The Chainsmokers’ Saturday set made one thing very clear: there are two separate and distinct Austin City Limits Festivals.
There exists the Daytime ACL, with parents, kids, and often modest crowds of live music lovers at each of eight stages, getting to see top-notch songwriters, bands, and soul singers up closer than one might expect from an enormous festival.
And then there is ACL After Dark, where legions converge on one or two major acts, and the tired, intoxicated masses give themselves over to throbbing bass, strobe lights, and the will to dance.
The Chainsmokers were one of Saturday’s big draws in the latter category. The bouncing crowd was so thick – with people and smoke – that even a glimpse of the jumbo screens was rare from the edge of the audience.
When images did peek through the throngs, I could sees the most enthusiastic crowd of any set I’ve witnessed so far — EDM fans waving flags and cheering for blasts of orange flames. Chainsmokers duo Andrew Taggart and Alex Pall of New York City seemed to be having a blast too, pogo dancing and working the crowd in between synth parts. When they called out “Austin, Texas, are you ready?” pyrotechnics usually followed.
Chainsmokers played a bit of “Kanye” and got a brief singalong going to a sample of KISS’s “Rock n Roll All Night.” A transition from radio single “Never Let Me Go” to Third Eye Blind’s “Semi-Charmed Life” was also a crowd pleaser.
“Everybody get as low as you can right now! Get low, get low, get low!” one of the DJs instructed, then everyone jumped up amid more bass and fire. Dancers who needed extra room for elbows and kicks grooved farther out into the open field.
At times, it was hard to tell how much of the crowd was actual Chainsmokers’ audience and how much consisted of Kendrick Lamar fans slowly making their way to his headlining set (likely a combination of both).
Introducing Chainsmokers’ recent number one hit and fan favorite, “Closer,” Taggart, who also sings on the track, said of its origin: “I got drunk and starting listening to old bands we love like Blink 182, Dashboard Confessional, and Taking Back Sunday. They tell it like it is. I wanted to write something like that.” (I may never hear pop-punk quite the same way again.)
For my money, EDM’s haunting vocals have less resonance without a singer present, so I let myself daydream of Taggart and Paul bringing up ACL performers Jess Glynne or Melanie Martinez to animate Chainsmokers’ vocals.
Andra Day could’ve filled in beautifully on the almost-ballad “New York City,” with lyrics, “To know what it’s like to love somebody like I love you? / To know what it’s like to kill yourself with bad habits?” Phoebe Ryan did join the DJs on “All We Know” but it felt too brief.
The Chainsmokers may not have been my kind of nightcap, but the sight of thousands of people dancing in unison is a beautiful thing. The New York DJs proved they know how to light up ACL After Dark.