Austin City Limits Festival 2018 - Day 3 - Gigs - Reviews - Soundblab

Austin City Limits Festival 2018 - Day 3

by Mark Moody Rating: Release Date:
Austin City Limits Festival 2018 - Day 3
Austin City Limits Festival 2018 - Day 3

After a couple of typically toasty early Fall Texas days, Day 3 was further welcomed by a hard rain overnight which left parts of Zilker park a little swampy and more than a little humid.  Not to jinx it, but somehow I’ve attended many music festivals and had plenty of close calls, but never suffered a meaningful weather delay or cancellation.  In spite of some threats, ACL Weekend 2 went off without a hitch or delay.  

Having seen Mt. Joy on Thursday night, I opted to go catch Amen Dunes 1:00 set to see an artist I had little knowledge of.  Here is as good a spot as any to quote Nicole Atkins’ Thursday night beckon of “you’re gonna have to get out of your comfort zone.”  For those that complain of weak festival lineups, you just aren’t trying hard enough.  With ACL’s seven stages (excluding the Austin Kiddie Limits stage), you’d be hard pressed not to find a worthwhile act to check out or at least carve out some time for a craft beer, sports broadcast or an endless array of local food stands.  So not knowing much about Damon McMahon’s music, I took in about half of his set.  With all but his bass player looking like they had just rolled out of bed, and his guitar player sans shirt, they were probably appropriately attired for the mid-day sun.  The band put out a relaxed psych-tinged blanket of sound that was perfect for the chill opener of ‘Satudarah’.  The acoustic and atmospheric ‘Lonely Richard’ contrasted to the later played hard drone of ‘Skipping School’.  Not at a loss for variety within a fairly narrow band, the synth-driven ‘Blue Rose’ showed a further exploration of their sound.

The mid-day slots held some bands I’d been looking forward to from the outset.  One time semi-locals Parquet Courts put on a workmanlike hour-long set covering much off their latest album and older chestnuts as well.  Opening with ‘Total Football’ they locked in early and rarely let up.  Instead of his recorded pot shot at Tom Brady, Ted Cruz took the final line’s salvo to the crowd’s delight.  ‘Dust’ got an extended and loose reading at the hands of class clown Austin Brown.  And it didn’t take long for the mosh pit to come to life on ‘Almost Had to Start a Fight’. Mixing things up, ‘Before the Water Gets Too High’, with Andrew Savage on some type of handheld keyboard device, showed the moshers could handle a little dancehall stepping as well.  And if the crowd couldn’t hang with the full length of ‘Master of My Craft’, they were right back to it in the following ‘Borrowed Time’.  Savage sounded particularly ferocious on the latter, but ‘Wide Awake’ proved the set highlight with guest “Diego” on timbales and Brown getting the most from his police whistle.  These guys work hard to entertain proven by their two mid-week shows in Mexico between ACL weekends as well as a late night set during the festival.  Always entertaining and fully engaged.

About as contrasted to Parquet Courts’ old school punk (and yes they are showing a bit of gray), Janelle Monáe was literally queen of the court immediately following on the main stage.  Her Dirty Computer album of this year is a celebratory affair of diversity and her star is rising at exactly the right time.  After witnessing her set, which had a headliner worthy daytime crowd on their feet grooving along, it’s inexplicable that she was playing much smaller venues earlier in the year.  Her set was replete with costume changes and a quartet of dancers to go along with a full band.  Monáe made a diva-worthy entrance after leaving her latest album’s title track up to the hands of her band.  She made her way to the top of a raised platform where a rainbow sparkled mic stand awaited, to cruise through ‘Crazy, Classic, Life’.  Monáe donned an African print hat and robe before settling in on a red velvet throne to start the opening strains of ‘Django Jane’ but was then up on her feet with her dancers for the remainder of the set.  ‘Screwed’ had the fan-friendly question of “do you wanna get screwed at a festival?”  And also her declaration of “I’m dirty and I’m proud” brought cheers.  Monáe let the crowd sing the choruses of ‘Electric Lady’ and then donned a pair of pink pants furled with elongated flaps that my daughter declared “va-jeans” - the image put forth on ‘Pynk’ was hardly subtle.  To say Monáe’s set was spectacular truly captures both meanings of the word:  fantastic and fully over the top.  Clearly the festival’s most entertaining set and right up there for me with Sylvan Esso’s more discreet display of the night before.  

Though I am not fully qualified to comment on West Coast hip-hop artist Vince Staples’ set, it was easily appreciated even if I’m not fully up to speed.  His opening greeting of “We’re going to spend the next fifty minutes together because that’s what my contract says”, could have come across as only arrogance but once things got rolling it was clear what he meant.  Working a huge stage by himself with only a mic and backing tracks leaves little room for error and must be nearly impossible to pull off.  Staples’ beats and samples tend to the more broadly artistic, so the set didn’t lack for variety.  The harder edge of his newest single contrasted with the heavy bass notes of ‘Big Fish’.  The more experimental electronica of ‘Yeah Right’ stood out as did the more laid back ‘745’.  Near the end of the set, ‘Norf Norf’’s flow showed just how strong his abilities are detailing his Northside Long Beach upbringing.  The more I’ve reflected on the intensity of his one-man show, the more impressed I am.  

Another artist I was looking forward to seeing was St. Vincent (aka Annie Clark), having only caught her as an opener before and long before her dynamic and varied MASSEDUCTION.  Unfortunately, her set ended up leaving me as cold as her calculated stage persona.  I probably could have dealt with that in and of itself if the performance was solid, but even though pretty close up the sound lacked any volume or intensity.  I’ve heard the brassy title track to her latest album played louder in my car, so not really sure what was going on here.  Clark looked the avant-garde part in flesh-colored leotard and red thigh high boots, but the morph suits worn by two of her band members were overly odd.  A stagehand delivered Clark’s guitar to her in a drawn-out ceremony before she dove into ‘Pills’ one of the few songs that translated well.  Clark told of having written ‘Digital Witness’ about a mile from the stage and that it should provide a connection as we all dance together.  There was simply no connectedness between artist and fans.  Whether that was due to a lack of volume or her intentionally chilly persona I’m not sure.  The non-stop and overly odd videos on constant display ended up upstaging the barely audible performance.  Given the number of early departures from her set, there was 20 yards of open ground ahead of me, but unfortunately, nothing compelling a move forward.

In spite of that last set falling flat, the folks at ACL put together another solid lineup of deeply diverse acts.  From a true legend in Paul McCartney to acts like Durand Jones and Janelle Monáe, it is clear that the organizers intended to put forth something for everyone and ended up with a festival that universally could appeal to anyone willing to accept it.  Whether Beto O’Rourke pulls off an upset in his Senate race or not, it’s clear that diversity and acceptance are not just something cool to talk about but hold a depth of necessity that will ultimately prevail.  Austin City Limits is all the better for understanding that and I appreciate the vast array of quality music that perspective brought about.  ’Til next year…  

All photos:  Christa Joyner Moody            

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