Nashville’s R.LUM.R (pronounced “R. Lamar,” as in the pairing of his first initial and middle name: Reginald Lamar Williams, Jr) turned his small stretch of grass into a hopping dance floor during his Saturday afternoon set at ACL Fest 2017.
“This is destiny,” Williams joked, as a cloak of clouds and a breeze cooled down the growing crowd for his first non-South by Southwest show in Austin.
The break in the heat paired with Williams’ magnetic stage presence and his honey-sweet falsetto drew an ever-increasing crowd to the BMI Stage—and attracted the most high-pitched crowd woooo’s and sweaty public displays of affection I’ve seen so far this festival. Williams was all smiles, confident, cheerful and clearly touched to see the energetic, engaged audience he had drawn in. “Austin, it feels like you know how to let go and have a good time—and we need that.”
Before closing with their biggest hit, “Frustrated,” R.LUM.R’s Williams dismissed the band for a two-song solo guitar performance, including a soulful, simmering cover of Frank Ocean’s “Thinking About You.”
Austin’s bizarro disco dance duo and co. Capyac are a flesh-and-funk-powered party machine. With infectious house beats, porno guitar, a pair of rappers, backup dancers, a pancake maker (yes, you read that right), saxophone, bongos, synth, and a sampler, the Austinites raised the bar for fun to a near insurmountable height during their early afternoon set Saturday at ACL Fest 2017.
The costumed bunch looked like they’re from a “Mad Max” future where funk is the most valuable resource—and the band is sitting on all of it the motherload (and letting it flow freely into the ears of all who pass).
After a series of stretches with the crowd and (apparently) giving one member of the troupe acid, the band opened with a slow, building take on jam “Speedracer,” a would-be monster hit played at least once daily around the world if there were radio justice in the world. From there, the setlist unfolded like one monster mix, seamlessly moving from one booty-shaking song to the next.
Capyac marked the third band I’ve seen within one-and-a-half days at ACL Fest featuring saxophone, but the group takes the honor for the most sax per minute you’re likely to see all weekend. And, boy, did that sax wail.
Between working the crowd into an uncontrollable boogie, the band injected some levity into the fest with their not-self-serious antics: singer and guitarist “P. Sugz” dressed like a cross between a cartoon pimp and a Joel Schumacher Batman villain and cheesed it up with the crowd (“Raise one hand… Now raise the other.”), beat-master “Potion” wore a necklace of fresh cilantro and a fuzzy Buckingham Palace guard hat, rapper KD Kinect donned a vinyl horse mask over a fishnet onesie, and an apron-wearing young woman flipped up fresh flapjacks from an electric griddle and tossed them into the crowd. It’d just be funny if they weren’t so seriously good at delivering a good time.
Even a lengthy sound issue couldn’t stop the band, who powered on as music only played through the stage-facing monitors for several long minutes, only to stick the landing as music was restored.
The fun stops (for now) for the locals, who were a Weekend One-only act and were previously penned in to play the now-canceled Sound on Sound Fest.
Will Toledo is Car Seat Headrest. Will Toledo is a staggeringly prolific songwriter, a brutally confessional lyricist, an exemplary champion of DIY ethics even as his humble indie rock project has signed with Matador Records and achieved previously unfathomable levels of success.
But Will Toledo is not a rockstar.
Reality smacked hard during the Seattle-by-way-of-Virginia quartet’s 2 p.m. set at the Honda Stage on Saturday, where they played to a noticeably smaller and more listless crowd than the one Mutemath dominated at the same time and place on Friday. There’s no questioning Toledo’s songwriting chops — dude’s released 10 studio albums and a handful of EPs since 2010 — but the 25-year-old frontman could not be bothered to show any vital signs onstage beyond pushing his blocky shades up his nose after every song.
The singer and guitarist pays obvious deference in both his languid posturing and slurred vocals to reigning garage rock revivalists the Strokes, but as the New York indie rockers proved themselves at this festival two years ago, even Julian Casablancas struggles to do a convincing Julian Casablancas onstage — and that was with the momentum of a headlining set on their side. Toledo’s heart was in the right place, but he hasn’t earned the right to slack off before a sleepy afternoon crowd yet.
Thankfully, his bandmates knelt before a different altar, one of good-natured crowd banter and rock star histrionics. Lead guitarist Ethan Ives slashed through the muddy tumult with tuneful, trebly licks, looking more Woodstock than ACL with his voluminous curls, tucked-in brown t-shirt and prominent smiley face belt buckle. Ives took lead vocals for a powerful cover of Neil Young’s “Powderfinger,” his guitar work oozing subtle sensuality and his vocals hinting at a deep well of longing bubbling beneath the surface.
Toledo, meanwhile, added airy falsetto backing vocals, proving his strongest suit was playing second fiddle to his bandmates.
Still, there’s no denying the great strides Car Seat Headrest have made in the past year, and any sort of inclusion on Austin’s biggest conventional music festival is a huge win for them. Drummer Andrew Katz acknowledged as much: “The last time we played Austin was South by Southwest, I think 2015,” he said. “The crowds were much smaller.”
“2016,” Toledo deadpanned (and he was right — they played the 450-capacity Central Presbyterian Church), before launching into the remarkably on-the-nose “”Drugs with Friends.” The audience grabbed hold of the opening lyric, “I get to know myself every weekend and I’m weak,” and by the time Toledo reached the chorus, he had achieved his own makeshift anthem as fans chanted in unison: “Drugs are better than friends are better than drugs are better than friends!”
Will Toledo is not a rockstar. But he knows how to read a crowd.
UPDATE: Austin City Limits Music Festival organizers say there was a mix up on the schedule for Jay-Z’s weekend one set time. Next week’s schedule has been corrected and Jay-Z will perform from 8:30 to 10 p.m. and not 8:15 to 10 p.m. as the weekend one schedule said.
Let’s start at the end. Either no one told Jay-Z how unbelievably bad Austin audiences are at calling for encores or he just decided to end his set 15 minutes early. It’s unclear which one happened.
He logged a solid set. There were no special guests, but it was heavy enough with hits that no one seemed to care. The ending, however, was undeniably anticlimactic.
Encores are a tired trope of a bygone era and really have no place in a festival set, but Jay-Z closed out the main portion of his set with an emotional performance of “Numb/Encore” followed by a full crowd sing-along of “Forever Young.” It was a grand sweeping finale, wrapping the main portion of his set at roughly 9:38 p.m.
He signed a few autographs before he left the stage, which was nice, but then he was gone. The front section of the crowd cheered enthusiastically while the bulk of the massive crowd stood around looking confused.
“Y’all were so loud I had to come back,” the rap superstar lied when he returned a few minutes later. He launched into a ballistic version of “99 Problems.” The crowd went wild. And then he was gone again. At 9:45.
Once more the crowd stood around looking confused. About five minutes passed. Nothing happened. Then finally festival staff put a sign that said “goodnight” on the big screen. Ten minutes before park curfew.
How relevant is Jay Z in 2017? This is a question that lit up my Facebook feed in the weeks leading up to the fest. With the exception of a few hits, most notably “Empire” and his Kanye collabs, the bulk of his meaningful catalog lands in the pre-retirement section of his career, before 2004.
His new album “4:44” contains his most important work in years and his performance of the title track on ‘SNL’ a week before the fest was a breathtaking rebuke to toxic masculinity and a bold statement about his evolution as an individual. But most of the album is exclusively available on the Tidal streaming service, subscribed to by a small segment of the music listening public.
Outside of a few exclusive South by Southwest appearances, this was Jay-Z’s first show in Austin since 2009. The appetite for his performance was strong — the crowd that packed the space in front of the skyline stage was thick and ran deep — but not strong enough to sell out the fest.
Performing with a live band obscured by a massive metal sculpture of a balloon dog created by Jeff Koons, he opened with a one-two punch of Kanye-free abbreviated versions of “Run This Town” and “No Church in the Wild.”
Then he took a moment to address the crowd. “I appreciate every single one of y’all tonight,” he said, before reflecting on the events of the past few weeks. “There’s lot going on in the world… a lot of evil in the world… but love will always conquer hate.”
Then the groove for his “Black Album” hit “Lucifer” dropped. The core sample is an old reggae song by Max Romeo. He introed his track by playing the first verse of Romeo’s original: “I’m going to put on an iron shirt and chase Satan out of earth.”
It seemed like a pointed statement about where his mind is.
Then he did a quick cut of “Lucifer,” his voice trailing off at the end “I’ve got to get my soul right…I’ll chase you out of earth,” he said as the beat naturally segued into his current hit “Bam.”
Jay-Z is a commanding performer. The crowd bounced when he said bounce, waved side to side on demand and formed a mosh pit at his request. Twice.
Kids in the middle of the crowd selfie videoed themselves singing off-key to “Empire State of Mind,” rapped every word to “Big Pimpin’” and “Dirt Off Your Shoulder,” and listened politely to new tracks like “The Story of O.J.,” “Marcy Me” and “Family Feud.”
Close to the end of the set, he acknowledged the hurricanes that have devastated parts of the country including a wide swath of the Texas coast. He asked the audience to put two fingers in the air and send love to anyone who’s hurting, anyone who’s endured hardships. It was an appropriate intro to an ecstatically received rendition of “Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem).”
From there he went into the “Encore.” It would have been a triumphant finale, except for the early ending. Which was just plain weird.
We even speculated ourselves: “There’s been rampant speculation about whether or not Beyoncé would make an appearance at ACL Fest. Queen Bey has not played Austin since the early aughts, when Destiny’s Child played the Star of Texas Rodeo (then called Rodeo Austin). We at Team 360 have been conservative on the ‘Yoncé/ACL odds…Beyoncé is no ordinary human being, but she’s a rigorous perfectionist who wouldn’t hit a stage unless she felt 300% ready.”
But on social media Friday, the first day of ACL Fest 2017, fest-goers were sharing safety tips, promoting love over hate and paying tribute to the Las Vegas victims. One attendee even marched to Zilker Park from Austin City Hall holding a sign that said “End Mass Shootings.” There was even a marriage proposal. Several of Day One’s acts spoke up about the shooting, too. Read on to see what people had to say.
Foster the People closed with a cover of Love by John Lennon in honor of the events in Las Vegas. #ACLFest
Fans expecting Foster the People to close their ACL Fest 2017 set Friday evening with mega-hit “Pumped Up Kicks,” an anti-gun violence anthem about a troubled kid who fantasizes about shooting his classmates, were met instead with a cover of John Lennon’s “Love.”
While the band didn’t specifically attribute the song’s absence on the playlist to the mass shooting in Las Vegas (they actually played it again in San Antonio last night after declining to play it Monday in North Carolina), frontman Mark Foster delivered an impassioned three-minute speech about the need for unity before launching into the Lennon cover, dedicating it to standing “in unity with our brothers and sisters who were affected by the Vegas shooting” (and rapidly dispersing the crowd).
“The last three years working on this record were interesting. Every morning I’d wake up and read the news and there would always be some kind of tragedy somewhere… And then the political situation in our own country, ripping apart friends and ripping apart families—dividing us more than ever… Writing this last record, I felt it was really important for us to make a joyful record, using joy as a weapon. Because joy is the best weapon against oppression. It’s the best weapon against depression,” Foster said. “People aren’t inherently evil. The stories on the news make us think we’re surrounded by danger… but people are inherently good…. We’re more united than you think.”
Everything leading up to the emotional closing was the typical by-the-numbers blockbuster of a set you’d expect from the now three-time ACL Fest alums. The band’s a bonafide hit factory, and despite my best intentions to not be won over by the LA-based act’s car-commercial rock, polished synths, layers of party percussion and well-developed performance chops, I quickly (though somewhat begrudgingly) had to admit I was entertained.
Sporting a tucked in undershirt, chain, rings, and monochromatic prison-style tattoos paired with a young Johnny Cash’s slicked-back hair and Michael Jackson short, painted-on pants, white socks, and black shoes, Foster strutted and slid across the stage with swagger. His dance moves may not reach MJ levels, but his energy, knack for falsetto and do-do-do-driven earworms, and ability to pull of things that would be cringe-worthy in another lesser performer’s hands (see: the semi-spoken word bits of “Loyal Like Sid & Nancy” or the band’s straight-forward cover of “Blitzkrieg Bop,” performed tonight by Foster with a custom guitar covered with shards of broken mirror) made the set an undeniable crowd-pleaser. Save for a pair of slower numbers midway through the set, including “Sit Next To Me,” hands were in the air and spirits high throughout the hour-long sunset performance.
Foster The People play at Stubb’s Thursday, Oct. 12 and return to Zilker Park for Weekend Two of ACL Fest.
Irish singer-songwriter James Vincent McMorrow’s afternoon set at ACL Fest 2017 was marred by a common culprit that can hold back softer and folk acts playing fest sets: crowd noise.
Even through the outer-ring sprawl of blankets and folding chairs and into the thick of it mere feet away from the stage, McMorrow’s unfaltering falsetto struggled to break through a wall of chit-chat from selfie-takers and day-drinkers. McMorrow’s backing band banged, but his voice really took flight over sparse arrangements, an unfortunate thing when facing a young crowd that seemed to have a disregard for concert etiquette only rivaled by their disinterest in wearing undergarments. (Insert old-man fist shake.)
Crowd noise complaints aside, McMorrow’s set soared. There’s a short list of artists who successfully pull off falsetto live in a meaningful way, and McMorrow pushes his powerful high-pitched voice out with a breath-taking passion and earnestness few can. His songs feel vulnerable but sexy, like Bon Iver tunes for the bedroom—somewhere between Rhye and The Bee Gees.
The bespeckled, bearded and… be-hatted McMorrow looked sharp on stage swapping between a stunning twinkling turquoise ax and a shiny all-black guitar. He also seemed to be having a blast on stage, laughing about Reptar and Golden Girls flags waving in the crowd and inadvertently (he claims) throwing his diamond in the sky, a la Jay-Z.
The crooner reeled in the rowdy crowd some as he stepped out from behind his keyboard and moved around the stage later in his performance and began digging into a pair of people-pleasing hits: “Rising Water,” with its opening wobbly, funk-filled Stevie Wonder keys and synchronized hand claps, and set-closer “Cavalier,” with its anticipated high refrain of “I remember my first love,” which hit like a sledgehammer and sent the crowd into cheers on that first sweet delivery.
Today’s set comes at the end of roughly 16 months of touring, McMorrow said, and marked a rare Austin appearance for the band. If soulful folk with an R&B edges moves you, get it while the getting’s good: You can catch James Vincent McMorrow again this week at Scoot Inn and back at Zilker Park for Weekend Two of ACL.
Promise filled the air on the opening afternoon of the 16th annual Austin City Limits Festival, as fans steeled themselves against the punishing heat and posted up at the American Express Stage in anticipation of Jay-Z’s headlining set, still eight hours away.
They had a few things on their side. Methyl Ethel quelled the heat with their breezy indie rock, and crafty folks strung a blanket across the barricade as a makeshift tarp.
Under such conditions, festival-goers make fast friends. University of Texas students Annie Harris and Abinav Kumar and recent graduate Brianna Spiller braved the sun’s unforgiving rays together, stocking up on GoodPops and kettle corn to last them through the long haul.
Spiller and Harris were no strangers to camping out for a festival headliner; they did the same thing for the Foo Fighters at ACL 2015. Spiller had simple but essential advice: “Stay out of the sun. Drink lots of water. Don’t move. And make friends!”
They practiced what they preached, befriending fellow long-hauler Stephanie Cisneros, who’s been a Jay fan since his first album, “Reasonable Doubt,” which dropped when she was in high school. Cisneros had seen the rapper twice before, but never in this capacity. As she put it: “You’re not gonna be front row unless you pay.”
By 2 p.m., the crowd had swelled again to a couple hundred, with fans eager for Andrew McMahon’s early set. They were the privileged ones, able to find sanctuary in Zilker Park’s precious few shaded groves at the end of his hourlong performance. But as the crowd ebbed and flowed all day, the HOV stans remained, determined to see the iconic headliner front-and-center.
These folks had 99 problems—impending sunburn, hunger pangs, aching feet—but a lack of willpower wasn’t one.
Mutemath lead singer Paul Meany might have taken the lyrics to recent single “War” a bit too literally, as he immediately did battle with a faulty microphone at the beginning of their Friday afternoon set at Austin City Limits.
“Let it go, I could but I won’t, I gotta fight it,” the spirited frontman sang as his mic crackled in and out throughout the band’s electrifying opening number. Sound problems right out of the gate can frazzle the most seasoned performer, but credit to a visibly frustrated Meany for laughing off the technical snag and leaning on his bandmates to power through the otherwise triumphant show-starter.
The New Orleans quartet might have taken the Honda Stage at 2:15 p.m., but spiritually, they blasted through a dusky co-headlining set, sparing no rockstar indulgence over the course of their invigorating hourlong performance. Meany shredded a mean (ha-ha) keytar solo from atop the piano on which he later did a nimble handstand; rode a blinking mattress across the audience during the obligatory crowd-surfing portion of the set; and led the throng in a rousing singalong to anthemic set-closer “Typical.” But the frontman owed the best-received moment of the performance to his daughter Amelia, who strutted the stage with pink noise-cancelling headphones clamped on her ears and duetted with her father on “Pixie Oaks,” earning roars of applause from the already-huge crowd.
These flourishes allowed Mutemath’s set to stand out, but their sheer virtuosity made the songs soar. Guitarist Todd Gummerman filled the space with massive, textural chords and catchy leads, while touring drummer Dave Hutchinson deftly blended slippery fills and pummeling beats, giving the band’s spacey prog-pop a far more muscular bent than on record. These technical elements all locked beautifully into place on the amplified baptismal funk of “Achilles Heel,” as Meany sang, “You gotta hold ground, but you can’t stick around forever.”
Maybe so, but they at least stuck around long enough to enliven the sun-drenched festival-goers as they began their exhausting weekend. Neither artist nor audience could ask for more.