Highlights from Friday and Saturday of Austin City Limits Weekend Two.
The sun rose hot over Zilker Park on Friday morning, ushering in Weekend Two of Austin City Limits, also known simply as ACL. The festivities started off at 11, with early risers filtering in to see alt-rock acts like Bear Hands and SUSTO, both of whom will play at Voodoo later this month. Both groups put on solid sets. Bear Hands put their angsty electropop vibes out into the morning air, and SUSTO pushed forward into the afternoon with their sunny indie folk. They set the tone for the rest of the early afternoon, filled mostly with indie and folk groups. Banks & Steelz, an unlikely duo featuring RZA of Wu Tang Clan and Paul Banks of Interpol, played a strangely early and surprisingly forgettable set on the mainstage that felt entirely out-of-place among its Indie counterparts.
The crowd began to filter in in earnest around 3 p.m., a high school-heavy turnout drawn by this year’s EDM-heavy lineup and evidenced by the huge lines that began to form for an unassuming wooden arch that functioned as a selfie station. Flight Facilities, Flume, and Major Lazer pulled massive crowds, while more traditional pop rock acts The Struts and The Strumbellas were much less well-attended. One-hit wonder AWOLNATION got a surprisingly large turnout, mostly an older crowd that actually knew the words to songs that weren’t “Sail.”
Later in the afternoon, 2014 Austin Musician of the Year Gina Chavez and her seven-piece band took the small, out-of-the-way Tito’s Vodka Tent on a spirited musical tour of Latin America, and Tory Lanez put on a disappointing performance for a mostly indifferent crowd.
At night, fans who wanted to get within any reasonable distance of the headliners were forced to choose either a Die Antwoord/Major Lazer track at the Honda Stage or a Flying Lotus/Radiohead track at the main (Samsung) stage. Less committed fans took the hour-long break to check out M83, Band of Horses, or Flume (a festival favorite), but were then relegated to the distant regions of the crowd for the final acts.
Predictably, sound issues were more prevalent on the side stages than the mainstage, but none were too severe. Some soundbleed arose between the Miller Lite Stage and Cirrus Lounge, which sat across from each other near the festival’s entrance. The conflict was most notable when Band of Horses’ folk rock sound was drowned out by M83’s maxed-out pop next door.
Sound at the main stage was excellent, though, allowing Flying Lotus to shine through a bizarre set that ranged from cosmic jazz to glitch to trap. His eclectic arsenal featured a hyper-speed remix of Travis Scott’s earworm “Antidote,” a cover of Funkadelic’s “(Not Just) Knee Deep,” two tracks as his rapper alias Captain Murphy, and Kendrick collabs “Wesley’s Theory” and “Never Catch Me” to close out. It was Fly Lo’s birthday, a fact that he repeated multiple times as he jeered the overwhelmingly white crowd of proactive Radiohead fans and blabbed incoherently about politics between hefty swigs of Patrón. Despite his signature bad attitude, Fly Lo’s set was an impressive showcase of his unruly musical genius.
The star of the night, however, was Thom Yorke, who coincidentally also had a birthday that day. Radiohead’s set was one of the most beautiful I’ve ever witnessed. It also managed to be nearly all-encompassing, boasting selections from nearly every period of the band’s prolific history. They started things off “Burn The Witch,” their new album’s dark opener, and went on an early run of new material, but later travelled back in time as far as 1995 to their second album The Bends for classic tracks including “My Iron Lung.”
Sonically, they showcased their incredible versatility, pushing the boundaries of live performance with experimental tracks like “Idioteque” and drawing out mellow, slow-moving ballads like “All I Need.” Throughout the set, Thom behaved like a madman, generally opting for grunts and growls in lieu of speeches between songs, and put on strange accents when he did speak. The crowd ate up every moment of it, and were rewarded by a six-song encore that included “Reckoner,” “Paranoid Android,” and finally “Fake Plastic Trees,” which brought the night to a sad, gorgeous close.
Saturday’s lineup was considerably deeper than Friday’s, which forced some tough decisions. Early in the afternoon, I floated around, catching part of Joey Purp’s intense but ill-attended hip-hop sermon, Margaret Glaspy’s impressive bluesy folk performance, and Brazilian star Luísa Maita’s intriguing blend of samba and electropop back in the Tito’s tent.
Next, I checked out the first half of San Diego soul singer Andra Day’s set. Day began to make waves just last year, but is blowing up quickly, gaining large-scale attention for her rousing performance at the Democratic National Convention. Her set was one of the better ones of the weekend, her transcendent voice reminiscent of Erykah Badu--not quite as cool but with just as much soul. Her cover of Nina Simone’s “Mississippi Goddam” was particularly moving in light of the ongoing racial unrest in our country today.
I made the mistake of leaving Andra’s set early to check out DJ Mustard, who will play at Voodoo. Mustard created an absurd amount of hip-hop earlier in the decade, putting out some of the era’s most popular tracks, from “Rack City” to “My Nigga” to “I Don’t Fuck With You,” before his self-described “ratchet” sound was overtaken by contemporary trap. Saturday, though, he pandered to a crowd of ravers anxious for The Chainsmokers to come on stage. While his set was fun, there wasn’t much to it.
I caught a segment of Khruangbin, who grooved lazily through instrumental stoner jams, before heading over to LL Cool J, who gave a hip-hop history lesson with the help of backing beats from DJ Z-Trip. He was fun to watch but often gave off the aura of a didactic dad, at one point even bringing a little girl up on stage and telling her to stay in school because she was the future.
Anderson .Paak and Melanie Martinez, both of whom will take the stage at Voodoo, played simultaneous sets at 5:30, so I was forced to choose between .Paak’s highly touted hip-hop/R&B set and Martinez’ bizarre pop act. Although I’d already seen .Paak twice this summer, I chose to see him again as his is one of the most engaging, high energy shows I’ve ever seen. He didn’t disappoint. Throughout the set, he sauntered cockily across the stage, flirting with the crowd and making jokes about our mommas, but his overwhelming natural charisma made it all work. His set has remained relatively static this summer, featuring hits from his debut album Malibu and some choice singles like the Kaytranada collab “Glowed Up.” The act still kills, though, especially when .Paak hops on the drums and gets virtuosic with it while managing to stay in tune on the mic.
I stopped by to see Blue Healer, who will play the Howlin’ Wolf later this month, and enjoyed their experimental country rock act, which combines upright bass and bluesy chord progressions with dream pop synths and airy vocals.
Next, I headed back to the mainstage, where Schoolboy Q was already blasting through a hit-filled set. Unfortunately, he didn’t play too much of his latest album, Blank Face, which features much more interesting production and lyricism than his earlier work. Still, he was a lot of fun to watch, a somewhat older guy with a stone-cold mentality and less energy than some of his more youthful peers, but with enough swagger to still up a stadium. He finished up his set with “THat Part,” his biggest hit of the summer, and left the crowd swelling with anticipation for Kendrick Lamar, who would take the stage in an hour.
Unfortunately, I had to miss Bright Eyes frontman Conor Oberst’s solo set in order to get close for Kendrick, but it was absolutely worth it. Kendrick’s set, though almost identical to the set I saw him perform at Panorama Fest in New York earlier this summer, still blew me away. Backed by a fantastic live band and a massive screen featuring black-and-white video clips of black artists and white politicians, Kendrick made the stage his pulpit, preaching out “Untitled 07 (Levitate)” from his recently-released B-side compilation untitled unmastered. before launching into a set that was as structured as it was exciting.
The first third of the set featured mostly material from good kid, m.A.A.d city and was capped off by Schoolboy Q predictably returning to the stage for the Black Hippy Remix of “THat Part.” The middle section was marked by more instrumental material including the beautiful interlude “For Sale?” from To Pimp A Butterfly, another track from untitled unmastered., and the intro to “Complexion (A Zulu Love).” The final third, after a couple more good kid tracks, hit its final TPAB stride. The pre-encore set ended with “Alright,” the rousing track that has become the rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement. Before his encore, “A.D.H.D,” Kendrick had the crowd join in for a sing-along of the chorus, a tribute to the fans who had stuck with him from day one. By the end of the set, with all the other acts finished, the entire population of the festival, from the ravers to the more traditional country/folk fans stood united to witness one of the greatest artists of our time.
NOTE: Due to ride complications, I was forced to miss Day 3 of the festival, but I hear LCD Soundsystem was great!