Midland turns the Tito’s tent into an early-afternoon honky-tonk at ACL Fest

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“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.

Mark Wystrach, left, and Cameron Duddy of Midland perform at the Tito’s Stage during weekend two of the Austin City Limits Music Festival at Zilker Park on Sunday, Oct. 15, 2017. TINA PHAN / FOR AMERICAN-STATESMAN

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.

READ MORE: Our 2016 Austin360 interview with Midland’s Jess Carson

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:

 

 

Sports doubleheader in late-afternoon heat fills up ACL Fest beer hall

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Competitive contests for both the Texas Longhorns and the Houston Astros made for a lively time in the beer hall at the Austin City Limits Music Festival on Saturday, as hundreds of festgoers filled up the space for a break from the late-afternoon heat.

Among them were Jody and Liz Lara, two Austinites who are both volunteering for the festival this weekend. Volunteers work in shifts, and they purposefully scheduled themselves for time slots that allowed them to catch the Texas-Oklahoma football game.

Jody and Liz Lara spent much of Saturday afternoon in the ACL Fest beer hall for the Texas-Oklahoma game on Oct. 14, 2017. Peter Blackstock/American-Statesman

They endured a tough start, with Texas going down 17-0 early. But in the third quarter, Texas rallied back to pull within 23-17. On the adjacent screen, the Astros and the New York Yankees were locked in a tense 1-1 tie during the second game of the American League Championship series.

The Laras, both decked out in Longhorn gear, were there mainly for the Red River Rivalry. “I want the Astros to win, but we’re mostly fans of Texas football,” Jody said.

The 90-degree late-afternoon temperatures made staying in the beer hall an even easier call. “Being in the shade definitely helps,” Liz said. “It’s an enticement to keep watching the game.”

Key third-quarter penalties against the Sooners, one of which nullified an OU touchdown and another that helped keep a Texas TD drive alive, brought a reversal of fortune to the hall as Sooners fans first exulted, then quieted while the Longhorn faithful cheered. Some added a little color: “Stop cheating!” after the first penalty, and “You can’t do that!” after the second. The requisite “OU sucks!” cheers followed soon enough, but the game was still far from over.

 

 

She’s 13. And she may be the breakout star of this year’s ACL Fest.

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Just as the local elementary-school Barton Hills Choir finished their half-hour performance on the Austin Kiddie Limits Stage at ACL Fest, 13-year-old Grace VanderWaal began an hourlong show on the adjacent HomeAway Stage. If there were any doubt, those back-to-back sets affirmed that, yes indeed, the kids are all right.

Grace Vanderwaal performs during the second weekend of the Austin City Limits Music Festival at Zilker Park on Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

VanderWaal will release her first album, appropriately titled “Just the Beginning,” next month — and what a beginning it is. VanderWaal created a buzz around the grounds after her performance last weekend, so it was no surprise to find quite a sizable crowd for an early-afternoon set greeting her for weekend two. Performing beautiful pop songs that highlighted her soaring voice and occasional ukulele playing, VanderWaal charmed a crowd that included plenty of die-hard mega-fans up front and a lot of curiosity-seekers further back.

Leading off with “Moonlight,” an early single from her new album, and proceeding to favorites from her 2016 EP such as “Light the Sky” and “Gossip Girl,” VanderWaal simultaneously impressed the crowd with her natural talent and charmed them with her youthful wonder. “I know a lot of you don’t know who I am, and that’s totally fine,” she said midway through the set. “I know some of you might,” she added, to the uproarious cheers of fans who got to know her from her appearance on the TV show “America’s Got Talent” (when she was still a pre-teen).

VanderWaal’s potential may be boundless, but it’s worth noting that she’s still learning, as any 13-year-old would be. A well-meaning introduction to “Talk Good” went on a little too long, and on the set-closing “I Don’t Know My Name” (which helped launch her career), she relied a little too much on sing-along the superfans singing up-front, to the detriment of folks further back who might have liked to hear her own voice more.

Still, part of VanderWaal’s appeal is that she knows she’s still finding her way. On “Better Life,” a wonderful ballad from the upcoming album, she fessed up midway through to getting a verse out of order, and apologized to a bandmate: “I’m sorry I sang through your guitar part!” Her three-piece band supported her admirably throughout on guitar, drums and keyboards, and she made sure to give them full credit, as well as her sound crew.

You’ve heard the line before about singers with such great voices that they could sing the phone book and it would be worthwhile. For VanderWaal, the parallel is perhaps “Happy Birthday.” It’s almost impossible to make that chestnut sound anything more than an obligation to get through quickly, so when she accepted the request from three fans in the crowd, it seemed perhaps unwise. But VanderWaal made the dedication to Kevin, Emma and Mary sound first musically magnificent and then uproariously fun.

VanderWaal seemed genuinely impressed with the city and the festival on her first visit here. “I want to come back to Austin every day. You live in the coolest place,” she beamed near the end of the set, admitting that she had no idea what to expect before she arrived. “I just thought, like, Ohio. But it’s pretty awesome!”

What comes next for VanderWaal? “I hope she can find a safe, true-to-herself path through early stardom. A lot of pressure!” a fan wrote on Twitter in response to a video clip from Saturday’s performance. There’s so much talent here that it does indeed feel like the sky’s the limit. Are we looking at the dawn of another pop start like Taylor Swift? Or perhaps more of a Grammy-winning Americana sensation like Wimberley-raised Sarah Jarosz. Wherever she goes from here, ACL Fest was fortunate to have her aboard this weekend.

Barton Hills Choir shines again at Austin Kiddie Limits, this time with David Grissom

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“Can I just say this is the coolest gig ever?”

David Grissom was right. The renowned Austin guitarist, who’s played with everyone from Joe Ely and John Mellencamp to the Allman Brothers and the Dixie Chicks, had a big smile on his face when he offered up that assessment of his guest turn with the Barton Hills Choir on Saturday afternoon, as part of the Austin City Limits Music Festival’s second weekend.

Kids with the Barton Hills Choir perform on the Austin Kiddie Limits Stage during weekend two of the Austin City Limits Music Festival at Zilker Park on Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017. TINA PHAN / FOR AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Grissom followed first-weekend guest Charlie Sexton, who might have been a slightly better fit for the David Bowie tunes “Starman” and “Golden Years” that the kids from Barton Hills Elementary sang out loud and clear on the Austin Kiddie Limits stage both weekends. But Grissom’s roots-rock bona fides fit quite neatly into “I Know You Rider” and “They Love Each Other,” two nods to the Grateful Dead.

The former was folded into Woody Guthrie’s “Goin’ Down the Road Feelin’ Bad,” which kicked off the 25-minute set as dozens of parents and other devoted Barton Hills Choir fans enjoyed a performance that has become one of ACL Fest’s most beloved traditions. Like last week, they closed with Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode,” inviting all other kids in the crowd to join in for a rockin’ finale that the band — Grissom, bandleader Gavin Tabone, guitarist Don Cento, bassist Jason Brint and drummer Jake Perlman — drove home as the children walked off into the crowd to their proud parents.

One difference this week: A late addition to the set was a magnificent version of Tom Petty’s “Runnin’ Down a Dream.” Grissom took the lead vocal and sounded every bit the true Heartbreaker, with the children’s voices chiming in on the chorus as a joyful affirmation of the late Petty’s enduring music.

David Grissom signs shirts for Barton Hills Choir members after performing with them on the Austin Kiddie Limits Stage during weekend two of the Austin City Limits Music Festival at Zilker Park on Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017. TINA PHAN / FOR AMERICAN-STATESMAN

I go see the Barton Hills Choir every year, though as a non-parent, I don’t experience it the same way as those whose kids are performing. Still, it’s impossible not to love the spirit of these performances. One boy in this year’s choir is the son of a dear departed friend, and watching him onstage, I couldn’t help but think how happy his father would be. For a moment, it was like Brent was there with us in the crowd, smiling widely and taking it all in.

 

Revivalists aren’t ready for prime time on one of ACL Fest’s biggest stages

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Last Friday at the Austin City Limits Music Festival, a familiar tune wafted across the grounds around sundown, and it sounded great. It was Tom Petty’s beautiful ballad “Wildflowers,” being played by New Orleans band the Revivalists near the end of their set in memory of the singer who’d passed away a few days prior. Then they upped the ante by going straight into “Refugee,” picking up the tempo considerably and sounding just as strong on one of Petty’s signature rockers.

READ MORE: Musicians pay tribute the late Tom Petty at ACL Fest

That was enough to suggest the group’s second-weekend set at the fest was worth checking out. It’s fair that the band didn’t revisit those covers this Friday, as the acknowledgment of Petty was more timely last week. Problem is, without those two great songs in the set, the Revivalists were left to stand on their own material, during a prime hour of the festival. And their repertoire just isn’t strong enough for that.

It might have appeared otherwise at the start. The band charged out of the gate with “Wish I Knew You,” a fair-sized radio hit from their most recent album, 2015’s “Men Amongst Mountains.” The crowd was densely packed all the way back to the sound board, and many sang along without any prompting. Lead singer David Shaw roamed the stage with a personable charisma, backed by a super-talented six-piece crew that draws extra color from pedal steel and saxophone.

During weekend one of the Austin City Limits Music Festival, Revivalists singer David Shaw and pedal steel guitarist Ed Williams perform on the Honda Stage. The group returned for a second-weekend performance on Friday, Oct. 13, 2017. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

But that was as good as it got. The rest of the band’s hourlong performance included tunes from their three albums that grew increasingly tiresome and formulaic as the set went on. Every song was about six minutes long. Most of them included jam-band builds to a frenetic finish. The musicianship was impeccable and the band was endlessly energetic, but the melodies and the lyrics didn’t rise to the high bar of the instrumentation.

You could feel it in the crowd, which gradually lost interest except for a few hundred hardcore fans up front. The middle section thinned out; those who sang along early weren’t motivated to do so again, despite Shaw’s increasingly annoying exhortations. At least a half-dozen times, he asked them to join in, either on chorus chants or for simple whoa-oh-oh vamps: “Now you do that!” “Let me hear ya!” “Sing it with me!”

By the time Shaw sent out a “last chance, come on now!” plea on the band’s final tune, much of the crowd that amassed early had drifted off toward the evening’s next sets at nearby stages. Ultimately the Revivalists seemed a little bit in over their heads. They might have worked better as an early-afternoon act on a slightly smaller stage, but the Honda at sundown? Boundless energy and chops notwithstanding, they just don’t have the songs.

They’re Dale & Ray: Watson and Benson give Asleep at the Wheel an ACL break

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If you heard the traditional sounds of “Miles and Miles of Texas” drifting across Zilker Park from the Honda Stage a little past noon on Friday at the Austin City Limits Music Festival, you probably figured it was Asleep at the Wheel, who’ve been playing the fest’s first day since it started way back in 2002. Turns out only one Wheel-er was onstage, though.

Dale Watson and Ray Benson bring classic old-school country sounds to the Honda Stage at ACL Fest on Friday, Oct. 13, 2017. TINA PHAN FOR AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Ray Benson’s western swing band played its regular fest gig last Friday, but because he made an album this year with local honky-tonk fixture Dale Watson, it made perfect sense for weekend two to feature Dale & Ray. The duo, backed by Watson’s first-rate Lone Stars band, mixed up songs from their album with a few Wheel and Lone Stars favorites in a crowd-pleasing 40-minute set for a few hundred early arrivals.

Part of their charm is cornball humor. As they introduced their theme song early on, Benson feigned confusion on which member of the duo he was. “Look on your guitar strap,” Watson advised, as each had their first names conveniently carved into the leather.

Trading the Lone Stars for Asleep at the Wheel was an apples-and-oranges comparison. The Wheel’s sound is more fluid and colorful; the Stars sound a little more direct and focused overall. The instrumentation is similar, though there’s no keyboards in the Lone Stars mix. Steel guitar has a place in both bands, but the spectacular runs of the Stars’ Don Pawlak stood out on several songs in this set, especially the George Jones tribute “Jonesin’ for Jones.”

Other numbers paid tribute to the late Merle Haggard (“Feelin’ Haggard,” from their new album) and Waylon Jennings (a set-closing “I Don’t Think Hank Done It This Way”). They also acknowledged their debts to Commander Cody and Austin guitar great Bill Kirchen on “Hot Rod Lincoln,” and to Willie Nelson on his tune “Write Your Own Songs.”

There’s little shade to be found anywhere at the Honda Stage, and by 1 p.m. the temperatures were already well into the mid-80s, so the short set was about right, allowing folks to get out of the sun for a bit before the next wave of music began on adjacent stages. Whether Watson will return for ACL Fest 2018 remains to be seen, but it’s pretty much a given that Benson and the Wheel will be back in the saddle for their Friday slot next year.

FULL FEST COVERAGE: News, reviews, photos and more on our Austin360 ACL page

Lady Bird gate offers fast and easy entry for early ACL Fest arrivals

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This year’s new Barton Springs West gate at the Austin City Limits Music Festival helped make for smoother and shorter entry times for early arrivals via the park’s main entry point on Barton Springs Road. But there’s long been another gate on the northwest end of Zilker Park, so we checked out the Lady Bird entrance as Weekend Two began on Friday morning.

READ MORE: New Barton Springs West gate at ACL Fest makes entry easier for some

This appears to be the easiest, fastest, and chill-est way into the grounds, at least in the early hours. Last Friday, we saw crowds of a few hundred at the main Barton Springs East gate, with a smaller grouping of around 100-200 at the new Barton Springs West entrance. For weekend two at the Lady Bird entrance, probably 50 to 60 early arrivals got in quickly with no visible problems.

Morgan Utterback and Abi Niland, both of Austin, run toward the Miller Lite stage to get a good spot for Coin as gates open at 11 a.m. during weekend two of the Austin City Limits Music Festival at Zilker Park on Friday, Oct. 13, 2017. TINA PHAN / FOR AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Within a few seconds of the “Star Wars” theme blasting from the park’s P.A. at precisely 11 a.m., per longstanding ACL Fest tradition, everyone from the Lady Bird entrance was in the park. If the moment lacked the mad-dash drama that sometimes occurs at the main gate, with superfans of the night’s headliner dashing toward the park’s biggest stage, there was a zen-like calm in watching most of the festgoers stroll into the park, in no big hurry but just happy to be here.

RELATED: Be prepared for an airport-style search at ACL Fest gates

Getting there from that side of the park is a little tricky, as the best access point is the pedestrian footbridge across Lady Bird Lake near Austin High School. There’s also an unmarked fork in the path right after crossing the footbridge: Bear right to get to the festival, as the left path leads only to the Hike & Bike Trail with no fest access.

Michael and Jessica Sosa of Austin wait to enter the Austin City Limits Music Festival at the Lady Bird entrance on Friday morning, Oct. 13, 2017. Peter Blackstock/American-Statesman

Those who’ve figured out how to come in early from that direction, instead of the more popular Barton Springs Road walk-in, seem to like the alternative route. Among them were Michael Sosa and Jessica Sosa, an Austin couple who were attending their fourth or fifth ACL Fest. They’re psyched for headliners Jay Z on Friday and Red Hot Chili Peppers on Saturday, but they like to come early to see some bands they might not already know.

“The early part of the day is really good for music discovery,” Michael offered. Jessica concurred, saying that they often wander from stage to stage in the afternoon “and see what catches our ear.”

FULL FEST COVERAGE: News, reviews, photos and more on our Austin360 ACL page

 

 

ACL Fest headliners The Killers surprise Austin with midnight set at Continental Club

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During South by Southwest last March, the Broken Spoke was the local music institution that got the big secret show when Garth Brooks showed up to play the old-school country dance hall. For the Austin City Limits Music Festival, the big winner was longtime South Congress anchor the Continental Club, where fest headliner the Killers played a midnight show to 250 fans on Thursday night.

Word went up late Thursday via the band’s Twitter account that the show would be happening:

A long line quickly formed down South Congress outside the club. The Continental, arguably Austin’s most important music venue of the past 30 years, isn’t new to such high-profile shows; a few years ago, Robert Plant and Patty Griffin performed there (billed as “Patty Griffin and Her Driver”).

The Killers at ACL Fest on Sunday, Oct. 8, 2017. Contributed/Candice Lawler/C3 Presents

The Continental show arose after a day of speculation about an apparent private show earlier Thursday atop a downtown building.

READ MORE: Looks like ACL headliners the Killers are playing on a downtown Austin rooftop

After bringing the first weekend of ACL Fest to an end on Oct. 8 with a powerful hour-and-a-half set on the American Express stage, the band will return this Sunday to close out the second weekend as well.

READ MORE: Our Austin360 review of the Killers at ACL Fest Weekend One

Austin360 contributing writer Chad Swiatecki was on the scene and filed this report:

For whatever difficulty Killers singer Brandon Flowers may (or may not) have had connecting to the audience in Zilker Park on Sunday when his band closed out Austin City Limits Music Festival, he had no such problems Thursday night.

In a hastily arranged drop-in show at The Continental Club, the Las Vegas rockers delivered 60 minutes of hits new and old.

The show saw Flowers clad all in black save for a gold lame´ cheetah print suit jacket and having no trouble provoking cheers and sing-alongs from the moment the opening of the cocky strut of new single “The Man” kicked off the show. It was interesting to watch Flowers and his bandmates and backup singers adjust to a stage far smaller than what they’ve played with any regularity in more than a decade.

That meant for Flowers’ turns on keyboards along with vocals he had to contort himself to use a standard vertical microphone off to his side instead of getting a telescope boom mic positioned directly in front of him. He handled it with relative ease, but the definite highlights came on songs like “When You Were Young” and others where he was able to prowl the stage and lean into the band’s many anthemic moments.

About 40 minutes into the show Flowers paused to intro the song “Andy, You’re A Star,” which he said the band hadn’t played in close to 10 years, and recalled writing it in drummer Ronnie Vannucci Jr.’s garage while obsessing over Iggy Pop’s “Lust For Life” album. While the dissonant opening moments of that song might recall the punk icon’s solo material, its final third on Thursday shifted into the grandiose and shiny smooth rock that Flowers and his bandmates would come to make a living with soon after the release of debut album “Hot Fuss.”

A run through Tom Petty’s “American Girl” felt somewhat by the numbers even if it was an admirable tribute to an artist Flowers said he respected but was never able to meet. And show closer “Mr. Brightside” was a test tube example of what the band does best, crafting tales of characters caught in the middle of tough places and attaching them to undeniable choruses.

We’ll see on Sunday for the band’s second night closing the festival whether the back to their roots club show has any effect on their supersized outdoor performance, but for an hour in a sweaty and historic dive bar in downtown Austin they were in top form.

Set list: The Man, Interlude, When You Were Young, Somebody Told Me, Smile, Human, Run For Cover, Andy, You’re A Star, Read My Mind, Runaways, All These Things That I Have Done, Mr. Brightside

It’s too bad, by the way, that former Austin singer-songwriter Joe Pug recently moved back to his home turf of Maryland, as it seems likely that Killers leader Brandon Flowers might have brought him onstage for one of these occasions. When Flowers toured behind a solo album two years ago, he had Pug open some shows, and even brought him onstage during the encore for a duet version of Pug’s song “If Still It Can’t Be Found”:

ACL Fest 2017: Run The Jewels display wordplay wizardry

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Of course no one was going to steal the show from Killer Mike or El-P once they took the stage at Austin City Limits Music Festival, but Bruce sure did try.

Jay Janner/Austin American-StatesmanKiller Mike, left, and El-P of Run The Jewels perform at the Austin City Limits Music Festival in Zilker Park on Sunday October 8, 2017.

Bruce was a fan pulled from the crowd about 20 minutes into the set when the MCs saw his sign claiming he could rap Killer Mike’s parts on the Run The Jewels track “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry.” That being no easy feat, the performers decided to let the super fan – wearing a T-shirt with the group’s signature pistol-and-fist imagery – take a turn on the microphone, with the added hurdle that he had to perform without a backing beat to keep the rhythm. And if he slipped even a bit he’d lose the mic and be shown back to he crowd.

But wouldn’t you know it, a minute-long blur of ballerinas and Pontiac Catalinas later, Bruce backed up his brag and won the cheers of the audience and slaps on the back from his apparent heroes.

That crowd-pleasing diversion was about the only pause in the hour-long set that saw the ATL-meets-NYC pairing make yet another argument for them being the best live hip-hop act currently active.

With lyrical flows that regularly exceed 100 words per minute it’d be easy for each rapper’s delivery to turn into a blur of syllables, but the vocal control and movement in timbre and dynamics they put to use constantly adds an important textural variety within songs and individual verses. That helps preserve the inherent bounce that is so crucial to making Run The Jewels a group that stands pretty far apart from its peers.

It’s also part of why next Saturday they’ll become perhaps the most lyrically aggressive and profane rap group to record an episode of the Austin City Limits television show.

One does wonder, even with the show having plenty of lead time for editing purposes, how the show’s producers will manage the bleeps or silences in the audio to obscure objectionable words from the eventual public television broadcast.

Whoever gets that task will need to have a pretty deep knowledge of the lyrical nooks and crannies of the group’s three-album and possibly million-word canon. Hope someone can get them Bruce’s phone number. Seems like he’s up to the task.

Set list:

  • Talk To Me
  • Legend Has It
  • Call Ticketron
  • Blockbuster Night Part 1
  • Oh My Darling Don’t Cry
  • 36” Chain
  • Stay Gold
  • Don’t Get Captured
  • Panther Like A Panther
  • Nobody Speak
  • Close Your Eyes (And Count To (Expletive))
  • Hey Kids (w/ Danny Brown)
  • Report To The Shareholders/Kill Your Masters
  • Thursday In The Danger Room
  • Angel Duster

ACL Fest 2017: Gorillaz’s Albarn shows why there’s always room for more

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For much of Gorillaz’s adventurous and triumphant set Sunday at Austin City Limits Music Festival nearly all the members of singer Damon Albarn’s 13-piece backing band were lit as silhouettes while the vivid animation videos depicting the world’s first “cartoon band” played on the screen behind them.

It was a necessary and effective staging tactic that added separation between Albarn, who is the consistent human face of his creation, and any other human presence involved in the proceedings. But it is also something of a disservice to the players who helped the singer and string of guests put together a musically adventurous and joyous set that at 65 minutes was too brief by about half.

Damian Albarn of Gorillaz performs at the Austin City Limits Music Festival in Zilker Park on Sunday October 8, 2017. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

From slow-growing gloom of set opener “M1 A1” it was easily confirmed that what began 16 years ago as an art project between Albarn and animator Jamie Hewlett has evolved into one of the most stylistically adventurous pop/rock acts in modern music.

It was a set where the deceptively intricate and ebullient synth folk of “On Melancholy Hill” could set next to the atmospheric pallor and gloom of “Busted And Blue” without the stylisitic switch feeling too jarring. A light thread of Britpop ran through most of the material, which veered into dub reggae, simple folk, assorted African musics, disco soul and more. As jam-packed with musicianship as the band’s set was, it managed to never reach sensory overload levels.

Rising rap star D.R.A.M., who had performed a few hours earlier on the same stage, joined Albarn for “Andromeda,” joining another half dozen guests vocalists who helped make the stage’s available square footage something of a premium by night’s end. It was also for good effect when Albarn exited the stage for “Strobelite” to let the six backup singers shine, and later his turn at the keyboard let the guest reggae and rap vocalists take the spotlight on “Sex Murder Party.”

And when Albarn and another guest rapper turned the chorus duties on undeniable hit “Clint Eastwood” over to the audience in front of them, it felt natural to have thousands of voices lending a hand to a band where there’s always room for more.

 

Set list:

M1 A1

Last Living Souls

Saturnz Barz

Tomorrow Comes Today

Rhinestone Eyes

Broken

On Melancholy Hill

Busted And Blue

El Manana

Strobelite

Andromeda

Sex Murder Party

Out Of Body

Stylo

Feel Good Inc.

Clint Eastwood