“Um that’s Cherub,” a mom says to a dad as both walk by the Kiddie Limits trail pushing a stroller. She’s mildly dismissive. Neither stick around.
The Miller Lite stage is nestled just behind them and Nashville’s most-buzzed, punk-tinged electro pop duo is sweating behind them. Febreze synths, dirty black jeans, gnarly Vice City boat music, assorted curse words. It’s slick soul with tinges of the usual dance pop suspects–Chromeo vocoders, Ghostland Observatory-esque frontman gyrating–but with a wink toward boat shoes and party-barge jams. It’s part Huey Lewis, rolled-up-jacket-sleeves posturing.
The undercurrent, the vitality, is that these are hard-living dudes that transparently sing about occasional substance abuse.
“This is that disco shake that makes you feel alive that makes you forget,” goes the least nihilist and most family friendly hook.
The duo is managed by Craig Fruin, Lenny Kravitz’s manager, and their set doubled as lobbying for a bigger stage next year. It’s a safe bet given the pair’s easily summoned adrenaline rushes.
“This place has been nothing but love for us,” singer Jordan Kelley said after running down his series of strong Austin gigs.
Previously he was shirtless and yelling unhinged, slowed-down, post-Screw R&B into his mic. There were engagement theatrics wherein bassist Jason Huber greeted fans at the border, well below his stage.
“This is so cool. This is the coolest thing I’ve ever been to,” a sublime, student-age kid said with absurd earnestness.
Cherub’s music is packaged to land. Drummer Nick Curtis was Cherub’s producer and now tours behind sounds he’s helped mold. By the time the band closed down its set with 2012’s “Doses and Mimosas” assorted band buddies crowded the stage to dance, play tambourine, sing about champagne and cocaine.
But the cover of Calvin Harris’s of “Feel So Close” fleshed out via dance rock moved most hands in the air. Someone waved a blown up photo of Oprah.
Fitz and the Tantrums have nothing to prove. Especially in Austin: Having garnered a record deal at South by Southwest, sold out Stubb’s, and planted a flag on the Honda Stage at ACL last year, the soul-pop band has hit for the cycle. Thursday night’s gig at the Samsung Pay Block Party, then, was a one-off victory lap.
“We started with like the small, hot, sweaty club in a basement. There’s always a special place in our hearts for playing a smaller venue.” frontman Michael Fitzpatrick told Austin 360 pregame at the South Congress Hotel. His band had been on a seemingly nonstop run of outdoor festivals, and the tall, sunglasses-clad soul singer was just happy to be close: “People are going to be literally three feet away. You can grab them. You can touch them. You can dance with them.”
Thursday’s show doubled as a party to launch Samsung Pay, but for Fitzpatrick and fellow Tantrums singer Noelle Scaggs it was a comfortable toast before getting back to the high-stakes notion of recording album No. 3. And after Ellen Degeneres endorsements and singles like “The Walker” and “Break the Walls” doubling as definitive soundtracks to most brands, it’s going to have to be a blockbuster follow-up album.
“Of course going into our third record, we’re on a new label, there’s gonna be some kind of nervousness for us because this is our first experience working in this kind of scope.” Scaggs said. “But at the same time we’re still creating songs, and strong songs, that we feel really good about.”
Scaggs said that 2013’s breakthrough “More Than Just a Dream” was an album reverse-engineered from the band’s loop of festival appearances. It tapped into the rhythm and will of massive, 30,000-plus crowds. It dials in on plucky keys and chants, with thin themes about being alive and inspired. It’s a stuffed suitcase of hooks, where the hand claps are slid into the most opportune breaks.
For the band, it’s an instinct-driven accomplishment. Scaggs said the key is “doing music for ourselves and doing music that’s fun and that inspires us.”
With an intimate crowd of maybe 150 Thursday night, Fitz and the Tantrums played loose games of cat-and-mouse with a happy crowd of Samsung loyalists. From Jay Z and Kanye West to D’Angelo to Iggy Azalea, the mobile giant makes it a habit to unpack a seasonal base in town as a backdrop to flagship music events. The drill is constant: Brand users can download varying apps, engage with them, and get a shot at access for their troubles.
With free food and beverage, however, the Tantrums did an admirable job of not playing wedding band and roping in the gathering. Their superfluous Eurythmics cover of “Sweet Dreams” made sure, with even the taco vendors singing along.
“You always approach it to have a really good time and make sure everyone’s engaged,” Scaggs said earlier. Done deal.
For its part Samsung Pay is Austin City Limit’s official mobile pay provider. (Attendees will be able to get a 50-percent discount on ACL gear using the service and buying from its pay stands.) A cursory on-site demo verifies that the service is easy enough for my dad to use and Samsung says that despite launching in late September its mobile-wallet service already works in more stores than Apple’s or Google’s. The line in the sand has been drawn, apparently.
Afterward at the Samsung Level Up rooftop party, streets-defending rap duo Run the Jewels (El-P of New York, Killer Mike of Atlanta) blitzed through a warm-up set of cacophonous, back-and-forth hulk raps. “We’re not your usual corporate act,” the perennially subversive Killer Mike told a stripped-down crowd of people who knew people and were standing next to a Samsung pool. Whatever, it was an earnest qualifier.
The party was hosted by fellow ACL performer A$AP Rocky, who hung out, posed for selfies, and in probably the biggest marketing win of the night slid into someone’s Instagram video and threw stones at iPhones.
“Keep a healthy distance,” singer Tunde Adebimpe said before Brooklyn rockers TV on the Radio began to play Monday night. “It’s gonna get rad.”
Aside from an emphatically thrown set of bells at the top of the set, there didn’t turn out to be too much reason to stand back during the band’s “Austin City Limits” taping at the Moody Theater. (In fact, the band was magnetic.) But, as promised, radness reigned, with a packed house riding the giddy wave of a SXSW Interactive winding down and a SXSW Music gearing up to begin the next day. There wasn’t an official tie between the festival and the taping, beyond the overlapping audience and the band’s spot on the SXSW lineup. But who better to symbolically link the geekiest and coolest segments of SXSW than a band once described by the Boston Globe as “sexy nerdiness letting go in a controlled blast of unleashed energy”?
Song after song, TV on the Radio’s frenetically cool brand of rock sent a jolt through the theater. The punk-inflected “Lazerray” offered up the first good look at Adebimpe’s fancy footwork, followed by fellow “Seeds” track “Happy Idiot.” That infectiously melancholy latter track, the 2014 album’s Bloc Party-vibing lead single, heralded a stark stylistic contrast with the former song that set the tone for the evening’s genre gymnastics.
More musical laboratory than television taping, the band threw down hard guitar and ferocious vocals with “Wolf Like Me,” which also featured the best use of punk trombone I have personally witnessed. Again taking a hairpin turn, the aggro bark of “Wolf” gave way to the spacey synth sensitivity of “Careful You,” a graceful pirouette of Arcade Fire-like fantasia, right down to the smattering of French.
After an soulful and cathartic rendition of “Trouble,” the band left the stage. Now, an encore at an “ACL” taping is not de rigeur, and as the crowd roared, the lights came up slightly and the “go home” music started like clockwork. But someone changed their mind very quickly, and as audience members hovered on the stairs to the exit in uncertainty, TV on the Radio emerged from backstage for what seemed like an unplanned encore of “DLZ.” Just like SXSW, the evening was full of surprises.
TV on the Radio also play a SXSW showcase sponsored by NPR on Wednesday night at Stubb’s at 12:30 a.m. Vocalist Tunde Adebimpe also plays a showcase Wednesday at 405 Club at 9 p.m.
“We’re groovin’ / There’s nothin’ like roots reggae music.”
Rebelution’s early afternoon ACL set was, for better or worse, a demonstration of those lyrics brought to life. If you came to the fest to get your groove on–to, say, take off your shirt, shake your tail feather in slow motion, and wave your arms in the aromatic air–then the Santa Barbara, California, six-piece was for you.
The band took the stage with promise, bringing an upbeat, engaging energy via trumpet, saxophone, keys, acoustic guitar, and pulsating drums and bass. Singer/guitarist Eric Rachmany repeatedly called out to the crowd, forgoing the common ACL acronym and urging “Austin City Limits” to wave its hands in the air and sing along to feel-good lines like “We’ll be dreaming safe and sound” and “Turn it up / I wanna lose it.”
But nobody ever lost it. Instead of building on the audience’s sunny mood and grooving goodwill, Rebelution settled into a loose, laid back set. Rachmany mentioned “healing the nation” in a song but never took the opportunity between jams to address any specifics of what needs healing and how. (I found myself longing for 1990s-era Rage Against the Machine and frontman Zack de la Rocha’s epic, boldly pro-Zapatista rants.)
Rebelution is back for its second ACL Fest and certainly drew a sizable crowd. But knowing Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue were across the park, throwing down one of the undisputed sets of the fest–even surprising the ACL audience with special guests from the University of Texas marching band–made Rebelution’s frat-hippie vibe that much less compelling.
Not that the band itself would notice. As the lyrics go on “The Sky Is the Limit: “You say I’m a fool / I say whatever / I’m in it for the good vibes together / and the love lasts forever.”
There’s a little bit of magic; everybody has it. Jenny Lewis, who wrote those words, just has a little more of it than the rest of us.
The former Rilo Kiley frontwoman and queen of indie rock returned to “Austin City Limits” on Wednesday with a rapturously received taping at ACL Live at the Moody Theater. Lewis’ last appearance on the venerable show was about ten years ago, so there was a hint of the hero’s return bolstering the evening.
She dressed the part, too. Lewis, who released fantastic flower-powered LP “The Voyager” earlier this summer, was decked out head to toe to guitar in rainbows and stars, looking every bit the psychedelic adventurer. (Instead of a cape: her signature auburn bangs, natch.)
Lewis’ adoring, lipsynching public whetted their appetite on classics “Silver Lining” and “Rise Up With Fists!!” to open the evening, before sinking their teeth into the main course of “Voyager” songs. The singer and her knockout band served up album-perfect renditions of AM radio flavored jams like “She’s Not Me” and “Late Bloomer.” From the good vibes coursing through the Moody Theater, you would never know Lewis was playing new songs. Such is the power of a rabid fanbase.
The theme of the night was coolness, which Lewis sparks off effortlessly. She dealt sly smiles to the audience left and right, flashed peace signs when the mood struck her, and quipped about queso before sitting down at the keys. Lewis is a performer who knows levels, easily transitioning from light pop melodies to tearing up the stage with alt-country aplomb to laying on velvety pain on the torchy “Bad Man’s World.” She shined in subtleties: a serpentine flick of the finger when she sang of golden rings on “Slippery Slopes,” singing “there’s a little bit of fight left in me yet” through a snarled lip on “Head Underwater.”
But if you want to talk about cool, talk about Lewis’ performance of “Acid Tongue,” which closed out the set proper. The band dropped their instruments, circling around a single microphone in the middle of the stage. Lewis took up her guitar at the helm, going full Joni Mitchell as she sang plaintively of liars, cobblers and sweethearts with the softest of hands. Harmonies wrapped around her from behind, and white light lifted her from above. For the first time in a joyous evening, Lewis brought the crowd to complete stillness.
And when she was done, she smiled, shrugged a little shrug, and walked off with a wave.
Miss the taping? Jenny Lewis performs at ACL Fest on Sunday at 5 p.m. on the Austin Ventures stage. She also plays an official late night show Friday at Stubb’s, as well as an engagement at Gruene Hall on Wednesday at 7:45 p.m.