Of course no one was going to steal the show from Killer Mike or El-P once they took the stage at Austin City Limits Music Festival, but Bruce sure did try.
Bruce was a fan pulled from the crowd about 20 minutes into the set when the MCs saw his sign claiming he could rap Killer Mike’s parts on the Run The Jewels track “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry.” That being no easy feat, the performers decided to let the super fan – wearing a T-shirt with the group’s signature pistol-and-fist imagery – take a turn on the microphone, with the added hurdle that he had to perform without a backing beat to keep the rhythm. And if he slipped even a bit he’d lose the mic and be shown back to he crowd.
But wouldn’t you know it, a minute-long blur of ballerinas and Pontiac Catalinas later, Bruce backed up his brag and won the cheers of the audience and slaps on the back from his apparent heroes.
That crowd-pleasing diversion was about the only pause in the hour-long set that saw the ATL-meets-NYC pairing make yet another argument for them being the best live hip-hop act currently active.
With lyrical flows that regularly exceed 100 words per minute it’d be easy for each rapper’s delivery to turn into a blur of syllables, but the vocal control and movement in timbre and dynamics they put to use constantly adds an important textural variety within songs and individual verses. That helps preserve the inherent bounce that is so crucial to making Run The Jewels a group that stands pretty far apart from its peers.
It’s also part of why next Saturday they’ll become perhaps the most lyrically aggressive and profane rap group to record an episode of the Austin City Limits television show.
One does wonder, even with the show having plenty of lead time for editing purposes, how the show’s producers will manage the bleeps or silences in the audio to obscure objectionable words from the eventual public television broadcast.
Whoever gets that task will need to have a pretty deep knowledge of the lyrical nooks and crannies of the group’s three-album and possibly million-word canon. Hope someone can get them Bruce’s phone number. Seems like he’s up to the task.
For much of Gorillaz’s adventurous and triumphant set Sunday at Austin City Limits Music Festival nearly all the members of singer Damon Albarn’s 13-piece backing band were lit as silhouettes while the vivid animation videos depicting the world’s first “cartoon band” played on the screen behind them.
It was a necessary and effective staging tactic that added separation between Albarn, who is the consistent human face of his creation, and any other human presence involved in the proceedings. But it is also something of a disservice to the players who helped the singer and string of guests put together a musically adventurous and joyous set that at 65 minutes was too brief by about half.
From slow-growing gloom of set opener “M1 A1” it was easily confirmed that what began 16 years ago as an art project between Albarn and animator Jamie Hewlett has evolved into one of the most stylistically adventurous pop/rock acts in modern music.
It was a set where the deceptively intricate and ebullient synth folk of “On Melancholy Hill” could set next to the atmospheric pallor and gloom of “Busted And Blue” without the stylisitic switch feeling too jarring. A light thread of Britpop ran through most of the material, which veered into dub reggae, simple folk, assorted African musics, disco soul and more. As jam-packed with musicianship as the band’s set was, it managed to never reach sensory overload levels.
Rising rap star D.R.A.M., who had performed a few hours earlier on the same stage, joined Albarn for “Andromeda,” joining another half dozen guests vocalists who helped make the stage’s available square footage something of a premium by night’s end. It was also for good effect when Albarn exited the stage for “Strobelite” to let the six backup singers shine, and later his turn at the keyboard let the guest reggae and rap vocalists take the spotlight on “Sex Murder Party.”
And when Albarn and another guest rapper turned the chorus duties on undeniable hit “Clint Eastwood” over to the audience in front of them, it felt natural to have thousands of voices lending a hand to a band where there’s always room for more.
And the humblebrag of the weekend goes to: Deap Vally.
“I see that Garbage t-shirt out there,” singer/guitarist Lindsey Troy told an audience member during the band’s Sunday afternoon ACL set, her lips curling upward salaciously as the words left her mouth. “I bought the same shirt. We toured with them this summer. Sex is not the enemy!”
She and drummer Julie Edwards then blasted into “Walk of Shame,” the snarky, sex-positive garage rocker off the Los Angeles duo’s brilliantly titled debut album, “Sistrionix.” Troy attacked her battered Fender Mustang as she shouted the song’s brash, narrative-rewriting chorus: “’Cause I got places to go / But I’ve got no change of clothes / Baby I don’t feel no blame / I’m gonna take this walk of shame.”
To compare Deap Vally to the groundbreaking all-female punk bands of yesteryear based purely on gender would be horribly reductive, though Troy’s carnal howl does at times recall the Runaways’ Cherie Currie and L7’s Donita Sparks. But the frontwoman’s blunt-force riffs also nod to the libidinous, bluesy thunder of Eagles of Death Metal, while her interplay with Edwards’ explosive, unhinged drum breakdowns channels another garage rock duo you may have heard of — the White Stripes.
As the first band to grace the American Express Stage on Sunday at 12:30 p.m., Deap Vally had the unenviable task of winning over diehard Killers fans who hugged the barricade and prayed for a respite from the sun’s unforgiving rays. Troy fully rose the occasion, bellowing with every iota of strength, “AUSTIN CITY LIMITS! WHAT THE F*** IS UP!” She unleashed primal shrieks both sultry and savage on “Heart Is an Animal,” her guitar work simultaneously cacophonous and controlled.
The set highlight came during the defiant, empowering “Smile More,” off last year’s raucous “Femejism.” Troy playfully but firmly rejected the male gaze as she hollered: “”Stranger in the bar tells me to smile more / I look at him and I ask, ‘What for?’ / I am happily unhappy, man / And no, I don’t wanna shake your hand.”
At the time of this writing, Troy and Edwards will probably be holding a meet-and-greet at the Waterloo Records tent, where, unlike the subject of “Smile More,” they promised to shake the hands and sign the cleavage of their fans. It’s unlikely many audience members will ditch their front-row Killers spot to go hang out with them. But I kind of hope they do.
Social media is a wonderful tool, and lots of this weekend’s ACL acts posted photos of their sets to Instagram. Read on to see what Zilker Park looked like from the stage for Foster the People, Mondo Cozmo, R.LUM.R and more.
Dark-pop singer-songwriter Tove Lo ain’t your parents’ pop star. The NSFW Swedish songstress sings about sex, drugs, hard drinking, and other late-night exploits and has more in common with Peaches than ABBA. Here are three reasons her ACL Fest 2017 set Saturday night may have raised a few eyebrows among the uninitiated.
She doesn’t shy away from sexuality. A crowd of teenagers scream-singing along the chorus of “Talking Body” (i.e., “If you love me right we [expletive] for life”) probably isn’t something the folks with lawn chairs wandering by from the Wine Lounge expected to hear. Nor might they have expected to see a sparkly-faced Tove Lo dancing in front of a giant illuminated vagina icon, an image pulled from her last album, Lady Wood.
She flashed her fans. Exposing her chest is a regularly scheduled occurrence at Tove Lo’s live shows. In her native Sweden, Lo says attitudes about sexuality and nudity are much more relaxed. But here those two things can elicit some big reactions. (During her Saturday night set, that reaction was a thundering round of cheers and applause.)
Her lyrics aren’t exactly radio-friendly. You’d be hard-pressed to find a non hip-hop or DJ act at ACL 2017 with a bigger arsenal of F-bombs in their lyrics. Granted, it’s not that Lo’s lyrics are so profane as it is that most ACL acts are kind of squeaky clean. But, heck, there are even a couple song titles from the set I can’t type out here…
It would be easy to assume it’s all a cheap shock tactic, but, seeing Lo’s performance, her choice in lyrics and subject matter doesn’t come across as forced or fake. It feels candid and real while still being danceable and fun. It worked, and the massive crowd fanned out along the lawn at the Barton Springs Stage was enthralled and moving nonstop. Not even a lengthy sound issue that resulted in Lo leaving the stage briefly could derail her set’s momentum.
While parts of Tove Lo’s performance may have skewed R-rated, her interactions with her fans Saturday night were Hallmark Movie–level wholesome and heartwarming. Beyond jumping down from stage to embrace a sweaty throng of thrilled front-row watchers, Lo called out a fan from deep in the crowd she had met in Austin back in 2015 and then took and wore on stage a custom shirt he made for her. The scene played out on the big screen by the stage, and if the look on that adoring fan’s face didn’t give you some feelings, your feeler might be broken.
Tove Lo plays Emo’s Thursday, Oct. 12, before returning to ACL Fest next weekend.
Chance the Rapper, the Chicago hip-hop prodigy, hit the stage for his Austin City Limits Music Festival headliner slot on a motorcycle … with pyrotechnics at his back. Austin360’s Deborah Sengupta Stith and Eric Webb break down what happened after that.
DSS: I’m just going to kick this off by saying, watching a rapper turn an Austin City Limits Music Festival headline set crowd into the city’s biggest gospel choir is something I never expected to see. With the harmonies and the Jesus shout outs it really did feel like we went to church. But with more pyrotechnics.
EW: When “Jesus is all I got” is your biggest turn-up line, you know you’ve got a reeeeeal different kind of show on your hands. Coming from the background I do (which is as Christian as you can get without any snake stuff), I would say that Chance is living out his witness in the way that it looks like in the textbook. Which … is the Bible. His words have come rolling off his tongue, his actions can be seen in his work, and now Chance’s fans are singing praises in a massive festival concert venue. Blessings come down, indeed. So, Deborah, you went to see Jay-Z last night. Compare/contrast?
DSS: Chance 2017 > Jay-Z 2017. In terms of energy there’s really no comparison. Sure, Jay had the massive sing-along hits and the bigger crowd, but Chance has the fire, the mission. Jay came to play some songs he knew we’d love then jet back home to be with his babies. Chance came to have an experience with us, to move us. Also, Chance is an ensemble player. His brother is his drummer. His right hand man, Nico Segal, is a trumpet player. He wanted us to know he was there with his whole instrumental crew, the Social Experiment. They’re all part of his movement. Jay-Z had a band, but they were hidden behind a giant sculpture of a balloon dog.
EW: That’s a thing that struck me, as well. There’s this concept of your “friend family” that’s taken root with people in my generation (though I know it’s nothing new — Armistead Maupin wrote about “logical families” in the ’70s). It’s so affecting to see Chance bring his people with him, the people that are just as much a part of this thing called “Chance the Rapper” as Chancelor Bennett is. At least, I identified with it and respect it. Now, I did not witness the Hova-ning on Friday night, but I can attest that Lil’ Chano was anything but phoning it in. His showmanship was so all-consuming that I was reminded of Florence Welch, from when Florence + the Machine headlined ACL Fest a couple years ago. How a single person can enrapture A LITERAL PARK FULL OF PEOPLE is beyond me. On “All We Got,” the man entertained me just by counting off beats with the fingers on one hand. He swiveled his hips so subtly on “Juke Jam” that you might have missed it if a siren of woo’s didn’t erupt. It was a total “young Frank Sinatra” moment. Or pick your heartthrob.
DSS: Florence is a great comparison. I think a lot people were affected by both of those sets in similar ways. I, for one, cried at both of those shows. During “All We Got” I was thinking about how hard he’s trying to heal the world, just send something beautiful and positive out there, in the face of so much adversity. “Very recently I made a strong switch to a new path,” he said at one point in the set, no doubt, in reference to the fact that his latest album “Coloring Book” is straight gospel rap. He thanked the audience for sticking with him. Watching him sit on the stage and sing “Same Drugs,” I felt tears streaming down my face. It’s such a poignant and painful story about the people we sometimes must leave behind as we evolve. Are we planting the seeds for a Florence/Chance collab?
EW: I am willing to take any steps, legal or otherwise, to make this happen. Speaking of other musicians, I quite enjoyed the medley of Chance’s verses from “The Life of Pablo,” the latest album from Kanye West. Yeezy is Chance’s mentor, and the images of the two projected on the Honda stage screen invited me to consider their differences. Kanye, the man for whom ego exists as a concept. Chance, humble without peer. Several times, he downplayed the fact he could draw the size of a crowd that he did. “With the lights on it’s even more people,” he said. “Turn the lights off.” It all seemed self-effacing in the way, say, a Taylor Swift “who, me?” schtick would not. And man, he brought this massive moment down to such a person-to-person level. Before “Sunday Candy,” he asked, “I’m Chance. What’s you guys’ names?” To think that he played that same song in the same park just two years ago, when so much has changed for him. And for the world, for that matter. Come back, 2015! OK, final thoughts?
DSS: Final thoughts: It was a bit odd that his set was scheduled to run til 9:30 p.m., but actually ended at 9:08 p.m. Chance and ‘Ye DEFINITELY don’t do the same drugs no more, sometimes all you need is happy thoughts and every ACL headline set should have pyrotechnics. You?
EW: Mic drop for Deborah. For me, one thing is abundantly clear: Chance isn’t going anywhere, because he moves people. And I don’t mean just physically or just emotionally. After “Blessings” turned Zilker into the Sermon on the Mount at the top of the set, he said “Yeah, we got a show,” and the lights went dark. And before launching into “All Night” (a personal fave), he told us that “there’s a lot of brave people here tonight.” That’s what we look for in music: Someone who can show us something about ourselves. For Chance, it’s how to have the courage of your convictions.
With a 20-plus-year catalog and more than a dozen hits that are part of the backbone of the alternative rock canon, it was justifiable to wonder how the Red Hot Chili Peppers would change up their well-known party funk personas for their Saturday night headlining set.
The answer: they stretched things out, expanding to a seven-piece at one point with two keyboardists and a second bass player joining founding member Flea’s distinctive sound. While there were hits aplenty the band didn’t hold back from running through lesser-known material from its more recent records, showing how singer Anthony Kiedis has grown as a singer who can croon and sustain when needed.
In a savvy move, the band members dropped short instrumental workouts in between several songs, adding intrigue for the crowd and chewing up roughly 20 minutes of their 95 minute set. That could’ve tested the patience of the audience very easily, but when they repeatedly stuck the landing on modern rock classics like “Suck My Kiss” and slightly more rigid take on “Give It Away,” not many of the cheering thousands gathered in front of the American Express stage were complaining.
Don’t try to clown on Ice Cube. He’ll beat you to the punchline.
“A lot of y’all thinking, ‘That’s Ice Cube up there!'” the rapper born O’Shea Jackson said from American Express Stage during his Saturday night set at ACL. “That motherf***** do movies. Ain’t that Ice Cube that do them crazy-ass Coors Light commercials and s***?”
That was, in fact, the same Ice Cube of “Friday” and “Are We There Yet?” infamy. But lest the rabid throng forget the red-blooded MC’s original day job, he raced through a flurry of classics from his solo career and N.W.A tenure with jaw-dropping precision. Atop a collection of instantly recognizable, pulverizing beats, the rapper spat bars that were wickedly funny, aggressively masculine and unfailingly profane.
“For all the people in here who didn’t think Ice Cube could get onstage and still rock the mic, I got one thing to say to yo’ ass,” Cube smugly told the audience. “You better check yo’ self before you wreck yo’ self!”
There was, of course, a palpable irony to watching the 48-year-old gazillionaire MC deliver the vitriolic one-two punch of N.W.A’s “Straight Outta Compton” and “Gangsta Gangsta” before a crowd of mostly white, twenty-something college students—not to mention the father who swayed to the anti-authoritarian tirades with his toddler perched upon his shoulders. But Cube’s been in this business long enough to sell his past as present, even if his only connection to his gang-banging days now is 2015’s blockbuster biopic, “Straight Outta Compton.” Besides, this crowd was in no mood to fact-check; they simply wanted to rage.
The rapper gave them plenty of opportunities to do that, from the furious N.W.A diss track “No Vaseline” to the shockingly anti-PC boasts of “Gangsta Rap Made Me Do It.” Like all seasoned performers, Cube divided the crowd and forced them to out-scream each other. Unlike most of these performers, he threw several crisp hundred dollar bills onto the stage and bet against his hype man WC (pronounced “Dub-C”) to see whose side would prevail.
Thankfully for Dub, the consensus seemed to be a draw.
“Y’all can’t do too much sinning tonight,” Cube joked to the audience before shutting his set down with the woozy feel-good funk of “It Was a Good Day.” “I’m gonna see y’all at church in the morning.”
At a little past 7 p.m. at Austin City Limits Music Festival on Saturday, archival footage of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers playing “Free Fallin'” at the fest in 2006 began to play on the stage screens. At the Honda stage, electro-rock band Cut Copy was cut off in the middle of show-closer “Lights and Music,” in fact. But it was for the best of causes.
A team of skydivers began to fall from the sky over Zilker Park to the tune of one of Petty’s most timeless songs. Sparks flew from the daredevils as the sun continued to set. Festival attendees looked up to the skies, phones aloft, many shouting the words to the song with gusto.
Credit to LĪVE’s consummate showmanship and seemingly endless collection of hits that their Saturday afternoon set at ACL managed to be muscularly epic, subtly spiritual and completely out-of-place all at once.
The York, Pennsylvania outfit’s brand of melodramatic stadium rock goes tragically underrepresented at this festival, whose patrons would much rather turn up to Chance the Rapper or ugly-cry to Angel Olsen than pump their fists to post-grunge anthems that topped the charts when they were still in diapers. Still, the mid-sized audience inevitably succumbed to the treasure trove of hits from the band’s 1994 breakout album, “Throwing Copper,” which sold a staggering eight million copies in the United States alone and spawned chest-pumping anthems “All Over You,” “I Alone” and “Lightning Crashes.” Frankly, they don’t make ’em like this anymore.
LĪVE understood their place among the lineup, and they dutifully served these hits in succession, rewarding the diehard fans in the middle of the crowd and winning over the skeptics on the outskirts. Guitarist Chad Taylor wrung robust power chords from his Les Paul as singer Ed Kowalczyk prowled the stage and ascended the drum riser, reprising his role as a shaved-head, alpha-male Bono. The 46-year-old singer had good reason to wear sunglasses at a daytime festival, but you know damn well he still would’ve kept them on if they were headlining an arena at sundown.
Kowalczyk eyed the audience hungrily as an orchestral backing track swelled to introduce the band’s 1999 hit “The Dolphin’s Cry” (the title of which tells you everything you need to know about mainstream rock radio at the turn of the century). He spread his arms wide and dropped to his knees to drive home the transcendent chorus: “See the road rise up to meet us / It’s in the air we breathe tonight / Love will lead us, she will lead us!”
Indeed, something was in the air during the band’s masterful performance—and no, I don’t mean drugs. That something was gratitude, as Kowalczyk split acrimoniously from his bandmates in 2009 and only rejoined them last year. But the frontman had no interest in airing their dirty laundry onstage.
“We took a little break from LĪVE, but oh, you know, whatever,” Kowalczyk said jokingly. “I don’t even give a shit what the story is anymore. We’re back!”
Back indeed, and with a vengeance, as they tore through their hit-filled discography with the same vigor as in their heyday. Kowalczyk’s full-throated roar and tender vibrato took front-and-center on originals and covers alike, including a powerful take on Johnny Cash’s “I Walk the Line” and a tender rendition of Chris Cornell’s “I Am the Highway.”
As they geared up for their logical set-closer “Lightning Crashes,” Kowalczyk left the audience with words of encouragement. “I’m gonna put this song out as a prayer, that this world realizes that we are one,” he said to yelps of recognition and approval. “We are brothers and sisters in that oneness. I love you guys so much. Thanks again.”
LĪVE sold the drama in their Saturday performance, and the audience lapped it up. But they also sold something bigger: a call for unity, a balm for a troubled spirit, and a promise of life after death.