O.A.R. embraces its uncool jam roots at ACL Fest

[cmg_anvato video=”4186762″]

At the Honda Stage, O.A.R. began with a riff on OutKast’s funk opus “Spottieottiedopaliscious.” The seven-piece band, including a bright horn section, offered Margaritaville-appropriate, tropically tinged entrance rock to Austin City Limits patrons and their sealed bottled water.

“I took this girl out last night, we left around 12,” sang frontman Marc Roberge on “Hey Girl,” before his keyboardist dropped a fluttering solo.

O.A.R. performs during weekend two of the Austin City Limits Music Festival at Zilker Park in Austin, Texas, on Friday, Oct. 13, 2017. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Two hours earlier in front of a modest crowd of early risers, meditative singer Ron Gallo used the brooding and intimate “All the Punks Are Domesticated” to dismissively riff on the state of things: He hates the “rock ‘n roll matinee, songs about sunny days, or love in a pretty way” sounds that perennially seize pop. Gallo finished his hardworking set by declaring, “Sorry not everybody looks like you.”

I bet he’d hate O.A.R., perhaps the most terminally uncool rock band of the past 20 years.

Originating in the D.C. suburb of Rockville, Maryland, in 1996, these chill bros who sing like they don’t have any problems that can’t be solved with a swipe on their GrubHub app came of age back when jam music was alive and well. They sing about poker games and relationships that deteriorated despite being “amazing.” Their fans lived in late-‘90s frat houses, enjoyed limes in beer, flip-flops, and put bent bottlecaps on the brims of their hats. Guitarist Richard On’s acoustic strumming was often played in post-Sublime island time. (I think that’s because, from Maine to the Outer Banks, the summer house populous that frequents the eastern seaboard loves reggae.)

Back at the Honda Stage, D.C. and Maryland flags waved in approval. What the band lacks in anthemic rock it makes up for in ska-friendly bass lines and impeccable musicianship. When everyone onstage can solo, you have a well-oiled convertible that mixes in lyrics about daughters running off to Austin.

It was unpretentious and optimistic. Like how some music fans walk into a Rainey Street bar and roll their eyes at the aimless entertainment, but most bob their hands up and down with the grooves. And so Roberge’s acoustic guitar included a taped-on message for the masses: “Life is beautiful.”

O.A.R. performs during weekend two of the Austin City Limits Music Festival at Zilker Park in Austin, Texas, on Friday, Oct. 13, 2017. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

His banter was hushed, though his songs are loquacious odes to livin’ good.

“It’s been a while since we got to play here, we’re so thankful,” he told us, finally, 25 minutes in during the drum intro to “Shattered.”

Landing somewhere between the Calling, Lifehouse, and “The OC” soundtrack, 2005’s “Stories Of a Stranger” is an epic relic of mid-2000s Target rock. (Because you’d hear it at Target while trying on pants.) Ditching the party grooves for Rob Thomas-ian light rock, Roberge proved he can write schlock with anyone.

“How many times can I break till I shatter?” he sang on the hook.

The band retains a present fan base—even at 2:30pm while a huge swath of ACL patrons are wrapping up work.

“Our first show was at the 8th-grade talent show,” he said before new one “I Go Through,” and turning pensive: “This song’s about now.”

It’s an ode to “family,” and looking back on a life that’s moved too fast. You want to groan, but a capable musician singing from the heart is Teflon.

“We weren’t going to play this one but it just feels right,” Roberge said before “Peace.” It’s a hokey acoustic ballad fit to soundtrack a date scene on “The Bachelor.”

“I just want to hold you till you fall asleep,” the band sang as the couple in front of me held hands.

Suddenly an extra pair of horn players led a four-strong brass line through “That Was a Crazy Game of Poker,” a closing song that was half ska and half Lumineers. Roberge scatted, while fans tossed playing cards in the sky. It gave me secondhand embarrassment, but it played more earnest than a kindergarten art project.

Jmblya 2017: 13 key things you need to know about the breakout rap festival

Steve Aoki performs to a large crowd at the 2017 Jmblya Festival on Saturday, May 6th 2017 at Circuit of The Americas. Erika Rich for American-Statesman

Saturday’s Jmblya festival proved a 25,000-strong sellout triumph, according to event organizers. The blowout meant having to endure skillet-hot concrete and drunk high school bros in high-top socks over at Circuit of the Americas. But even the most crowd-averse introvert found booming and vital rap music for their Spotify playlist.

Whether you were there to snap an Instagram by the Jmblya logo, bumrush the VIP area, watch Steve Aoki throw cakes at patrons, or pass out in the Tito’s camper trailer, we can all agree that the traffic after Chance the Rapper was a fate we wouldn’t wish on anyone. Here are 13 things you need to know about the festival.

1) The first banger to elicit jumping and singing dropped at 1:35pm.

That would be Kendrick Lamar’s omnipresent “Humble,” which stirred panic as the gates opened and inspired young patrons to flock to the stage. Lamar’s music would play during several between-set DJ blocks, so I hope you were a fan.

2) Yes, several white kids rapped along to the N-word.

Three white young men showed up in ironic fur coats, too. The cultural appropriation game is unavoidable when black hip-hop music is the dominant mainstream pop genre, and it’s consumed by teens. Save for a few unhinged kids yelling a “bitch” into their smartphones as a term of endearment for loved ones, everyone seemed there to celebrate and be cool. Unfortunately dropping some apparently inebriated N-bombs while singing along to rap choruses has become nearly as common at festivals as ironic basketball jerseys.

RELATED: Chance the Rapper, the most talented hip-hop star of his generation

3) Pell was the first rapper to land onstage, and he was pretty good.

The New Orleans artist hit Jmblya at 2 p.m. and somehow performed his sunny-hot set in a denim jacket. While a drummer clanged along to tinny beats, and with zestful vocal flourishes, Pell was all charisma on would-be anthems like “Queso.”

I’d maybe rethink that “Pell yeah!” audience chant, however.

4) Snow tha Product raged against President Trump.

The Mexican-American rapper (real name Claudia Alexandra Feliciano) did not mince words or leave her imagery open to interpretation. We got “(Expletive) Trump” chants, and flaming, devil horn-adorned presidential backdrops via the onstage screens.

Elsewhere the Californian called out fellow Latinos who never throw their hands in the air, and generally represented as the afternoon’s lone female solo artist. Even the playful calls to action had political bite.

“Let’s take a couple shots,” she told the mid-afternoon crowd. “If you’re over 21! Please don’t get your girl arrested in Texas.”

5) Someone played Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

“Who knows this?” the house DJ asked before unsheathing some Freddie Mercury. DJ Mr. Rogers led the between-acts music, and a colleague of his also 1) dropped Drowning Pool’s 2001 metal-tinged epic “Bodies,” and 2) turned the most prevalent iPhone ringtone into a beat. Given that we heard Kendrick Lamar songs on a radio loop, the curveball was most appreciated by this reporter.

6) The drinks situation was chaotic and exhausting.

The water station temporarily ran out of water, festival staff said, and the bar began handing out free bottled water around 4:40 p.m.

“The line for food wasn’t moving, the line for water has nothing… we were drinking Pepsi for hydration,” a patron told his friends nearby.

By 5 p.m. the water station was filled and flowing. A festival worker told Austin360 that he was handing out “cups of ice” briefly. But he added that the bar staff was “frantically” calling other staffers to come in and serve patrons. The festival didn’t appear to disseminate wristbands for over-21 attendees, and that required an ID check for each sale on at least two of the bars, which slowed things down considerably.

7) Young Dolph had the first true banger that folks knew of the afternoon.

The Memphis, Tennessee, rapper, who’s SUV was shot with more than 100 bullets in February, bit into the afternoon with “100 Shots.”



8) This is how you actually pronounce “6lack.” 

“It’s not ‘slack,’ not ‘6 black,’ just ‘black,'” the singer born Ricardo Valdez Valentine told fans. The East Atlanta rapper and singer was in touch with his feelings Saturday, fresh off a breakthrough appearance on Syd’s heralded “Fin” album, and contributing music to Netflix’s “The Get Down.”

“Three in the morning, I’m on do not disturb,” the moody, dread-locked R&B dude sang in his tie-dye shirt on the powerful “Ex Calling.”

Damn fam, who was she?

9) Lil Uzi Vert was clearly the best crowd-surfer.

The Philadelphia rapper jumped in, and spent a few songs out there with the people.


Vert isn’t known for bludgeoning lyrics or word soup, but for singing with sincere passion about human pains. Like on “XO Tour Llif3,” wherein he details meeting a suicidal woman: “She said, ‘I’m not afraid to die. All my friends are dead.'”

Even Vert seemed surprised at his Jmblya popularity. “Can you believe they told me y’all wouldn’t know this one?” he noted onstage.

10) Migos were the men of the moment.

The Atlanta rap trio enjoyed a No. 1 album this year, and the Lil Uzi Vert-featuring “Bad and Boujee” remains inescapable along Sixth Street on the weekends. When their 6 p.m. set began, more than 15 patrons climbed the short fence separating the VIP viewing decks. A canned DJ Khaled video intro accompanied the conquering trio of Quavo, Takeoff, and Offset.

“Cooking up dope in Austin,” they ad-libbed, to roaring approval. Perhaps as tribute to COTA (or probably because their warped and advanced sensibilities are beyond our common understandings of art), weird footage of motocross racing played on-screen during “Bad and Boujee.”

11) Steve Aoki had the best EDM set.

Nevermind that he was the only true EDM act in the house. Jmblya was conceived as a marriage between rap and electronic dance music, according to festival promoters Scoremore, but these days the major draws are from the former camp.

“I want to make a crazy-ass Snapchat story with you guys today,” the DJ, who’s father founded the Benihana restaurant chain, told onlookers.

Aoki said he was working on new album “Colony,” and was also busy shooting a music video on Saturday, one Aoki said has been incorporating footage from 200 shows and 50 countries. He also threw birthday cake at people, and brought out Migos for a collaboration.

“If you’re a fan of Blink 182, I need you to scream right now,” Aoki said.

OK, dude.

12) Gucci Mane is rap’s true spiritual adviser.

Are you not entertained? The mythical mascot of the American South wore an absurd Kangol-style hat with sunglasses at night and terribly light denim, in an outfit lifted straight from Buckle circa 2002. But he also proved why only God can judge him.

With cuts from December’s “The Return of East Atlanta Santa,” or the calm-as-a-bomb delivery of “First Day Out Tha Feds,” the 37-year-old rapper showed these kids a thing or two about the game. Gucci is a pioneering virtuoso, after all.

“If you got more than five Guwop mixtapes, put your hands up now,” his DJ asked as a sort of litmus test for the audience.

With positive responses to epic poems like “Lemonade,” “Pillz,” and “Traphouse 3,” it’s clear we all did.

Perennial Texas rap concert ambassador Bun B joined Gucci for a spirited rendition of 2005’s enduring crew anthem “Get Throwed.” Young Dolph and Migos likewise made cameos.

Gucci turned the night into a consensual freaknic, undoubtedly a positive message for the graduating class of 2017.

13) Speaking of unbridled positivity, Chance the Rapper owned the night.

It’s his time, and for the 24-year-old Chicago rapper, will be for the long haul. Or at least through October’s Austin City Limits Fest encore.

Gucci Mane performs at the 2017 Jmblya Festival on Saturday, May 6, 2017, at Circuit of The Americas.
Erika Rich for American-Statesman

Chance the Rapper shows Jmblya why he’s the most talented hip-hop star of his generation

Chance the Rapper headlines Jmblya 2017 at Circuit of the Americas on Saturday, May 6. Erika Rich for American-Statesman

Chance the Rapper is ranked No. 3 in his class of hip-hop stars in their creative and professional primes. Just above Future, below Kendrick Lamar and Drake.

Lamar is critically heralded and Drake boundlessly popular, but the 24-year-old Chicago artist born Chancellor Bennett is the most purely talented. Saturday night while headlining a festival, Jmblya, that his star power helped sell out to the tune of 25,000 tickets sold at a Circuit of the Americas parking lot, the imminent Austin City Limits Festival Headliner headliner played youth pastor.

⇒MORE: 13 things to know about Jmblya 2017

Joined with a backline worthy of Kirk Franklin, Chance donned a powder blue cap and shirt, church-on-Sundays khakis, and a denim jacket that lasted two-and-a half songs. His band, the Social Experiment, brought along gospel singers; drummer, Stix, a fill-happy whiz; keys; and trumpet player Nico “Donnie Trumpet” Segal, blasting parking lot C with jubilant triumph.

“I don’t know if you guys know, but today is part of national ‘Acid Rap’ week,” Chance deadpanned early, nodding 2013’s cult favorite album.

⇒READ: Scoremore’s Jmblya taps into youth movement

It was a homecoming show. Chance’s Central Texas concerts with local promoters Scoremore have been a constant, from Austin house parties to festivals. Now a Grammy-winning giant who released an exclusive album via Apple, this was a test run of sorts for October’s headlining ACL Fest engagement.

Opening with the breakneck “Mixtape,” and swiftly pivoting to “Blessings,” Chance showed the dense, young crowd his versatility: He’ll glide across the stage like Fred Astaire, rap in frenetic and melodic patterns about religion, then convince a sea of self-aware cool teens to yell out the phrase “cocoa butter kisses” in urgent unison.

Like the early work of mentoring Chicagoan Kanye West, a frequent collaborator, Chance’s subversive music wins by celebrating its gospel and soul roots, then rapping to his lived-in, crime-addled neighborhood. But he’s an optimist with a faith in God so unwavering that it breaks your heart.

“You should talk to him,” Chance sang as a refrain at the end.

Chance the Rapper headlines Jmblya 2017 at Circuit of the Americas on May 6. Chance will be back in Austin in October for the Austin City Limits Music Festival. Erika Rich for American-Statesman

He leaned on his adoring base during his hour-plus set, and was frequently rewarded for it. During “Blessings” he turned the mic to an onlooker: “You look like you’ve got a good voice.” Hell every hook was boosted in signal by fans.

Atlanta rap legend Gucci Mane and the surging pop singles of Migos dazzled earlier, sure, but the cult of Chance made its presence known throughout Jmblya. Fans in his signature “3” hats were inescapable.

“Angels,” from breakthrough 2016 album “Coloring Book,” showcased his technical range as a rapper, zooming into turbo while puncturing the muggy night with immaculate enunciation. Where many of his Jmblya colleagues indulged in call-and-response gimmicks to bloat the weight of their hooks, Chance played marching band director: metering out verses with hand gestures, and teaching cadences via their number of syllables.

⇒COMING BACK: Chance the Rapper, Jay Z, Gorillaz, more announced for ACL Fest 2017

“I’m the One,” a surefire summer hit with Justin Bieber and DJ Khaled released last week, made a roaring addition to the set. The most pathos stemmed from a trio of gems featured on Kanye West’s “Life of Pablo” album, which in February 2016 served as a showcase for Chance. The band stunned with a juiced version of “Waves,” an anthemic song that Chance reportedly insisted be included on the final “Pablo” tracklisting, even though he doesn’t rap on it. He added two more “Pablo” songs for good measure: “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1,” a searing aside of praise and love, and his jaw-dropping cameo from “Ultralight Beam,” which made its strings-tugging debut last year on “Saturday Night Live.”

“I’ve been coming to Austin for a long time, since 2012,” Chance reminded us, before doing one for the day 1 supporters. “I’m talking a lot, this song is called ‘Sunday Candy.'”

Playful and vibrant tracks like “Juke Jam,” about roller skating with your crush, unmasked his youth. Chance too often raps under the watchful eye of his elders, like he’s tasked with setting a good example every time out. He asks the ’90s kids to “make some noise,” and your jarred at how high he’s positioned his ceiling as a commercial property, but also a generational troop leader.

“We might have to start the show right now,” he said 30 minutes in, before going ahead and playing “No Problem,” his most popular radio hit.

Indeed the Jmblya pop-in, folded into his ongoing Be Encouraged tour, proved Chance has the chops, ideas and unsinkable melodies to dominate on main stages for the next decade. He can lean on a wide swath of student-age fans who loved streaming “Acid Rap” via SoundCloud, or chat onstage with Chappelle-like storytelling gifts that leave you hanging on every anecdote. And yes, make everyone jump up and down while losing their minds — this is the Jmblya, after all.

Chance the Rapper headlines Jmblya 2017 on May 6 at Circuit of the Americas. Erika Rich for American-Statesman

Young Thug worth the wait as first Sound on Sound wraps with a rain-soaked Sunday

Sound On Sound Festival attendees evacuate the fairground on Sunday, Nov. 6, 2016. (Dave Creaney/American-Statesman)
Sound On Sound Festival attendees evacuate the fairground on Sunday, Nov. 6, 2016. (Dave Creaney/American-Statesman)

The Sound on Sound festival finally got Young Thug to the stage Sunday night.

Four and a half hours after his rain-soaked time slot, the Atlanta rapper closed the punk-spirited music weekend with a breakneck 40 minutes of soaring — commercially booming — Atlanta rap music beginning around 12:30 a.m. As lightning forced sudden Sherwood Forest evacuations earlier, and high-profile performers like Washington, D.C., rapper Wale canceled amid travel issues, organizers finished the chaotic Sunday with a major-league coup.

Sure, we lost a lot of good music fans out there.

Yet Young Thug onstage seemed pleased by the thin leftover herd of believers in McDade, Texas, who had previously stuck with the Dragon’s Lair stage and enjoyed essential, willing, quarter-filled performances from iconic post-rockers Explosions In the Sky, delightfully brash indie fuzz rock from Aussie songwriter Courtney Barnett, and a reunion set from turn-of-the-century emo legends Thursday.

By 7:30 p.m. the rain cleared and the lingering acts resumed amid logistical delays. (Bob Mould, Big Freedia, STRFKR among the biggest names who performed late.) Only ‘90s Austin noise rockers Cherubs braved the downpour and performed during it.


Wearing bling, shades, grey sweatpants and a denim jacket, Young Thug performed a live rundown of his abundant back catalog that was so robust — gems from “Slime Season 3,” 2014’s best rap single “Lifestyle”— that the 25-year-old rapper born Jeffery Williams enjoyed the luxury of ignoring most of his breakthrough new album. A young man in a taco costume danced with purpose, mosh pits and crowd-surfers sprung to life, two ceremonial piñatas were torn to pieces and flung in the air.

“I want to come down with y’all,” Thugger said, confused but apparently inspired to join the fun. “How do I get down?”

Young Thug performs late Sunday night after sets were reshuffled because of a rain delay at Sound on Sound Fest in McDade. (Photo contributed by Harrison Yeager)
Young Thug performs late Sunday night after sets were reshuffled because of a rain delay at Sound on Sound Fest in McDade. (Photo contributed by Harrison Yeager)

Festival staffers told Austin360 that the lighting scrims — essentially giant drapes adorning the main stage — soaked with water and drowned out speakers. They were hurriedly broken down while Geoff Rickly, Thursday’s singer, watched smartphone weather radar backstage and considered scrapping his band’s reunion appearance altogether.

Forty minutes after the rescheduled evening timeslot, Thursday made it to the Dragon’s Lair stage  —but with an optimistic explanation from Rickly: “Everything is f**king broken. Everybody still really wants to play. It’s going to sound like absolute s**t, but who f**king cares?”

Staffers got the band’s PA fixed three songs in, after their compromise to only “play the old songs that never sounded good,” as Rickly put it.

In the forest, vendors gamely continued selling Indian food and brisket. Vodka sponsors reportedly gave away free ponchos. Shuttle service resumed after the delay. Programming updates came via onstage messengers and rampant social media interaction with fans from Sound on Sound’s Twitter account.

“Man this really is a magical place,” STRFKR singer Joshua Hodges commented about the Renaissance-tinged forest, as his dance band pulsed along complete with five backup dancers dressed like astronauts.

A few minutes later across the park, Courtney Barnett brushed off breaking a guitar pedal onstage, before thanking “everybody working and volunteering,” and riffing “Happy Birthday” to an audience member who pointed out the occasion.

The night’s most thematically resonant band — big sky instrumentalists Explosions In the Sky — rearranged clouds with walloping waves of sound. Most famous for inspiring the “Friday Night Lights” score, gleeful attendees pantomimed football during “Your Hand In Mine.”

“It really means a lot that you stick around,” singer Munaf Rayani said at the end.

Sound On Sound Fest rain evacuation turns into beer run

Sometimes, it rains more than expected, and Sound on Sound Festival organizers are forced to evacuate patrons on Sunday. Old Potato Road reportedly floods, and charter shuttles apparently pull into Walmart parking lots to wait until further notice.

Sound On Sound Festival attendees evacuate the fairground on Sunday, Nov. 6, 2016. (Dave Creaney/American-Statesman)
Sound On Sound Festival attendees evacuate the fairground on Sunday, Nov. 6, 2016. (Dave Creaney/American-Statesman)

The weekend was infectiously optimistic and curated by dreamers, but almost as soon as the third day began, it seemed like it would be cut short by nasty weather. Some of those who couldn’t take refuge in their cars were shuttled away from the mud and mayhem. That’s when the human spirit, and the soul of this crowd, shines.

Related: SOS Fest: A wedding in Sherwood Forest

According to Reddit user misstrickyjones, apparently among the displaced music fans, a cluster of five strangers went inside Walmart and bought Lone Star beer for the whole bus.

As she writes:

Rock and roll all night.

SOS Fest: The magic of Sound on Sound in 10 GIFs

The first Sound on Sound festival is roaring in the Sherwood Forest. It’s one big hearty turkey leg of a festival where punk legends officiate a real-life wedding, kids of all kinds dance on a skateboard ramp, and big-on-Spotify bands like Beach House and Purity Ring totally own it as headlining entity.

Mud, travel time, and tobacco sponsors galore notwithstanding, patrons will point to year one someday and recall the zany sights and sounds. Here are 10 slabs of that unique, bold magic–in GIF form.

1) The skateboard ramp dance party, which sprang up well after midnight.


2) Big Boi brought the ATL heat to the ATX.


3) Sherwood Forest jugglers: Always in character.


4) Anarchy Championship Wrestling


5) Horsey coaster ride!


6) Fantastic Austin artists. 


7) Beach House, in the crisp night air.


8) Philly guitarist and bedroom pop technician Alex G.


9) Purity Ring’s Blanton Museum-esque light art installation took forever to erect, but man was it luminous and transfixing.


10) General frivolity and good vibes all around. 




Sound on Sound: Phantogram strikes back

Phantogram plays Friday at Sound on Sound Fest at Sherwood Forest Faire in McDade. Photo contributed by Chad Wadsworth/Sound on Sound Fest
Phantogram plays Friday at Sound on Sound Fest at Sherwood Forest Faire in McDade. Photo contributed by Chad Wadsworth/Sound on Sound Fest

Without the chops, Phantogram goes buried in Spotify playlists as another synth-leaning buzz band. But the grandiose-scheming four-piece act on Friday showed the Dragon’s Lair stage what they’ve been cooking since 2014’s “Voices.”

Barreling right into “Black Out Days,” the band’s catchiest song to date, the Greenwich, New York outfit went fearless and shed the recent past. It was a cylinders-firing mission statement: We’re festival headliners now, get acquainted.

“You guys like that one don’t you?” singer and keyboardist Sarah Barthel said after trying out cuts from October’s new album “Three.”

“You guys ever drink for no reason?” she asked later. “We call that celebrating nothing.”

As she told the Charlotte Observer, producing songs for fellow Sound on Sound performer Big Boi gave Barthel the confidence to find a more bold stage persona who experiments with fashion. Friday night she donned thigh-high leather boots, shorts, and blonde hair. And while Barthel and co-songwriter, guitarist, and producer Josh Carter were not short on confidence, the new direction meant experimental, sorrow-laden music.

In January, Barthel’s sister committed suicide. Onstage she seems to have channeled the loss with all-in musical escapism. Even 2013’s “Fall in Love” blanketed takers with blaring, pulsing keyboards.

This was thunderous rock star headlining. This was industrial, lunch pale light and magic; an essential appearance by a band that’s made the leap to “night festival slots only.”

Sound on Sound: Run the Jewels swaggers, stumbles

Run the Jewels play Friday at Sound on Sound Fest at Sherwood Forest Faire in McDade. Photo contributed by Chad Wadsworth/Sound on Sound Fest
Run the Jewels play Friday at Sound on Sound Fest at Sherwood Forest Faire in McDade. Photo contributed by Chad Wadsworth/Sound on Sound Fest

It took less than five minutes for rap duo Run the Jewels to lose power.

Having just walked onstage to Queen’s “We Are the Champions,” the sound cut immediately Friday night at the Dragon’s Lair stage, to audience chants of “We can’t hear you” and groans galore.

“Everyone say hi to Jeremy, he’s the sound man,” El-P said, before asking him to turn it louder than is sanctioned at the Sherwood Forest.

It’s these guys again! The hyper-masculine, snarling rap duo that exists to make El-P seem cooler than he was for most of his career as an anti-pop backpack commodity in the early 2000s.

“So this is gonna be one of those shows,” El-P said, likely alluding to the chaotic Texas heat. “How long, out of pure vanity, can El-P keep this jacket on?”

He’s a strong producer but as a rapper seemingly knows that this band and its logo are too cool for him. So, he’s self-aware about it.

“You know rappers, it’s never loud enough,” he said after a call-and-response audience chant.

Better half Killer Mike led the converted pack of post-grad bros and tatted punks who lived “36 Chambers” and like to throw middle fingers in the sky on demand. Aggro bangers like “Banana Clipper” and “Blockbuster Night, PT. 1” went over with high energy but maybe half the innovation of Young Thug’s “Wyclef.” This is rap music for people who don’t actively follow rap music.

Underrated Memphis veteran Gangsta Boo rolled out late to add fair-and-balanced dirty talk to “Love Again.” It was a clear set peak.

Toward the end of the show, their DJ lost connectivity and the rappers ad-libbed spoken word poetry. It was a clear set valley.

“We’ve been a little busy,” El-P said. “We’ve been making ‘Run the Jewels 3.'”

The reveal was met with righteous applause. Ditto a set-closing debut of a strong new track.

Atlanta made man Killer Mike went political and clarified that neither candidate was for him. A sea of dudes who probably think those “Giant Comet 2016” bumper stickers are subversive cheered. Right before, El-P asked the audience to put away selfie sticks. Run the Jewels don’t so much shine a light as they air grievances while trying to out-rap each other; it’s a project that steers into jarring alleys about, say, police brutality. But then that El-P fella undercuts any narrative with word soup.

Also some exuberant participants smashed a Donald Trump piñata. That’ll show him.

Sound on Sound: Guided by Voices leads charge at Dragon’s Lair

Guided by Voices play Friday at Sound on Sound Fest at Sherwood Forest Faire in McDade. Photo contributed by Chad Wadsworth/Sound on Sound Fest
Guided by Voices play Friday at Sound on Sound Fest at Sherwood Forest Faire in McDade. Photo contributed by Chad Wadsworth/Sound on Sound Fest

Sporting a short-sleeve blue button down and disheveled gray hair, 58-year-old indie rock hero Robert Pollard knew the clock was ticking.

“We’re gonna make it quick, we got 50 minutes,” he told the Sound on Sound faithful Friday evening, before leading his four-piece band into a whirlwind tour of Guided By Voices’ more than 20 records. It’s all air-drum ready, junkies-on-corners Midwest dive rock for spirited pragmatists.

Longtime collaborator Doug Gillard, who rejoined the band this summer after an 11-year break, played solo-fueling sideman.

“I Am a Tree” was warmly received and rowdy. “Cut Out Witch” inspired the most dancing in place. Defunct Pollard side project Boston Spaceships enjoyed a brief revival with a “Tabby and Lucy” cover. The band landed on a block of tracks from 1994’s breakthrough “Bee Thousand.”

They began just past 6:45pm, and the Austin attendees who worked a full day were still making the drive to the Sherwood Forest. Here at the Dragon’s Lair stage, it meant a crowd of silver fox die-hards and curious entrants enthralled by the pace and Pollard’s still-has-it high kicks. (Last month, this iteration of GBV performed a 50-song set in Virginia.)

“I know this is a little bit outside of Austin, but close enough,” he said.

Let’s call it a soft open. Friday at the Sound on Sound festival’s main stage, the proximity, weather, and business hours made it a light kickoff crowd. But hey relative to the cold and drizzly maiden Fun Fun Fun Fest at Waterloo Park 10 years ago, this debut was wired and lively. The big stage that greets entrants, nestled amid tobacco sponsors and a wine bar, does feature a big and awesome purple dragon. It hugs the onstage castle facade, and is among the coolest aspects of this Renaissance-themed gathering.

Here Omaha, Nebraska scene survivors Cursive took seemingly forever to tune their backline. (They only began five or so minutes late, but man were they persnickety.) Set opener “Big Bang” melted together trumpet and cello to adorn what was admirable, mature rock from a six-piece band that stuck around after the great emo invasion of 2003. Set-closing “Sierra,” from ’03, still rips.

Forty-two-year-old frontman Tim Kasher, here in a brown button-down shirt and professorially faded dad jeans, played inspired and dense rock. Though cringe-worthy emo lyrics like 2001’s hyper-self-aware “Sink To the Beat,” weren’t as dignified. (That one features angsty musings on the scene, and the phrase “lyrically defecate.”)

“It’s nice to come out to events like this,” Kasher said. “We’ve been running into a lot of old friends.”

Indeed a sizable cluster of 30-something punk veterans were here to sing along to weaving, pensive tracks like “The Recluse” and even 2009’s “From the Hips.”

For all the attention to detail, the youthful noise of 2000’s “The Lament of Pretty Baby” landed tightly punctuated and with enough moving pieces to charm the stiffest of snarky cigarette smokers.

“Thank you for standing there,” deadpanned Shannon and the Clams guitarist Cody Blanchard an hour earlier. His band lightened spirits with doo-wop retro choruses and surf rock panache.

This after New Paltz, New York’s Diet Cig cranked infectious, pop-tinged punk that provided a nuanced, smart jolt. The two-piece outfit turned out its go-to batch of pogo bangers like “Sleep Talk” and set-closing “Harvard,” while also teasing strong newly penned songs. Singer and guitarist Alex Luciano writes delightfully bitter, admittedly petty odes to self-involved, Ivy-league sweater-donning boyfriends. Onstage she recalled the time she stole a garden gnome during South by Southwest, and also dedicated a song to the dude on a bike whom she says hit her downtown Friday night.

Locals Boyfrnz played the Dragon’s Lair welcome wagon early Friday as converted, enthused scenesters washed in. The pysch-rockers pummeled at the heavens with the unrelenting pace of a stubborn dog. Rock the forest.


ACL Fest review: In defense of Mumford & Sons

The knock against Mumford and Sons is that the U.K. band co-opted American roots rock and turned it into arena shoutalongs for the radio. They may not have heard the stuff until watching “O Brother Where Art Though?” but they finished six days of Austin City Limits with a roaring, populist sendoff on Sunday.

“This might be my favorite festival in the world,” singer Marcus Mumford said, before noting that it was the band’s final 2016 gig. “And you’re going to f*cking dance with us aren’t you?”

If Radiohead (a band that Mumford onstage called the greatest in the world) was an uninviting and pretentious tangle, tonight was highway cruising with respect to offering two hours of clap-ready, earnest work for, well, most people.

That includes a group of international teens, some silver-haired boomers who actually held up lighters and not smartphones, and even a cluster of men with “crew” wristbands.

Marcus Mumford was among the guests who joined Willie Nelson on stage to play "Will the Circle Be Unbroken," at the end of Willie's performance at The Austin City Limits Music Festival on October 9, 2016.  (Tamir Kalifa for American-Statesman)
Marcus Mumford was among the guests who joined Willie Nelson on stage to play “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” at the end of Willie’s performance at The Austin City Limits Music Festival on October 9, 2016. (Tamir Kalifa for American-Statesman)

“I wish the Allman Brothers would come out,” one deadpanned beforehand. Two songs in he was singing along to “Little Lion Man.”

“That’s a lot of people, man,” Mumford said, observing the view.

For “Believe,” an ocean of patrons sung into their iPhones while simultaneously filming strangers doing the same. Like Gaspar, Balthasar, and Melchior bringing riches to baby Jesus, some apparent EDM ravers blessed the Mumford faithful by throwing glowsticks at strangers. Heal the world and all that.

Sometimes all you need are anthemic “whoa” parts, a fiddle player buried in the mix, and a trombone holding some dank whole notes in second position for several minutes. Can Mumford play with Band of Horses? Of course not, but people will respond to at-your-window romance when it has big choruses and the vulnerability of a late-night text message.

Mumford is a showman who cuts loose and stomps into adoring well-wishers like Bono. But with all the grace of a sloppy wedding where the shirt becomes unbuttoned and you’re diving in. It’s undeniable, even the reaching and handfed “With a Little Help From My Friends” Beatles cover in the style of Joe Cocker at the end. The Haim sisters spread the love, showing up to sing backup vocals on it.

And with a season-changing Samsung set, Mumford and Sons joined the all-time ranks of bands like Coldplay, Goo Goo Dolls, and Journey that write songs you listen to on desktop speakers at work, when you need a good cry.