when you’ve got a jaw like that jutted out and Ronnie Vannucci Jr. serving up Super Bowl arena drum crashes.
Smile Like You Mean It: Flowers’ weird, faux-Euro “Hot Fuss” voice lives! Even robots can cry. The man’s got levels.
Bones: Honestly, when Flowers whipped out the line “Don’t you wanna feel my bones? It’s only natural” before the song even started, I clutched my pearls and looked for the nearest fainting couch. I was still smiling like I meant it, and I was not ready for Brandon the sex devil, tempting the boys and girls of Zilker Park down the road to perdition. The way the man grabbed his radius and ulna is considered an obscene gesture in some countries, I’m pretty sure. I needed water.
When You Were Young: Well, kind of. It turned out to be a fake-out, but the band brought it in nice and easy before, like a ghost, it was gone.
Bling (Confession of a King): Sometimes, Flowers bears back on his heels and holds his hand out like he’s fending off the devil. By sometimes, I mean most songs. High drama.
Human: Did this song and its pulsing, electronic heartbeat presage the rise of popular EDM? Having seen a Calvin Harris turn-up at ACL Fest and then witnessing so many people be so stoked about poor grammar on the most euphoric cheeseball synth break of all time, I had thoughts.
Run For Cover: “This is your new favorite song,” Flowers said. Even he knew you were there to hear “Mr. Brightside.” It’s Killers song that sounded the most like falling off a cliff in a convertible.
For Reasons Unknown: At the odd point in the show, Flowers and his microphone were star-crossed lovers, never quite able to find each other in the night. It meant for some spotty silences. It was also moments like this where you realized that, as big festival headliners, some Killers songs start to feel like slot-fillers. But it’s a fan favorite.
Life to Come: Very Starship, with a soaring feature from one of the band’s backup singers. The Killers have low-key turned into one of the most romantic rock bands around.
Read My Mind: “Stars are blazing like rebel diamonds cut out of the sun” is a truly ballsy lyric to sing in front of that many people. Round of applause, please.
Runaways: If you can’t get Springsteen to headline your festival, bring these boys out to play their Boss-iest.
All These Things That I’ve Done: For a stretch of minutes, “I’ve got soul, but I’m not a soldier” became an incantation to ward off the end of the weekend in Austin. Flowers crouched on the far wings of the stage (both of them), smiling like a madman and egging the cult on. The chant continued even after the song was over.
Shot at the Night: This wasn’t a song I was as familiar with, but between Brandon Flowers whispering at me and yearning synths hoisting up the words “once in a lifetime” like Ben Franklin’s kite, I felt closer to tears than when I heard Chance the Rapper sing “Same Drugs” last weekend. That’s, uh, well, really saying something, if you knew the activities of my tear ducts. The guy behind me yelled “¡Dame más!” and brother, did I ever agree.
This Is Your Life: The little circle of Flowers’ finger while he mouthed “let’s go” should be used as a model exercise in rock star charisma school.
When You Were Young: I was so, so worried. A balm.
Mr. Brightside: It’s relevant to mention that I caught the first five songs of the Killers’ weekend one show off the clock. The one-two punch of Tom Petty tribute “American Girl” and the band’s most titanic hit shot every vein in attendance with medical-grade adrenaline. So, with that experience going in, it was quite sweet to save the song that can’t die until the end. The last song to be played at ACL Fest 2017 was “Mr. Brightside”! What a time, my friends. What a time.
There is something of a mixed blessing to repeatedly claiming the title as the most-Shazamed band in America.
On the up side, it means listeners are curious about a given band’s music. On the down side, it means people still don’t know who you are.
So it goes for Alaskan modern rockers Portugal. The Man, whose single “Feel It Still” has crossed over into pop radio, commercials, streaming playlists and other forums that offer lots of exposure, if not immediate name recognition.
“We’re the new Supertramp, where people are always asking, ‘Who is that?’” said guitarist Eric Howk. “You’ll see Twitter replies from Billboard and it’ll say ‘Big moves in the top 10. Chance The Rapper moves up, Jay Z moves down and Portugal. The Man slides in at number three’ and people are like, ‘Who?’”
It’s a new experience for the band that’s been together for more than a dozen years and been regarded as an indie rock favorite. Once firmly entrenched in the afternoon lineups of events like Austin City Limits Music Fest, they’re now performing around sunset to crowds that number more than 25,000 people.
And while they’re eager to introduce the crowd to other tracks on the new album “Woodstock” and its other seven releases, they know that – for now at least – “Feel It Still” is their calling card.
“It’s a really weird moment we’re having,” Howk said. “There was a feeling (the song) would do well, which is the reason why we called it our worldwide smash hit, to be tongue-in-cheek. But it still surprises us to hear stuff like that the (University of Southern California) marching band is using it now with a full production on the football field. That is insanity.”
White Reaper named its 2017 sophomore album “The World’s Best American Band,” and the boast is less absurd than you think.
The Louisville, Kentucky, quintet knows that the best rock has fuzz in the mix and soundtracks trips to the pool hall. Hell guitarist Hunter Thompson lives in town. They know how to posture, riff, and play uptempo and punk-tinged rock for the Hotel Vegas crowd better than most. Guitar solos are served up via Gibson SG. Orange-brand amps transmit the signals. A noisy Korg keyboard plinks just the right amount of keys.
The band—which impressed at SXSW and scored a blog-heralded hit with nostalgic, crunching, and romantic single “Judy French”—arrived Sunday at ACL packaged with the poise and swagger to evolve beyond the BMI stage at Zilker Park. A quick word about BMI for the uninitiated: It’s an afterthought of a setting, sandwiched between bigger stages and lacking for spillover traffic. It exists to showcase new talent, but the higher on the BMI ladder you climb, the more likely you are to be overlooked by bigger, simultaneously performing acts. No matter.
The afternoon set, which was warmly received by orange-haired punks and a dude in a Black Label Society jacket, proved that these learned rippers have the hooks to grow into a less-sanitized Kings of Leon. (Singer Tony Espocito looks like Joe Jonas, for starters.)
Espocito and keyboardist Ryan Hater both arrived in denim jackets; four of the five garage rockers arrived in long sleeves. The commitment to aesthetics was unwavering, and you’d attack it for being overly self-aware in the Texas sun but every lick landed like a dirty joke. Hey some great country singers grew up in the north, and whether or not it’s 1980 is secondary: the band flings big hooks like, well, Hater tossing his drinks into onlookers.
Hater said that the band could “play all day for you guys… you guys are a dream come true.”
Sporting a Harley Davidson T-shirt, drummer Nick Wilkerson was the engine. He pummeled the kit and never yielded tempo. The fast rock grooves brought dueling, Thin Lizzy-style guitar breakdowns. And whoa, they burned “Judy French” before the end knowing that louder and better melodies could close strongly.
Georgia Nott didn’t seem like she could believe the crowd she and her brother, Caleb, pulled Sunday at Austin City Limits Music Festival.
“This is the earliest set we’ve played this summer and it’s the biggest crowd,” the Broods singer said with visible excitement early in the set.
It might not be wholly accurate to call Broods a breakout in their second ACL Fest appearance, because the dark-pop sibling project obviously has a wide extended fan family. If you didn’t know, now you do.
When the vibe’s that good, it felt weird to find flaws in the New Zealand artists’ Goulding-esque party. Regardless, the delicate alchemy of Georgia’s gleaming, lilting voice and Caleb’s thunderous beats didn’t quite make 24-karat gold Sunday afternoon. All-enveloping songs like “We Had Everything,” which sweep you away in their drama on the recording, swam against a noise whirlpool live.
Georgia’s vocals, while passionately delivering on pretty lyrical moonglow like “Dancing at night, you’re the light that I won’t let go,” couldn’t quite slice all the way through overpowering backing track and distortion, despite an earnest showing. The percussive showpieces and warehouse-party synth washes from Caleb and the band sparked a bouncey castle in front of the Miller Lite stage, but the unrelenting hour cried out for a more intimate, stripped-down rest stop, especially on “Mother & Father.” Toward the end of the set, “Free” opened a small airhole for Georgia to breathe and show her pipes without burden. It was like a brief peek at autumn light from behind heavy velvet drapes.
You can’t critique ecstasy, though. Broods received a rapturous response when Georgia asked who was already familiar with the band. She genuinely thanked the people who stumbled in, and she gave the band and the crew heartfelt praise, too. Georgia dedicated the anthemic “Bridges” to all the Broods fans out there. The band certainly didn’t burn any of their own bridges at the fest.
“I wasn’t expecting this many people to get up this early,” Midland frontman Mark Wystrach marveled to a sizable crowd that mostly filled the Tito’s tent at 12:30 p.m. for the country band’s debut at the Austin City Limits Music Festival. Given the recent fast rise of the band’s hit single “Drinkin’ Problem” on mainstream country radio, though, the strong turnout wasn’t all that surprising.
Named after a West Texas oil town, the trio is actually based outside of Austin in Dripping Springs. They moved there a couple of years ago after cutting their teeth as musicians largely in Los Angeles, where bassist Cameron Duddy had played in separate bands with both Wystrach and guitarist Jess Carson, Midland’s primary songwriter.
Recent online hubbub about the band’s “authenticity” as country musicians is a nonstarter. One listen to “Drinkin’ Problem” and the rest of their recent debut album “On the Rocks” verifies their honky-tonk bona fides, regardless of Duddy’s background as a pop music video producer. Wystrach’s lead vocals have a classic smooth twang that rivals Dwight Yoakam’s, while his bandmates provide sterling harmonies and solid honky-tonk instrumental support. Being raised country has never been a prerequisite for playing country.
Those at ACL Fest didn’t seem to care about that anyway. The crowd appeared to be a mix of fans who got on board with Midland early and curiosity-seekers who’ve heard some of the buzz and probably caught “Drinkin’ Problem” on the radio. Befitting the just-past-noon time slot, Midland’s set was fairly laid-back, more of a mellow festival greeting than a crazy barroom barnburner.
But the songs were almost uniformly strong, and that’s the main takeaway with these guys so far. They emphasize the vocals and the melodies: Many times, the instrumentation fell away to allow their trio harmonies to shine, and the volume in the tent never went into overdrive. It’s the right call, as Midland’s strength is more their musicality than raw energy, though you get the sense they could kick up some dust at midnight in a dance hall too.
It’s worth noting that they had a solid three-man supporting cast behind them. Austin pedal steel player Kim Deschamps, a Canadian transplant, has major credits with Canada roots bands Blue Rodeo and Cowboy Junkies as well as local troubadour Charlie Robison. Drummer Robbie Crowell also hails from Canada, and supplemental guitarist Luke Cutchen seemed to have a small but vocal cheering-section in the crowd, perhaps partly due to his history with local instrument stores Strait Music and Musicmakers.
Midland’s lone misfire was a well-intentioned but ultimately unsatisfying stab at Tom Petty’s “American Girl.” Covers of the late Petty’s tunes have been de rigueur during both weekends of ACL Fest, for good reason. But Midland’s effort came off as perfunctory, ending too soon and lacking the drama so vital to that particular Petty selection. It’s a shame they didn’t go to the well of one of the songwriters they later cited as inspirations, including Gary Stewart, Guy Clark and Jerry Jeff Walker. A run through “L.A. Freeway” could’ve lit the fest up at that hour and furthered the band’s ties to their adopted home turf.
Still, when they closed the set with “Drinkin’ Problem,” the song most of those in attendance were waiting to hear — you could tell by how many cell phones popped up as soon as Wystrach launched into the first line — the focus was back on the simple matter that these guys know how to write, and deliver, memorable original material. The subject matter of “Drinkin’ Problem” may be overtold in country music, but Midland’s melodic groove is so catchy that it hardly matters. “Call it a problem, I call it a solution,” Wystrach sang, and most of those in the crowd sang with him, because the song is that good, plain and simple.
Watch our Austin360 post-show interview with Midland:
He’s also the founder of the Just Keep Livin Foundation (a reference to his legendary role in “Dazed and Confused”), a nonprofit that encourages health and wellness among high school students. At this year’s ACL Fest, a portion of proceeds from certain pieces of festival merchandise will benefit the foundation, many of them including lines from McConaughey’s famed Wooderson character. There’s, of course, an “Alright alright alright” shirt, and one emblazoned with “L-I-V-I-N”.
McConaughey’s wife, Camila Alves, showed off the merch at the festival on Saturday: