Austin City Limits Festival 2018 - Day 2 - Gigs - Reviews - Soundblab

Austin City Limits Festival 2018 - Day 2

by Mark Moody Rating: Release Date:
Austin City Limits Festival 2018 - Day 2
Austin City Limits Festival 2018 - Day 2

After a loaded Day 1, the second day of the festival promised a more concentrated list of highly diverse talents.  The prior day had us crisscrossing amongst the seven stages, not stopping at many twice.  Saturday kept us in the Western most section of the event, which was thankfully also where the best appointed Press Lounge we have experienced was located.  This provided for some much needed down time in the peak heat of the day. 

This year’s second week was as far into October as we’ve been, but still, temps were maxing out in the sunny mid-80s (though off of the mid-90s of a few years back).  

First up must-see of the day was Durand Jones and the Indications, who had dropped out at the last minute from the Moon River Festival we last covered.  Fortunately, there was another opportunity to catch Jones and his top-notch band.  We’ve lost some world-class soul singers in the past few years in the likes of Sharon Jones and Charles Bradley, so it’s always nice to have newcomers coming in to fill the void.  Big shoes to fill for sure, but Jones is a consummate performer also graced with an amazing voice.  Opening with the soulful ‘I Can’t Do Without You’, Jones’ band was cooking from the get-go and their sound was rounded out by an excellent two-piece horn section.  Jones moved easily from the funkier ‘After All The Lies’ to the sultry ‘Walk Away’ with a flute solo (sounds odd, but it fit perfectly).  The band’s secret weapon though ended up being the angelic-voiced drummer, Aaron Frazer, who sang flawless falsetto on ‘Is It Any Wonder’.  The hard seventies funk of Curtis Mayfield's 'Don't Worry' provided a spot for an incendiary trumpet solo and Jones’ theatrics, including dropping to his knees, on ‘Groovy Babe’ would have made James Brown blush.  A dynamic early day set that proved Jones and his band are ones to watch!

Having caught The Wombats set a few years back, I made sure to stop by for a few songs at least.  They are a heck of a lot of fun to watch and though they never seem to get used to the Texas heat it doesn’t affect their performance.  The trio were one of the first up on the largest stage and made the most of their time playing ‘Give Me a Try’ early on and getting the crowd going.  I also caught a few songs by harder-edged funk/soul singer Curtis Harding under the one covered stage.  The close confines only added to his denser sound compared to Durand Jones’ looser arrangements, but I was glad I stopped by. 

The 3:30pm slot provided a bit of a dilemma.  Either catch Kim Deal’s Breeders for the first time or see indie up and comers Japanese Breakfast for the second time.  Based on Michelle Zauner and company’s dazzling club show I caught earlier in the year, she ended up getting the nod.  No regrets, but the bass-heavy mix totally drowned Zauner out to the point where I was having a hard time picking out the songs, which I know well.  In spite of the poor sound, Zauner is a dynamo in a live setting which might not be obvious from her well constructed recorded set pieces.  When she sets aside her guitar, on tracks like ‘Weekend’, she bounces about the stage and even took a few warm-up leaps before getting started.  She definitely deserves a sneaker endorsement.  Zauner’s oft re-worked to the point of perfection ‘Boyish’ was a highlight of the February show I attended, but here though recognizable fell victim to the sound as everything else.  Too bad they were plagued by a mix muddier than the Brazos River, but these things happen.  Just wished it wouldn’t have been them.  Father John Misty and Parquet Courts (the following day), sounded just fine on the same stage so not sure what happened here.

Though I don’t have a lot of familiarity with his music, next up was Dev Hynes’ vehicle Blood Orange at one of the side stages.  Hynes is decidedly low key, yielding vocals to his two dynamic “backup” singers in many spots and standing well to the back of the stage.  His singers Ian Isiah and Eva Tolkin took the lead for a particularly scorching take on ‘Holy Will’ that was simply stunning.  As the day moved into the golden hour, the chill vibe of most of the set provided a quieter moment to take things in.  Things did get a little more rhythmic as they rolled along, with ‘Out of Your League’ being an early highlight.  Hynes left his hits for the very end, with ‘Best To You’ containing a Prince-ly guitar solo, while the spongy bass of ‘You’re Not Good Enough’ set the tone for the end of the set.  Oddly, about half the songs were backed by a looping video of cars and trucks doing donuts in a parking lot.  Maybe from a music video of his, but didn’t have much context to the music that I could figure out.  Anyway, a solid if not overly memorable set.

Scotland’s synth-pop outfit CHVRCHES (pictured on Gig Review main page) was up next on one of the two main stages.  Lauren Mayberry is certainly a captivating dervish of a performer, coming out flying on ‘Get Out’, and she further cemented Scottish as my favorite English accent.  Particularly so as she was in a snit about the upcoming elections and f’ing Ted Cruz.  Assume she’s not registered to vote in the United States, but her sentiment was shared widely by the performers and grassroots candidate Beto O’Rourke’s name was on everyone's lips, t-shirts and signs all over the more accepting city of Austin.  The group put on a solidly respectful hour-long performance of catchy and amped up pop tunes.  If there is a sameness to a lot of their songs, they are at least consistently listenable.  The older songs like 'We Sink' and 'The Mother We Share' particularly stood out.            

Pre-closer and definitely my favorite set of the weekend, Sylvan Esso (pictured above) returned to their Waterloo of a disaster that struck them in 2015 and preceded to kick ass on the same stage that kicked theirs a few years back.  At the 2015 mid-day slot with temps in the mid/high 90s, Nick Sanborn’s MacBook, where all their samples were stored, effectively melted and if they managed to get off a song I don’t remember it.  Singer, Amelia Meath, was left in the scorching heat telling a joke about a whale while there was a brief scramble to reboot.  All to no avail, as they had to leave the stage to a disappointed crowd anxious to hear their songs translated to a live setting.  

Whether revenge is the right word or not, given a later nighttime slot and presumably several layers of technological redundancy, Meath and Sanborn took no prisoners over a particularly muscular and surprisingly aggressive set.  The couple next to me was seeing them for the third time this year and noting the throngs around me that seemed to have song specific dance routines worked out, this duo has a loyal following.  The entire set was dramatically backlit, such that you only saw rare glimpses of the artist's faces in an ever-evolving swirl of prisms of color and fog.  They opened with one of their more delicate songs, ‘Sound’, but here with the glitched-out rhythmic static at the open paced by peak meter pulses of light you could tell the group’s sound was ever being tweaked and perfected.  Sanborn’s impassioned assault of his machines reminded me of Yo La Tengo’s Ira Kaplan’s begrudging of his instruments, while Meath was in constant motion wearing a top with fringe flying that only added to the backlit effect.  ‘Die Young’ brought an early roar from the huge side stage crowd, and Sanborn duly noted at one point “there are a lot of you”.  The blips and pings of ‘Kick Jump Twist’ were particularly wonky and Meath’s gyrations to ‘Dress’ oozed sensuality.  ‘Coffee’ still maintained a bit of its vapor wave charm, but was anything but faint.  ‘Hey Mami’ was also more muscular than the recorded version and the closing ‘Radio’ made for a pounding finish to send the crowd away drenched and happy.  Their What Now was one of my favorite releases of 2017 and even if they didn’t play ‘The Glow’ (the song perfectly describes a lifetime love of live music), this set was 100% perfection.  What a difference three years made and the group’s inventiveness and creativity was an inspiration.  Sylvan Esso put on a demonstration of picking yourself up and dusting yourself off at an unparalleled level.  Stunning! 

 All photos:  Christa Joyner Moody    

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