Atlas Genius is the low-key crowd magnet of ACL Fest

There are a lot of Atlas Genius fans. The Austin City Limits Music Festival schedulers know that now.

Keith Jeffery of Atlas Genius gets out in the crowd during a performance on the BMI Stage on the final day of the second weekend of the 2016 Austin City Limits Festival at Zilker Park Oct. 9. 10/09/16 Tom McCarthy Jr. for AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Keith Jeffery of Atlas Genius gets out in the crowd during a performance on the BMI Stage on the final day of the second weekend of the 2016 Austin City Limits Festival at Zilker Park Oct. 9. 10/09/16 Tom McCarthy Jr. for AMERICAN-STATESMAN

The Australian rock band packed the small BMI stage to the absolute gills, with faces spreading to the edge of the horizon (well, as seen from the front of the stage) and spilling over the sides into the trees. In a stroke of loaves-and-fishes luck, Atlas Genius had enough entertainment ready for everyone.

Singer Keith Jeffery ran to the lip of the stage from go on “Stockholm,” which charted a course for leather-jacketed convertible cruising music. The band rocked, but not too hard, on playlist staples like “If So.” Disco drums, twangy guitar, Jiffy Pop drums and inviting funky licks maintained a baseline groove for an hour. If anything, the members of Atlas Genius exceeded their own songs on sheer hype power. There was copious amp standing. By only the fourth song, the lead Jeffery brother was at the edge of the crowd barrier with his guitar, hungrily playing to every point within a 180-degree arc.

As it turns out, Atlas Genius is also the premiere 1980s cover band of ACL. They delivered a steady take of “Everybody Wants To Rule the World,” sobering up the Tears For Fears song with a playful synth riff and an oddly calming guitar solo. They also put a decidedly less glam face on Dead or Alive’s “You Spin Me Round.”

As is the case for many a midday festival band, the hour was a prelude to a hit — “Trojans,” in this case. Certainly not a clattering roller coaster of a closer. More like a mid-tempo cool down lap. But on a song all about intimate connection, and on every for song for that matter, Atlas Genius made large-scale crowd work feel like eye contact in a restaurant booth.

Oh Wonder is ACL Fest’s cutest couple

If Oh Wonder ever screamed, it would scream adorable.

Austin, TX - Anthony West of Oh Wonder  performs during day three of ACL Music Festival at Zilker Park on October 2, 2016. Suzanne Cordeiro for American-Statesman
Austin, TX – Anthony West of Oh Wonder performs during day three of ACL Music Festival at Zilker Park on October 2, 2016. Suzanne Cordeiro for American-Statesman

The adorable singers sing adorable songs to adorable fans who all sway like adorable palm trees in the same adorable breeze whether it’s windy or not because it’s basically impossible to dance or rock out or move in a non-swaying way to Oh Wonder.

Not that that’s bad. Sometimes you feel like listening to something that’s not as edgy as, say, Coldplay. Some nights, you watch Notting Hill.

The British synth-pop duo, backed by a sneakily terrific rhythm section, drew a good crowd to their pre-dusk ACL Fest set on Sunday. The singer-songwriters Josephine Vander Gucht and Anthony West have been playing together for about a year and said they’d never played in Texas before the festival, but a lot of the audience still knew enough of the songs to sing along.

Oh Wonder’s songs lean on synthesizers that both of them play center-stage (West had a guitar around his neck the whole set) and rhythms that at least nod at jazz without alienating people who don’t like jazz. Their music is romantic the way Hugh Grant is romantic, dwelling on the brighter parts of relationships and sweeter moments of melancholy while keeping the darker, painful parts at arm’s length. Oh Wonder is not here to ruin your night.

In introducing the song “All We Do,” Vander Gucht explained that the track is meant to “celebrate the importance of being yourself … It’s important that we all believe that anything is possible, because everything is possible.”

If all of that sounds like a smooth-jazzier Up with People to you, well, you’re really not being fair.

Because as the sun started slipping toward the hills and the air cooled Sunday evening, Oh Wonder offered a balm to a crowd that had been trudging across the sun-drenched Zilker Park lawn for three days. When they cut their set 20-minutes short, people were genuinely disappointed — continuing to crowd the stage and applaud even as the crew began taking apart the stage.

“So sorry we couldn’t play longer,” Vander Gucht wrote on Twitter immediately afterwards to a few of Oh Wonder’s fans. “My voice is disappearing. We’ll be back soon.”

She signed each of the tweets with a little double-heart emoji.

So cute.

ACL Fest 2016: Hey, let’s meet at Bob Moses

Bob Moses is the human embodiment of the culturally ubiquitous Snapchat floral crown. It’s nonchalantly cool and dressed for summer, but it’s also not here to make a statement. You can take a group picture during it because it’s a lull perfect for recalibrating–and you can dress it up with a filter to make the occasion seem more fun.

Tom Howie, of Bob Moses, performs on the Cirrus Logic Stage at the Austin City Limits Music Festival on October 2, 2016. (Tamir Kalifa for American-Statesman)
Tom Howie, of Bob Moses, performs on the Cirrus Logic Stage at the Austin City Limits Music Festival on October 2, 2016. (Tamir Kalifa for American-Statesman)

The Vancouver-bred, New York-made three-piece band hit the star-crossed Cirrus Logic stage Sunday afternoon and churned out its aristocratic poolside jams perfect for South Congress brunches, where plates become immortalized by social media.

I’m certainly not above that. “Before I Fall” connected with tambourine-led percussion and gorgeous riffs.

“Hey you know who this is?” an exuberant swaying man said in front of me. He missed the “Bob Moses” stenciled onto the band’s front-and-center bass drum.

Bob Moses was started by journeymen musicians and producers Tom Howie and Jimmy Vallance, who funneled their indie rock and trance backgrounds into pleasant tunes that are great for commercial licensing. It’s subtle and steadfast, but for an iteration of ACL that’s been defined by dad rock, flaming EDM, and Kendrick Lamar, Bob Moses bled into the pack.

A word about the Cirrus Logic stage: For years attendees have been conditioned to expect it to cause congestion in its old locale near the food court. Now it’s to the right of the Barton Springs entrance, and totally forgotten. You know how a friend will text you to meet up near a flag but it’s too dense to ever get there? Not so during Bob Moses, a set that made an ideal meeting point because it was rich with cell service.

Plop down your inflatable couch and take a seat if you like, I’m leaving after 45 minutes to get a good spot for Willie.

ACL Fest 2016: Break Science keeps the party going at the exhausted dance tent

New York City electronic duo Break Science sustained momentum Sunday at the Tito’s tent with a 45-minute set full of zoned-out youth. The weekend is winding down, but we have to keep dancing.

It’s a familiar, effective live setup: Drummer Adam Deitch becomes a human exclamation point, echoing beats with bangs and fills. The Bronx-raised Borahm Lee makes trip-hop-rooted beats flourished with jazzy sensibilities. Dude’s played for Kanye West and Lauryn Hill, and his long-standing chops make his work hypnotic and layered.

“We didn’t get much sleep last night,” Lee said onstage. Performing during the day’s hottest and brightest hour, Lee seemed oddly placed.

He’s the kind of Reagan-era kid who refers to songs as “joints” and whose musical landscape is rooted in Run DMC and Public Enemy, as he told Hyphen magazine. There is, however, a clunky, industrial, Linkin Park-like leaning to the churning production. It should kill at downtown spaces like Empire Control Room, where the band performs late Sunday.

After set-closing “Android Love,” the highest and most earnest compliment came from a washed-out EDM bro: “That was sick.” Sure, but think how much better it’ll be without all that pesky sunlight.

 

Electric byte orchestra Ra Ra Riot winds up ACL’s Sunday mood

Ra Ra Riot performs on the HomeAway on the final day of weekend two of the 2016 Austin City Limits Festival at Zilker Park Oct. 9, 2016.  Erika Rich for American-Statesman
Ra Ra Riot performs on the HomeAway on the final day of weekend two of the 2016 Austin City Limits Festival at Zilker Park Oct. 9, 2016.
Erika Rich for American-Statesman

Even nerds can be rock stars, as Ra Ra Riot ably proves with lyrics about cybernetic hearts and killing dragons with swords.  And oh yeah, the fact that they throw cheesy toy store synth lines and lush, orchestral strings into a blender for one of the most compelling aural brainteasers around.

The Syracuse, New York, indie pop band delivered clean, shiny shoulder-shakers Sunday at Austin City Limits Music Festival’s second weekend, with vocalist Wes Miles making me wistful about unidentifiable things thanks to a flexible robo-warble. Songs like early set hit “Binary Mind” channeled the undead spirit of Devo with some MIDI synths standing in for a Ouija board. Yet Rebecca Zeller’s bedazzled violin — BEDAZZLED VIOLIN — was never far behind to add heart-rending texture for songs like the insistently joyful “Absolutely” or the set-invigorating “Boy,” along with particularly rich cello accompaniment.

Special shout-outs are deserved for Miles, who not only sounded record-perfect but found a way to make cool-guy falsetto work consistently with his overall heartbroken automaton delivery. “Beta Love,” the band’s most on-brand song, benefited from bassist Mathieu Santos’ irrepressible bounce. (Talking about his body, but his bass lines, too, for that matter.)

The set was not without some loose screws, mostly due to a bass-heavy sound mix that dragged down the band’s DNA-coded lightness. Mourn the drums. The component parts of the Ra Ra Riot machine needed a little motor oil at times, specifically on a too-pared-down polka-esque version of “Dance With Me.”

The band finished strong, though, with insta-sway “Water,” a Rostam collaboration, and “I Need Your Light.” That song tied a slick bow on the show, all swelling strings and chipper electric guitar culminating in a picture-perfect “run to the girl” moment. For romance and quirk, Ra Ra Riot couldn’t be beat.

ACL 2016: Local Natives on politics, 7 years of Texas tours

It took seven years of consistent Texas touring, but Local Natives are a sustainably sourced startup, earning a big stage ACL gig the old-fashion way.

Local Natives perform on final day of weekend two of the 2016 Austin City Limits Festival at Zilker Park Oct. 9, 2016.  Erika Rich for American-Statesman
Local Natives perform on final day of weekend two of the 2016 Austin City Limits Festival at Zilker Park Oct. 9, 2016.
Erika Rich for American-Statesman

“Just looping around,” singer Taylor Rice says at Zilker Park. The five-piece Los Angeles band spent the week between Austin City Limits engagements doing as such–playing concerts in New Orleans and Houston. That’s common for bands wiring tours between the festival, but in 2009 the band arrived at South by Southwest and got stuck performing 11 shows in a weekend.

“We were driving out like we were going to the holy land,” says guitarist Ryan Hahn, before remembering one particularly nuts afternoon. “[We’re] walking down Sixth Street holding our amps, playing the next show, then having like a half hour before the next one.”

Even then, however, the band could tell the overdrive gigs were paying off.

“Every single show had more and more people at it,” Rice says.

Now the band has a tour bus, and Rice says he had time to walk around ACL and catch Miike Snow, Haim, and LCD Soundsystem last Sunday. “We used to always be on the same circuit,” he says of Miike Snow.

Local Natives are touring behind last month’s “Sunlit Youth,” a poignant, politically fused new record. Whereas 2013’s “Hummingbird,” boasting aching ballads and winter tones, disseminated slowly, the new album is lively and built for large-scale crowds.

“When we put out our last record ‘Hummingbird,’ it was actually quite a long time before those songs felt comfortable,” Rice says. “That albums a little bit darker, and maybe more of a grower… It felt like to us there wasn’t tons of enthusiasm at the time.”

One month into the new release, Rice says the enthusiasm is palpable onstage: “It feels like they know all these news songs.”

The band’s most blatantly political statement to date, the song “Fountain of Youth” features a nod to “Mrs. President.” The band has been actively encouraging fans to get registered to vote, though stopping short of blatantly stumping for Hillary Clinton.

“We’re still kind of discussing the line,” Rice says. “If you play the song it feels obvious to me where our stances lie… When you [get partisan] you put people who have made their minds up on the defensive.”

But Rice says that simply encouraging voter turnout is the “best possibility to making somebody feel open-minded.”

It’s a timely pivot for a rock band bursting with post-blog chops. For Local Natives, ACL is where the fun starts.

 

 

ACL Fest: Charlie Belle, Magna Carda do Austin proud in early sets

Magna Carda, a hip hop outfit from Austin, Texas performs on the final day of ACL Fest 2016. Erika Rich for American-Statesman
Magna Carda, a hip hop outfit from Austin, Texas performs on the final day of ACL Fest 2016. Erika Rich for American-Statesman

Austin’s full band hip-hop act, Magna Carda continues to evolve, not gradually, but in leaps and bounds. When we made the crew, Austin360 Artist of the Month in February, they were a solid live band riding high on the release of their debut full-length, “CirQlation.” Then they hit the road, cluttering their 2016 calendar with festival appearances and one-offs around the country.

When they took the stage at 11:30 a.m. for their Austin City Limits Festival debut, they were a tighter, meaner and sweeter outfit. The band was rock solid and though some of the jams meandered a bit, they beautifully folded hints of jazz and bluesy licks into rich, full grooves. Emcee Megz Kelli has come into her own as a rhymeslinger and she absolutely slayed the early afternoon crowd. She brought the party vibes with “Southern Ether,” did a heart-stopping a capella on “The Root” and took the set a with a blistering take on “Angela Basset.”

As Magna Carda finished, indie pop outfit Charlie Belle took the stage in the Tito’s tent. With catchy melodies and quick-witted lyricism, the teen band helmed by brother/sister duo Jendayi and Gyasi Bonds caught national heat last year with a pair of tightly produced EPs. In their ACL Fest set, they abandoned the twee vibe that marked some of their early 2015 sets for a harder, driving sound. They rocked and they rocked hard.

The two of these bands together represented the fantastic diversity of high quality music coming out of Austin’s City Limits in 2016. They did our city so, so proud.

 

ACL Fest 2016 review: Brett Dennen does bright ‘n’ early right

Brett Dennen at ACL Fest on Sunday, Oct. 9, 2016. Erika Rich for American-Statesman
Brett Dennen at ACL Fest on Sunday, Oct. 9, 2016. Erika Rich for American-Statesman

“It’s not too hot, but the sun is out, and you look beautiful,” beamed Brett Dennen as he and his three-piece backing crew locked into a perfect just-past-noon vibe on the Samsung stage for the final day of the Austin City Limits Music Festival.

“I appreciate you coming early to hear us,” he added,” and the modest-sized crowd clearly was equally appreciative. Dennen’s music — a mix of bright acoustic pop, laid-back electric reggae and smooth-sailing island groove — proved an ideal day-starter on the fest’s largest stage, a prelude to great things to come later from the likes of Willie Nelson, Nathaniel Rateliff and fest-closer Mumford & Sons.

Up front, devoted fans sang along to hits such as “Wild Child” (perhaps an inspiration to the Austin band of that name?) and “Cassidy.” On the fringes, both couples and singles found their own individual ways to be moved by Dennen’s highly danceable tunes.

As instantly likable as Dennen’s sound is, the lyrics sometimes are deceptively intriguing and challenging. On “Make You Crazy,” he sings of “cameras in the sky” and “lasers in our living rooms” even as the music draws you in with a mesmerizing melody. And his conclusion, after listing a litany of worries in the modern world, is insiprational: “Don’t hesitate to speak your mind, never hesitate to speak your heart.”

He practiced what he preached toward the end of the set, with extended and humorous introductions to the terrific one-two finale of “Wild Child” and “Sydney (I’ll Come Running).” Before giving his bandmates due credit — drummer John Radford, bassist Daniel Rhine and guitarist Rich Hinman — he ruminated at length:

“Take care of yourselves, OK? Be nice to each other. And if you have fair skin, cover up a little more. … And remember, just because beer has water in it, doesn’t mean you’re drinking a glass of water! … I know that there’s a debate on tonight, but you know what the outcome’s going to be. Just focus on making this place a better world.”

That’s Brett Dennen, never hesitating to speak his mind and his heart.

(Pro tip: If you’re on the ACL Fest grounds this afternoon, Dennen is playing the final informal acoustic set on the Lowe’s Studio stage at 3 p.m.)

 

Gates are open on the final day of ACL Fest 2016

The early bird gets the short line, and with light crowds, fest-goers breezed through security at a brisk pace as the gates opened around 11 a.m. on the final day of Austin City Limits Festival 2016.   Expect much longer wait times as the day goes on. Festival organizers say peak gate times are between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. and recommend fest-goers plan to arrive before or after those times. It took one of our reporters 45 minutes to clear security in the general admission line at 1:45 p.m. on Saturday.img_8605

The slight chill in this morning’s air was already burning off by 11:30, but today’s forecast calls for entirely manageable temperatures in the low 80s. Temps will dip down into the 60s later tonight, so if you’re planning to stay for closing sets by Mumford & Sons and LCD Soundsystem, pack a lightweight jacket or sweater.

Other than the headliners, the biggest buzz of ACL Sunday is the return of Austin’s outlaw country hero, Willie Nelson to the stage for the first time since 2006. Willie takes the big stage at 6 p.m. tonight.

ACL Fest: Critics’ picks for Sunday, weekend two

Last day of Austin City Limits 2016. We recommend these artists to take your fest out right. More ACL Fest picks. 

HEADLINERS

Mumford & Sons close out the first weekend of ACL Fest on Sunday, Oct. 2, 2016. Contributed by Charles Reagan Hackleman
Mumford & Sons close out the first weekend of ACL Fest on Sunday, Oct. 2, 2016. Contributed by Charles Reagan Hackleman

Mumford & Sons: Their Weekend One closing set was a back-and-forth mix of their older, acoustic songs and newer rock direction. (8 p.m. Samsung)

LCD Soundsystem: James Murphy and Co. threw the kind of party that breaks your heart just to make you feel you better. As far as closing night sets at ACL Fest go, this was top tier. It was the kind of sensory spectacle — laser guns, drum machines, the complexity of human relationships — that makes you love the stranger standing next to you. (8 p.m. Honda)

MUST-SEE ACTS

Lizzo, right, performs at the Austin City Limits Music Festival in Zilker Park Sunday October 2, 2016. Jay Janner/American-Statesman
Lizzo, right, performs at the Austin City Limits Music Festival in Zilker Park Sunday October 2, 2016. Jay Janner/American-Statesman

Lizzo: Hands down, one of our favorite performers of the weekend. It’s not just that’s she’s a killer rhyme-slinger who can also sing like an old school soul queen; it’s that she’s writing all her own rules. Creating her own definition of cool, sexy and beautiful and she comes so hard, no one can deny it. (12:15 p.m. Sunday, Honda)

Domo Genesis: This 25-year-old rapper oozes charisma and writes bulky raps performed with a delightful oddball zest for life. Spoiler alert: Mid-set, he’ll introduce a five-piece band, and smooth it out with jams like “Dapper.” (1 p.m., Miller Lite)

Margo Price: We knew the country sensation was a Doug Sahm fan, and she revealed her esteem for Billy Joe Shaver with a cover of “Black Rose” during Weekend One. (3 p.m. Sunday, HomeAway)

Watch: Margo Price and Shawn Sahm sing on Doug Sahm Hill

Willie Nelson plays songs for the Irish TV show "Other Voices" on Monday, Oct. 3, 2016. Suzanne Cordeiro for American-Statesman
Willie Nelson plays songs for the Irish TV show “Other Voices” on Monday, Oct. 3, 2016. Suzanne Cordeiro for American-Statesman

Willie Nelson: The Red-headed Stranger returns to ACL Fest for the first time since 2006. (6 p.m., Samsung)

RELATED: What’s Willie been up to in Austin this week?

St. Paul and The Broken Bones: The sharp-dressed Birmingham-based soul outfit brings big brass and a touch of class back for a second time this Sunday. Frontman Paul Janeway wears his James Brown influence as well as his dapper floral-printed blazer and has an eye-opening voice that bring to mind the power of Alabama Shakes’ Brittany Howard. (5 p.m. Sunday HomeAway)

 

 

Taylor Rice and Kelcey Ayer perform with Local Natives on the third day of the opening weekend of the 2016 Austin City Limits Festival at Zilker Park Oct. 2. 10/02/16 Tom McCarthy Jr. for AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Taylor Rice and Kelcey Ayer perform with Local Natives on the third day of the opening weekend of the 2016 Austin City Limits Festival at Zilker Park Oct. 2. 10/02/16 Tom McCarthy Jr. for AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Local Natives: After seven years, three strong albums and frequent stops in Austin that spanned private corporate parties and a Saturday night blowout at the Parish, one of the hardest-touring bands of the decade played out its weekend commitments as a powerful, united love letter of a set to a city that’s been great for business. While Local Natives climb the festival bill, you might compare their accessible indie rock to past ACL radio bands like Cold War Kids, Snow Patrol, or Alt-J, but there’s layered songwriting and bite here. (4 p.m., Honda)

Gregory Porter: There may come a time on Sunday when you have had enough. The sun is too hot and you have accidentally endured more folk-country or EDM or whatever genre is not your thing than you ever intended. You may be feeling a tad sunburned and, shall we say, stabby. We implore you: Get yourself to Gregory Porter’s 6 p.m. set in the tiny Tito’s tent. Get some shade, soak up some soul instead of sun, and heal your spirit with the gospel of jazz. Whoever booked Porter in this same place and time both Sundays knew exactly what they were doing (or had a stroke of divine intervention). (6 p.m. Sunday, Tito’s)

Sisters Alana, Danielle and Este Haim of the band Haim perform a cover of the Prince song "I would die for you" on the third day of the opening weekend of the 2016 Austin City Limits Festival at Zilker Park Oct. 2. 10/02/16 Tom McCarthy Jr. for AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Sisters Alana, Danielle and Este Haim of the band Haim perform a cover of the Prince song “I would die for you” on the third day of the opening weekend of the 2016 Austin City Limits Festival at Zilker Park Oct. 2. 10/02/16 Tom McCarthy Jr. for AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Haim: Rock ‘n’ roll needed these sisters to return and take their rightful place among the 7 p.m. evening rock stars.They cranked out a hard-driving set of furious guitar rock. Six-strings squealed, drums banged, hair whipped and the crowd went wild as they covered a good portion of “Days Are Gone.” They also threw in a spirited cover of Prince’s “I Would Die 4 U” and a few new tracks from their upcoming album. (7 p.m. Sunday, HomeAway)

Amanda Shires: She’s Jason Isbell’s wife and fiddler, and a great songwriter in her own right who started her career with a Texas Panhandle country band. ACL Fest put her up square against Willie. Come on! (6 p.m. Sunday, BMI)

More ACL Fest picks.