Jack Garratt’s set at ACL Fest Saturday could serve as a lesson on how a solo artist leaning heavily on electronic instrumentation and/or pre-programmed elements can ensure their live show goes beyond the snooze-worthy vocalist-and-a-laptop setup. Passionate and glistening with sweat, Garratt never seemed to phone it in, and his effort paid off. The British singer-songwriter’s mix of bedroom soul and club beats kept the ACL Fest crowd moving throughout his mid-afternoon set.
In bright blue overalls and sporting his signature fire-red viking hipster beard, Garratt stood solo on the stage—a single drumstick spinning like a quick-drawn pistol in one hand, his other moving between a pair of keyboards, and occasionally dropping both playing electric guitar. He summons warm, resonant James Blake keys and bangs out sharp drum pad beats and 808 handclaps. A multitasking wizard, he whipped around between a semi-circle of instruments while dancing his heart out–to the crowd’s delight.
A lover of falsetto and stiff-brimmed caps, Garratt has grown increasingly confident on stage since his first show in Austin at SXSW 2015. Over the past two years of nearly non-stop touring he’s added live drums to his encircling instrument arsenal–and added plenty of new fans to his base. Still, he seems charmingly humbled by the audience he has amassed.
“There’s like.. all of you more than I thought would be here,” Garratt said, looking over the crowd with a smile.
When he goes all-in eyes-closed full-throttle on the vocals there are glimpses of Stevie Wonder. And in those show-stealing moments when he shreds away on a classic sunburst Stratocaster, there are echoes of Stevie Ray Vaughan and, when paired with his high-end vocals, Jeff Buckley.
That guitar and the aforementioned drums and keys come together in a package with dubstep drops that still manage to feel surprising years after that D-word became a source of cringe for many.
After asking the crowd if he might play a cover, he teasingly played the drums from Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” before switching over to a couple bars of the Spice Girls’ “2 Become 1,” before launching into a full cover of the theme to “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” which, as you might imagine as a big fat prime-cut nostalgia was a massive sing-along hit with the crowd. Garratt followed with a cover medley featuring Craig David’s “7 Days” and Justin Timberlake’s “Senorita.”