Here’s why you should pay attention to who’s playing on the small BMI stage at the Austin City Limits Music Festival each year: Once in a while, one of those acts will blow up big-time and return to play one of the fest’s main stages.
It took only two years for Welsh group Catfish & the Bottlemen, who had the 12:15 p.m. opening slot of the BMI stage on the second weekend of ACL Fest in 2014. This time around, they were on the massive Honda stage at the west end of the park, placed into a prime 4:30 p.m. slot that guaranteed a strong crowd.
They clearly warranted it, judging from the devout fans who packed a fair bit of the space both wide and deep between the stage and the soundboard. Storming the stage after a canned intro of the Dean Martin classic “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head,” the hard-rocking quartet blazed through songs from their 2014 debut album “The Balcony” and this year’s follow-up “The Ride.”
Frontman Van McCann and his mates clearly learned a lot from ’90s and ’00s trendsetters such as Oasis and the Strokes, as well as more recent rock juggernauts including Gaslight Anthem. Though they roam the stage with reckless abandon, there’s actually a lot of precision in their playing: they stop and start together on a dime, and occasionally slow down or speed up rhythms in perfect sync with each other.
They also play unapologetically loud, which probably was good for those watching from beyond the sound board. Up front, earplugs or just an appreciative acceptance of their wall-of-sound assault was pretty much required.
The Bottlemen weren’t much for between-song banter, other than McCann’s occasional “Hey ACL!” shout-outs. They let the quality of their songs and the power of their performance do the talking, which worked out just fine. Two albums in, they’re still kind of a one-trick pony; the thrill of their all-out attack wore off a bit after a while. The band’s longevity may depend on their ability to broaden their horizons a bit. For now, though, they’re plenty good enough to have warranted that quick jump from small to big stage.