ACL Fest 2016 review: Jess Glynne and band shimmer with soul

Question for Jess Glynne’s audience: Did you cry too?

I felt the tears in my eyes from the first strains of opening jam, “Don’t Be So Hard on Yourself” and thought, “Well, this is a good start to ACL.”

Learn to forgive, learn to let go
Everyone trips, everyone falls
So don’t be so hard on yourself, no

"Don't be so hard on yourself, girl / everyone trips, everyone falls." I cried. #jessglynne #aclfest #dance #soul

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Only a smattering of festival-goers had gathered for Glynne’s 1 p.m. set on Friday, as the Austin City Limits Festival kicked off under clear skies and bright sun. But Glynne’s six-piece band strutted on stage in coordinated black track-style suits, like the stadium act that they are back in Britain. Glynne sashayed after them, strong, soulful vocals ringing out into Zilker Park.

Jess Glynne performs at the Austin City Limits Music Festival in Zilker Park Friday September 30, 2016. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Jess Glynne performs at the Austin City Limits Music Festival in Zilker Park Friday September 30, 2016. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

By halfway through the second song, “Rather Be,” (Glynne’s hit with Clean Bandit), the crowd had quadrupled and cheerful throngs were bouncing and clapping along in the sun. I dropped my pen in the grass and let myself dance.

“Are you ready to get down with my band and me?” Glynne called out, before waving her guitarist and bassist up front to dance in a line with her, grooving side to side to the pulsing funk bass line. During “Gave Me Something,” Glynne’s purple and blue lamé cape billowed in the early autumn breeze, and her two stellar backup singer-dancers leaned side to side in slow motion and punctuated choruses with tambourine exclamation marks.

More contagious choreography accompanied the disco-infused “Right Here.” During “You Can Find Me,” I wanted so badly to be rollerskating.

Through all of this, I thought: Prince would be proud.

Jess Glynne’s music (and talented, multiracial, gender-diverse band) would be at home at a gospel festival, on Top 40 radio, or in a Zumba class. It is timeless — recalling En Vogue and Adele, Sly & the Family Stone and Chaka Khan (whose “I Feel For You” Glynne and band covered) — and even after having to cancel shows and undergo surgery on her vocal chords in 2015, Glynne’s voice and songwriting are the real deal.

Glynne’s hourlong, 13-song set did lose some steam in the middle, with “Why Me” feeling like a throwaway and the tempos slowing. The dancing was still infectious, the sound shimmery, the band in the pocket — but something was missing. For all the ways Glynne was reaching out to the crowd with her lyrics and intense expression — her shoulders mean it when they dance — I also wanted to see her connect physically. I wanted her to reach out and grab hands in the front row during heart-swelling closer “Hold My Hand.” I wanted to see Glynne and the other singers jump into the crowd and dance with us.

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The festival setting — with a big gap between stage and super-fans in the front row — prevents that kind of intimate connection. Glynne is set for a UK arena tour later this fall. She deserves a bigger audience Stateside too, a la Adele. But before she gets too huge, I hope she comes back to play small clubs too. “Don’t Be So Hard On Yourself” would bring a crowd to its knees in the dark.

Jess Glynne set list:

Don’t Be So Hard On Yourself
Rather Be
No Rights No Wrongs
Gave Me Something
My Love
Ain’t Got Far To Go
Love Me
Right Here
Why Me
Take Me Home
You Can Find Me
I Feel For You (Chaka Khan cover)
Hold My Hand

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