It’s not the heat, it’s the vicinity. “I’m from Canada,” Basia Bulat noted a few songs into her sunny-and-low-80s Sunday afternoon set on the BMI stage at the Austin City Limits Music Festival. “I know that’s supposedly cold for here, but it’s hot for me right now!”
The silver lining — or golden, actually — was the dazzling shimmer the sunlight cast on Bulat’s trademark shiny cape every time she stepped out from the shadows of the stage roof. Alternating between keyboards and guitar, Bulat showed instrumental versatility but impressed most with her voice, broad in range and rich with expression.
That was no secret for those who saw her at South by Southwest in recent years, and she’s played ACL Fest once before too. In fact, she noted, the last time she was here, she met My Morning Jacket leader Jim James, who ended up producing her new record “Good Advice.” She kindly gave props where due: “If it weren’t for this festival, I wouldn’t have gotten to make this record!”
Though she’s made waves mostly in the indie realm as a protege of Canadian countrymates Arcade Fire, Bulat draws a lot from traditional folk as well. She’s best when she heads toward a melodic pop center, as on the late-set highlights “Infamous” and “Fool,” both from the new album.
The performance was not without a few bumps. The bass was too heavy in the mix early on, and when Bulat switched to guitar, she had feedback problems initially. She took it in stride: “This is an old song called ‘Technical Difficulties,'” she joked, before thanking the crowd for its Texan hospitality and patience.
And she finished perhaps a little too soon, with time remaining for another song or two. But the closing number was a stunner: Her ace rhythm section departed as she stepped out into the sunbeams for a literally radiant spotlight on her soaring vocals, accompanied only by light electric guitar. Sometimes at ACL Fest, it’s the quieter, more intimate moments that leave the most lasting impressions.