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Austin City Limits 2015 Festival Review: From Worst to Best

on October 05, 2015, 6:15pm
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If you’d like to see what progress in America looks like, visit Austin, Texas. The cultural oasis of The Lone Star State is alive and well, hustling and bustling with development and volume. Walking around downtown, you can’t step on to a single street without hearing a construction crew drilling somewhere nearby or without almost getting sideswiped by a tanker truck wheezing along with more concrete, piles of wood, or anything that’ll build a condominium.

It’s a tricky situation for the city. While a flourishing economy is usually a positive thing, it’s always at a cost, and that might challenge the eclectic fabric that keeps Austin “weird.” Coincidentally enough, Trey Parker and Matt Stone tackled these very issues with last week’s brilliant episode of South Park, titled “The City Part of Town”, poking fun at the gluttonous gentrification that, in reality, plagues every liberal city across the United States.

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Photo by Amy Price

For artists and concertgoers in Austin, which by all accounts should be just about everyone, such problems have already put a dent in the music scene. Curfews have been imposed (affecting even the hallowed grounds of Stubb’s BBQ) and a few venues have even closed down (R.I.P. Red 7, Holy Mountain). The dust has hardly settled, as there’s currently a war of sorts between the Hyatt and Cheer Up Charlie’s that could possibly strip the venue’s cavernous, rocky walls.

Seemingly unaffected by any of this is Austin City Limits Music Festival. Over 75,000 people attend each year, which is enough that the festival can sustain itself for two weekends in October, and a quick glance at the three-day festivities would reveal that likely won’t stop anytime soon. After all, this year’s installment, the franchise’s fourteenth go-around, was a blinding success, from both a commercial and spiritual standpoint. They did some real good.

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Photo by Amy Price

There was much debate about a few of the headliners — specifically, the decision to end Saturday night with the not-so-ACL-friendly choice of Drake and deadmau5 — but few would argue that the soul of the festival wasn’t at least somewhat preserved for 2015’s edition. C3 Presents designed unique narratives for each day, from the rock ‘n’ roll landscape leading up towards the Foo Fighters to the rootsy trail that preceded the unspoken headliner Alabama Shakes.

Hell, they even booked Dwight Yoakam, a peace flag of sorts to the lawn chair crowd that didn’t particularly care for The Strokes or The Weeknd on Sunday night. It’s difficult to gather that economical mindset from simply looking at the lineup, but it was an inherent part of the experience all weekend long. And while those that still call it Lollapalooza of the South aren’t exactly wrong (at least on paper), spiritually, they couldn’t be further from the truth.

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Photo by Heather Kaplan

The difference is that Lollapalooza has the dog-eat-dog vibe of a major city, while Austin City Limits retains a more family friendly aura. You’ll sweat and heave at both, but you won’t be crushed mentally and physically by the latter. Instead, it’s a fairly breezy experience, one that always ends with a lofty walk under the park’s sprawling trees, from where the moon replaces any lamp post and the cicadas pick up where the bands left off. That part of Austin will never change.

Click ahead to read our full coverage of the weekend.

–Michael Roffman
Editor-in-Chief

No FOMO for Weekend Two

Drake

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Photo by David Brendan Hall

Drake made a particularly smart move during his headlining set at ACL’s first of two Saturdays (one that might’ve saved his lame duck Coachella showings back in April): He brought out a special guest that wasn’t Madonna awkwardly forcing her tongue down his throat. After promising“something special” throughout the first half of his disappointing performance, Atlanta rapper Future finally joined Drizzy for the live debuts of two songs off their recent chart-topping collaboration, What a Time to Be Alive.

Unfortunately, “Jumpman” and “Big Rings” were excruciatingly repetitive, momentous for being the only tracks performed in full over the course of the set’s stop-and-go 90 minutes. It was baffling to watch tens of thousands of fans stare cow-eyed at Drake as he bounded back and forth on stage as much as he worked through his diverse catalog through scatterbrained snippets. His vigor and excitement felt undoubtedly genuine, but his ebb-more-than-flow strategy poisoned any palpable mojo.

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Photo by Amy Price

“I don’t wanna waste nobody’s time,” he said at one point, adding: “I came here to do work in Austin, Texas.” Naturally, the mammoth bulk of fans who amassed at the enormous Samsung stage and rapped/sang along to every word would disagree, but seems to me that Drake is gonna have to work a little harder – and maybe perform at least a dozen actual songs – to make his encore performance this coming weekend worth the effort.  –David Brendan Hall

Amateur Hour

Kali Uchis

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Photo by Amy Price

On record, Colombia-born and Virginia-raised singer-songwriter Kali Uchis sounds incredibly promising (see her latest single “Lottery”), which is likely why she’s attracted the likes of Tyler the Creator, Diplo, and Kaytranada as producers. It’s floaty, poppy fluff that soothes the ears and wins over the hips and should in no way be overcomplicated, only that’s exactly what happened under the Tito’s tent on Sunday afternoon.

To her credit, she tried to make her Austin City Limits debut as organic as possible, ditching a DJ and inviting along a six-piece backing band she dubbed The Cartel. The only problem? “This is our first time performing,” she admitted. Well, that certainly showed, as there was zero chemistry between anyone on stage and the levels were all off. Even worse, each movement on Uchis’ behalf was plagued with mic issues.

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Photo by Amy Price

That’s not to say there wasn’t talent at hand. There just wasn’t any glue. And without that, well, things fall apart, now, don’t they? It’s a damn shame, too, since Uchis actually drew in a hefty crowd, a slightly remarkable feat given that she shared a time slot with BØRNS, Lord Huron, and the nearby Kehlani (more on her later). On a side note, I did catch her later watching Kurt Vile and The Strokes, which only speaks to her obvious talents in picking good music. –Michael Roffman

Still Rockin’, But Stuck In A Rut

Foo Fighters

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Photo by David Brendan Hall

To say Foo Fighters phoned it in during their headlining set on the Samsung Galaxy stage would be far too harsh. Dave Grohl and his gang are, after all, 20-year rock veterans (not counting Grohl’s stint in Nirvana, Pat Smear’s past with the Germs, and the various other projects the quintet’s members have dabbled in over the decades), so it’s basically impossible for the legions of fans, especially those new to the live production, to miss out on their money’s worth.

Sadly, the band has fallen into a greatest-hits-only rut. One would think they’d want to celebrate two decades by pulling out some deep cuts – all the diehards have been clamoring for it since the Broken Leg Tour launched on Independence Day in Washington, DC. But the only tracks that popped up off their self-titled debut, “Big Me” and “This Is a Call,” were practically obligatory (the latter still rocks hard as hell, by the way).

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Photo by David Brendan Hall

And, though critics haven’t favored it much, there was scant featured from last year’s HBO documentary-paired disc Sonic Highways – just “Something From Nothing”, “Congregation”, and “What Did I Do? / God As My Witness” (all singles, by the way). The performance of the latter song, featuring a not-so-surprising appearance by Austin guitar maestro Gary Clark Jr., made this show feel somewhat unique. Well, that and a seriously badass cover of Pink Floyd’s “In the Flesh?”.

But even Grohl’s motorized throne feels less epic at this point. He’s merely in a boot now and even stood painlessly a few times as it rolled down the catwalk. Clearly, they’re just riding out the gimmick until the tour is done. I can’t be alone in pining for a Foos show that doesn’t rely on that fancy prop or a seriously tired closing run through “Best of You” every damn time. C’mon Dave, it’s time to get schwifty again. SHOW ME WHAT YOU GOT. –David Brendan Hall

The Ryan Adams Appreciation Award

Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors

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Photo by Amy Price

“This looks too country,” a woman observed as Drew Holcomb and The Neighbors figured things out Friday afternoon during their problematic sound check at the Austin Ventures stage. Naturally, she and her disappointed boyfriend left, and about five minutes later, the Nashville collective delivered a fine hour of alternative country. So, was she wrong? Well, not exactly, but she also wasn’t entirely right. You see, Mr. Holcomb is a scholar of the same brand of alternative folk rock that Ryan Adams has made his own for over two decades. The similarities don’t stop there, either.

Vocally, Holcomb sounds startlingly similar to the Misfits-loving singer-songwriter, and rustic ballads like “American Beauty”, “Tightrope”, and especially “Avalanche”, all tracks off Holcomb’s latest release Medicine, feel stripped off of any number of Adams’ releases. The only difference is that Holcomb likes being more of a rancher than, say, the guy you’d hang out with at 4 a.m. in a Portland arcade. In some respects, Holcomb’s musicality echoes ’90s-era Springsteen, where layers of piano, organ, and whispered harmonies support the story with engaging atmospheres.

It’s nice, but wouldn’t you rather listen to the greats? –Michael Roffman

Get Her Some Sunscreen

Sylvan Esso

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Photo by Amy Price

“It’s hot as fuck! I’ve got tiny waterfalls in my armpits.” That was the introduction I heard as I walked up to Sylvan Esso’s Sunday afternoon set at the Miller Lite stage. While it wasn’t a particularly steamy day — at least by Austin standards — the sun was relentless. As the set wore on, the reddish glow of a burnt Irish woman began to emerge on the shoulders of lead singer Amelia Meath. She was a trooper, and the performance was unblemished, with Meath’s vocals leading the engaging beats below. Hopefully she had plenty of aloe vera backstage. –Kevin McMahon

You Talkin’ U2 To Me?

The Maccabees

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Photo by David Brendan Hall

Early Friday afternoon, a sparse yet interested crowd raised their 10-gallon hats to the friendly London rockers at the sweltering Miller Lite stage. With 11 years and four albums behind them, The Maccabees probably deserved a better slot than what they were offered; nonetheless, they held their chins up high and unpacked an agreeable offering of moody alternative rock. At times, they sounded like Coldplay, or Radiohead, or Muse, or Arcade Fire — take your pick.

Yet what do all of those acts boil down to? A direct lineage to Bonobos, Adam Claytwothousandpounds, Thedge, and Larry Mullen Sr.’s Son. Ahem, U2. Which made me chuckle since an idiot in my Facebook feed recently claimed that U2 don’t make music. Really, pal? Tell that to the ‘bees here, or any of the aforementioned acts. Anyways, what were we talking about again? Oh, right … the set. T’was effective, melodic, and yet inconsequential. Loved “Pelican” at the end, though. –Michael Roffman

Least Appropriate Introduction

Albert Hammond Jr.

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Photo by David Brendan Hall

“You cannot petition the Lord with Prayer!” boomed the sample of Jim Morisson’s legendary “The Soft Parade” monologue. What followed — the catchy yet borishly twee bits of The Strokes — fell far short of the epic stage Morrison’s voice set. The mix for Albert Hammond Jr.’s set was partly to blame, with the sound blending into the indistinguishable mass one might imagine in the background of an American Apparel commercial. Poignant moments, like the solo during “Losing Touch”, landed well, but the crisp rhythmic ticks that characterize Hammond Jr.’s guitar playing did not shine through. (Blank) would have been a more fitting introduction. –Kevin McMahon

Total Afternoon Snoozefest

Leon Bridges

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Photo by Heather Kaplan

Hype is never a good thing, at least not for me. If more than three people start gushing about something in pop culture (whether it’s a film, or an album, or a hot-button issue up on Capitol Hill), I tend to grow wary and back away slowly like this. It’s like what Alexander Hamilton said before that Aaron Burr jerk ruined his afternoon: “I have learned to hold popular opinion of no value.” Yep, that’s my grade school constitution in a nut shell, and why most of my days are spent alone with fictional characters.

Anyways, Leon Bridges falls into this predicament, as he’s one of this summer’s buzzier acts and someone I’ve only mildly listened to in passing. Seeing him at Austin City Limits was my chance, I thought, to see what the hell everyone was talking about, only I was left in a balmy afternoon snooze. Don’t get me wrong, the guy has some pipes and he nails the decadent American gospel and soul to a tee, but there’s just not much there to watch.

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Photo by Heather Kaplan

As the sun dwindled behind the Honda Stage on Friday, the lanky Bridges strolled to the mic and cooly introduced himself by saying, “Let’s have some fun.” He at least tried, unpacking a handful of chummy nostalgic bites (“Flowers”, “Pull Away”) and heartfelt tales (“Lisa Sawyer”, “Brown Skin Girl”), but there just wasn’t an energy to any of the proceedings. All in all, the whole thing felt too pre-packaged, too safe, too canned — especially those smarmy smiles from guitarist Austin Jenkins.

It wasn’t until his closing duet with singer Brittni Jessie on “River” that Bridges finally appeared to crack any mold. The two allowed their respective cadences to guide them into the warm air and fly above a crowd that was all too invested in talking about being there as opposed to actually being there. Now, I know what you’ll say: “Well, you obviously came into this knowing you’d hate it.” First off, hate’s a strong word, so back off. And second, I did enjoy the performance; I just didn’t love it, or get it, or whatever you need to feel in order to say, “Oh, you gotta check this out.” –Michael Roffman

Most Original Cover Song

Waxahatchee

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Photo by David Brendan Hall

I hope Waxahatchee’s Katie Crutchfield and her excellent band will forgive me for saying so, but the last time I caught their show (at FYF Fest 2013 in Los Angeles), I walked away hastily, feeling unfulfilled by what felt like apathetic indie folk. What a distinct pleasure it was then to get so much satisfaction from her early-bird set Sunday morning at the Miller Lite stage. The band swung easily between tri-guitar, fuzzed-out pop-rock to downtempo, minimalist mood music, and to spurts of superbly erratic, Sonic Youth-esque noise rock. They applied the latter treatment to a cover of Lucinda Williams’ “I Lost It”, splendid with its lovely vocal harmonies, heavily distorted guitar spine, and just a hint of the original tune’s twang. My only complaint was that the mix was so poor, I could barely hear Crutchfield’s singing, but that was by far the most original cover I heard all weekend. It beat the pants off Dwight Yoakam’s stab at Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire”, at any rate. –David Brendan Hall

Hottest Set (Literally)

Daughter

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Photo by Amy Price

“Imagine yourself as a lizard,” a fan suggested Sunday afternoon. “Absorb the heat, because come night time, you’ll need it.” Oh, if that were only the case. As the unforgiving sun prodded from above, those who gathered around the Miller Lite stage for Daughter were only kept cool by the band’s misty, ambient folk. “We’re from London,” guitarist Igor Haefeli explained, “so we’re not used to this kind of heat.”

Performing 80% of 2013’s If You Leave, Elena Tonra had to see the irony in singing songs called “Winter”, “Smother”, or even “Amsterdam”. Or, perhaps she was too busy trying to remain a solid human life force, as Haefeli observed, “We’re all just gonna be liquid pools at the end of this.” At least he was wearing a grey hat and a grey striped shirt; the other members were all in black, more or less begging to be tortured.

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Photo by Amy Price

It wasn’t the most ideal time and place to hear Daughter’s moody, gripping work, but it worked nonetheless. A healthy turnout stayed from beginning to end, enjoying her elegant vocals despite appearing not-so-elegant by the time they finished watching her. By the time Tonra closed up shop with an impactful rendition of “Home”, it was too late — everyone was a walking piece of Texas toast sans any butter. Yee haw! –Michael Roffman

Most Eligible Party-Starters

Leopold and His Fiction

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Photo by David Brendan Hall

Kudos to these sharply clad local boys for not only drawing a sizable crowd to the Austin Ventures stage from the get-go of their Friday noon set, but also for garnering a larger audience from passersby within the first few songs of their powerful 40-minute set. Frontman Daniel James is as iconic for his immaculate mustache as he is for his energizing, Jack White-esque scream and flurries of riffage on his Gibson Flying V.

To boot, he and drummer Trevor Wiggins, bassist Alexander Lynch, and recently added keys-master Jeremy Holmsley (also of local folk outfit Blue Bear) displayed their ability to punch seamlessly from rollicking garage rock (“Better Off Alone”, “Cowboy”) to dance-ready waltzes (“I’m Caving In”). Other internationally renowned festivals would be smart to bill them even later in the day as certified party-starters. –David Brendan Hall

Chill, Bro, Chill

Unknown Mortal Orchestra

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Photo by Amy Price

Sometimes a band falls wayside. It happens to everyone; blame it on life, a cluttered music industry, or just simple forgetfulness. For me, Unknown Mortal Orchestra was such an act, seemingly dissolving into thin air around the fall of 2013, when I totally forgot to buy II on vinyl during my annual year-end shopping spree. Which is strange, in hindsight, because only two years prior I was obsessed with their self-titled debut — it never left my rung of go-to records. Anyways, there’s your context.

On Saturday evening, Ruban Nielson’s psychedelic outfit strolled out on the Austin Ventures stage, where a healthy thousand slunk around in one form or another. As they opened with “Like Acid Rain” and “Necessary Evil” off this year’s Multi-Love, I was somewhat floored at how soulful and funky UMO’s sound has become. Gone are the fuzzy guitar hooks; in their place is a greater sense of atmosphere, which benefits Nielson’s vocals even more. It’s like they graduated into the ’70s or something.

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Photo by Amy Price

The diploma’s quite earned as I always felt the psychedelia was somewhat limiting anyhow. Now, there’s a varied ambiance to their set that allows for a little more movement over the glued hypnosis of, say, “FFunny FFriends” or “From the Sun”. Of course, that didn’t stop the majority of the crowd from slipping into a post-afternoon coma as they stood with their eyes glazed over and their minds somewhere outside of Austin. Hey, at least they weren’t checking their phones.

Consider me on board again. –Michael Roffman

Most Dynamic Use of a Bass Guitar

Royal Blood

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Photo by David Brendan Hall

In an age of sensory overload, UK rockers Royal Blood are a pleasant burst of simplicity. Armed with nothing more then a bass, a well-assembled pedalboard, and gut-punching drums, the duo captivated a large Friday afternoon crowd with a sound deceptively larger than the sum of its parts. It’s clear from both their performance and their rapid ascension that they’ve stumbled onto a less traveled lane in the rock ‘n’ roll freeway.

Songs like “Out of the Black” and “Little Monster” showcased their distilled brand of beer-clanking rock a la Queens of the Stone Age, Arctic Monkeys, and DFA 1979. For the moment, Royal Blood are the fresh faced darlings of rock: counting Jimmy Page, Howard Stern, and Matt Helders all as early supporters. In a genre that has assumed an extremely high churn rate, time will tell just how long that lasts. –Kevin McMahon

Texas, Forever

Shakey Graves

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Photo by Heather Kaplan

Once the Swede, always the Swede. If there was one set that defined all of Austin, Texas over the weekend, it was the one and only Shakey Graves. Look, I have my own indifferences, and I’ll be the first to admit that, but he does know how to bring about a good crowd. I used to think the Panthers were the only ones who could draw an actual following in Texas, since throwing a stupid football is all anyone ever cares about down here, but people love this guy.

All I’m saying is, Julie was my girlfriend and she probably shouldn’t have been staring off at some Swedish guy, you know? But like I told Landry before heading to Austin this weekend, I can’t hold a grudge. After all, Julie still listens to Roll the Bones every so often, usually when I’m off painting in the other room with my headphones on. But what she doesn’t know is that sometimes I’m listening to the album, too. What can I say? Grandma raised me on good ol’ Americana.

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Photo by Heather Kaplan

Now, since I refused to see him around town, back when he was doing those solo shows with that suitcase drum thing, or whatever he calls it, I was pretty stoked to see him bring it out for a couple of songs. He also played “Bully’s Lament”, which sadly makes me think of that idiot JD McCoy. Whatever. The best part of the whole afternoon, though, was when he brought out his band and they jumped around and did their thing. He works well with a team. Everyone does.

At least that’s what Coach always said. –Matt Saracen

Most Disorienting Set

TV on the Radio

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Photo by Amy Price

TV on the Radio enjoyed the sunset slot Saturday evening at Austin City Limits. Transitioning from light to dark during a concert is disorienting on its own, and the Brooklyn collective accented that motif perfectly. Lead vocalist Tunde Adebimpe began with an abstract vocal sampling, manipulating the frequency into a high pitched squeal that eventual gave way to shimmering keys and ride symbol taps. The soundscape they opened with lasted nearly seven minutes and left the audience — or me, at least — in a state of disarray. Where were we? How long had we been there? By the time the first verse of “Young Liars” kicked in, none of it mattered. TV on the Radio’s off-kilter psychedelia was a surprisingly perfect set up for the sensory onslaught deadmau5 put on moments later. –Kevin McMahon

The Youngest 60-Year-Old of All Time

Billy Idol

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Photo by Heather Kaplan

Billy Idol looks good. Actually, no, Billy Idol looks fucking great. The British punk rocker, born William Michael Albert Broad, turns 60 years old next month and he doesn’t look a second past 40. Some might argue he’s turned into a clone of Willem Dafoe, but hey, the man formerly known as John Geiger doesn’t look so bad himself these days, either. No, Idol has most of the lost boy charms that made him a sex symbol decades ago, which is why he can still sell hits like “Flesh for Fantasy” or “Rebel Yell”.

That youthful athleticism helped big time on Thursday night, when he ravaged a sold-out crowd at a smoky Stubb’s BBQ. Thousands of veteran fans squeezed into the lofty backyard to scream along to FM staples like “White Wedding, Pt 1.” or “Dancing With Myself”, and Idol never relented, milking each track for better or worse. The former sparkled into fruition on the acoustic before thundering by on the electric (very cool), while the latter was extended with about 20 choruses (not so cool).

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Photo by Heather Kaplan

A few more not-so-cools whisked on by: Idol’s VH1 Storytellers moment prior to “Sweet Sixteen” was a tad awkward; the lyrics to everything off his latest album, 2014’s Kings and Queens of the Underground, were cringe-worthy at best (read: “Save Me Now”, “Postcards From the Past”); those solo interludes, especially Steve Stevens’ exhaustive number, were gluttonous; and Idol’s refrain during “Mony Mony” (“Come on motherfuckers, get laid, get fucked”) could have been sung by Trey Parker.

There were times when the fat was earned. It took a few minutes for “Eyes Without a Face” to solidify as the synths and guitars slowly synchronized into the classic drop, but it was gorgeous and warranted an epic performance. But the thing about epic is that it’s usually a rare quality, a curveball, and when it’s used in succession, it becomes tired fast. It was hard not to be somewhat exhausted after Idol’s 90-minute performance, but hey, not all of us are cut like that porcelain demon. –Michael Roffman

Most Poised

The Decemberists

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Photo by David Brendan Hall

When Colin Meloy divulged that he and his band hail from Portland, Oregon, I don’t think anyone was surprised. That said, The Decemberists have a true knack for grace. Whatever dust may have gathered during their multi-year hiatus has clearly been removed, and the result is spectacular. On the surface, Meloy looks like a hip, bearded Ron Swanson, but their music is no joke. The layers of instrumentation in “A Beginning Song” and “Make You Better” were strong and tasteful, much like the performance itself. Ultimately, they took a risk playing “Carolina Low” — a quiet fingerpicked ballad — for such a large audience. However, being able to hush massive crowds with the pull of music is the ultimate test of audience captivation, and The Decemberists passed with flying colors. –Kevin McMahon

Strongest Self-Esteem

Ryn Weaver

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Photo by Heather Kaplan

Ryn Weaver never stops moving. Her ADHD-like movements find her bouncing around, twisting and shouting, twirling her arms about, running over to the cameramen to stare straight into their lenses, dancing alongside her bandmates, sitting on the edge of the stage, and eventually roaming amidst the photo pit and the crowds beyond. Some folks might say she needs a little Adderall, and those would be the ones who aren’t under her spell.

During her early afternoon set at the HomeAway stage, the California alternative pop singer dressed an incredibly devoted sea of fans with an appropriate concoction of good humor and a positive self-esteem. “What a fucking beautiful day,” she observed. “Are you sweating? Thanks for coming so early.” Perhaps fueled by the sugary synthpop of addicting hits like “Pierre”, “The Fool”, and “Sail On”, the crowd responded with rapturous enthusiasm.

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Photo by Heather Kaplan

Admittedly, Weaver’s rallying optimism could be seen as cloying in the eyes of many passersby. But, here’s the thing: It never feels plastic and annoying. Reason being, the singer’s own self-adoration is pretty inspiring; if she’s comfortable with herself, why shouldn’t we be too? That’s a feeling she exudes with her breathless performance, and it’s a tangible element that her many, many fans appreciate with the utmost magnetism.

When Weaver instructed everyone to “turn around and meet three people,” it was almost frightening to see the majority of the crowd oblige, especially for an activity that often circles death in the list of society’s greatest fears. But Weaver ate it all up, watching her thousands of fans introduce themselves to one another with smiles and seemingly zero sarcasm, to which she asked: “Are we making friends?” Well, you can imagine what the crowd said to that. –Michael Roffman

Most High School Friendly Rap Show

Chance the Rapper

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Photo by David Brendan Hall

Chicago native Chance the Rapper is an all purpose creative. The way he has built his star power through his music, his features, his business ventures, and his philanthropy is inordinately admirable. His vision is something that sets him apart, and his emphasis on the youth is what has grabbed him such a devoted young following. For better or worse, although Chance may swear or mention drugs in his music, it still comes across as PG. His message is so positive, and the spoken word delivery style he favors is so un-abrasive, it really feels like music you can play for your parents. Not that they would like it, but it certainly wouldn’t come with the kind of finger-wagging admonishment of, say, Run the Jewels, who held the same slot on the Miller Lite stage just 24 hours prior. –Kevin McMahon

Too Fast, Too Furious

Tame Impala

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Photo by Heather Kaplan

Bottom line: Kevin Parker needs more time. Those salad days when Tame Impala could play economical sets are long behind them. Now, anything but a headlining slot feels like highway robbery, sweeping the rug from under the Australian rockers, who need an hour just to settle in. After witnessing their weekend-closing set at this year’s Shaky Knees, a good two months before Currents dropped, I quickly realized that they’re the most intriguing thing to happen for rock ‘n’ roll in ages.

Yet that intrigue doesn’t exactly come across in under an hour, and especially not in the evening. Songs are curtailed, the sun spoils the atmospheric lighting, and the setlist suffers. (You know you’re in trouble when there’s no room for the band’s most recent hit — in this case, that would be “Eventually”.) So, similar to my feelings with their Lollapalooza set, Tame Impala’s 2015 experience at Austin City Limits could best be described as simply accommodating.

Having said all that, we were still watching Tame Impala. And they all wore Austin City Limits shirts. Awesome. –Michael Roffman

Stardom in their Sights

Lion Babe

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Photo by Heather Kaplan

Some of the greatest festival performances are those caught in an act of pure discovery, and it felt nearly unanimous among those who watched Lion Babe early Sunday morning on the Honda stage. Technical difficulties with producer Lucas Goodman’s equipment caused a late start, but it made for a thrillingly dramatic intro as vocalist Jillian Hervey – a veritable titular character in the flesh with a sprawling mane, leopard print gloves, and one catlike gaze – danced and tumbled (not clumsily, but like a gymnast, mind you) during the silent space.

If that was tantalizing, the effect compounded one hundred-fold when the music kicked in and Hervey began singing and dancing. At times, she seemed to mirror the likes of Solange Knowles, mostly for her commanding motions – in particular, those sudden hair whips and body dips – and her soulful voice (see: “Whole” and “Wonder Woman”). Toss in Lauryn Hill, too, as Hervery’s occasional bursts of hip-hop (see: “Jump Hi”) echoed the Fugees vocalist. The sample of Notorious B.I.G.’s “Big Poppa” during one track leant even more oomph to that effect.

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Photo by David Brendan Hall

Waves of P-Funk-inspired guitar imbued Goodman’s otherwise sparse beats on songs like “Impossible” and “Where Do We Go” with sonic complexity fit for an act on its way to superstar status. By the time they closed with breakout hit “Treat Me Like Fire”, the resultant dance party albeit sparse was practically obligatory. –David Brendan Hall

The Greatest Smart Ass

Kurt Vile and the Violators

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Literally an hour after Philadelphia rockers Strand of Oaks walked off the Austin Ventures stage, another brother from the City of Love came strolling on out: Mr. Kurt Vile. And similar to Timothy Showalter, he brought with him some rays of friendly sunshine, if only of the smart ass kind. “This is our first festival ever,” he said with a straight face following opener “Dust Bunnies”. “Cool vibes at a festival.” These little addendums between songs might have irked those who aren’t used to the fella’s dry sense of humor, but they had his hardcore following in stitches.

“Dwight Yoakam’s coming up in a minute,” Vile added post-“Pretty Pimpin'”, allowing for a pregnant pause. “Not with us, though. You could imagine if he did though, right?” Thing is, once the music started rolling — for Sunday, he crackled through favorites of the past (“Jesus Fever”, “KV Crimes”) and future (“Wheelhouse”, “Wild Imagination”) — he was all business, as they say. He lost himself at the mic, hiding behind those great big locks of hair, as the sun tried desperately to stick around over the rocky wall behind the stage. It was a beautiful sight.

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Photo by Heather Kaplan

But Vile’s a beautiful human being, rich with humor and a calming demeanor, the sort that screams underdog even if he could probably care less about the number of people watching — and there were a lot. “You’re all lookin’ pretty good out there,” he observed. “Pretty hot. Male and female. Equal.” When Chance’s set over at the nearby Miller Lite stage started bleeding over, he turned towards the stage and screamed, “Hey!” He’s just so lax, and that free spirited mindset works best at ACL. “We’re doing pretty good on time,” he noted. “I’m told we got 30 minutes left, but that was 15 minutes ago.”

Naturally, he lost track of time following a screeching, saxophone-fueled version of “Freak Train”, to which he brilliantly (if not clumsily) tacked on a jammy version of “Wakin on a Pretty Day”. Prior to that, however, he became a little self aware, admitting: “It’s good to be back on the road, as you can see, we’re getting it in there … getting it together.” If this is getting it together, let’s hope he never gets there. This is way, way, way too much fun. –Michael Roffman

The 24-Hour Soul Kitchen

The Suffers

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Photo by Heather Kaplan

If there was any act too large for the BMI Stage all weekend it was Houston’s own The Suffers. Their Austin City Limits debut was something of a hometown show for the gulf coast soul outfit, which ably houses 10 extraordinary musicians, specifically: their great leader and host Kam Franklin, bassist Adam Castaneda, guitarist Alex Zamora, guitarist Kevin Bernier, saxophonist Cory Wilson, trumpeter Jon Durbin, trombonist Michael Razo, percussionist Jose Luna, keyboardist Patrick Kelly, and drummer Nick Zamora. Even if it looks rather anal retentive, it’s absolutely vital to list each and every player as they’re all essential.

Now that we got that out of the way, let’s talk shop: The Suffers aren’t just a soul band. Granted, they absolutely nail down that genre to a tee, but they can also just as easily whip out a Selena cover (“Baila Esta Cumbia”) or wax nostalgic on ska music (“Sally Brown”). They also have a sense of humor, which goes such a long, long way. Franklin, who will forever be dubbed the daughter of Aretha for her coincidental namesake and loving candor, is a fucking riot. “Being the only woman in a group of nine men, it’s pretty obvious I like attention,” she admitted. She earns it, whether it’s with her witty on-stage banter or funny allusions to food.

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Photo by Heather Kaplan

It was a good time at the BMI, where thousands of fans, both local and out of town, new and old, could danch and preach along to tracks they either did or did not know. That’s a wild feat for an outfit that hasn’t even dropped their proper full-length debut, due out next February no less, and it’s also an exciting prospect for Austin City Limits. Here’s an act that could easily grow with the festival, possibly working their way up the proverbial totem pole of like-minded soulful revues. You can certainly count on that if they keep churning out sweet, sticky, and savory tracks like “Gwan”, “Stay”, or “Make Some Room”. –Michael Roffman

The Guitar Heroes of ACL

Strand of Oaks

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Photo by Heather Kaplan

Maybe it’s been said, but fuck me if I’m going to look for it at this hour of the night: Strand of Oaks comes off like the smoky troublemaker of a brother to Philadelphia’s other six-string heroes, The War on Drugs. You know, the one who works on cars, can’t seem to own a shirt without oil stains on it, and spins Sabbath, KISS, and Cheap Trick records all night. Actually, if Adam Granduciel had a brother like Matt Berninger’s RoboCop-loving younger sibling Tom, it’s very likely he would look, sound, and act something like Timothy Showalter.

The bearded lead singer and producer is a lovable lug who just wants to have a good time. “Wanna get a little loose with us?” he asked his followers at the Austin Ventures stage on Sunday evening. “Let’s get moving a little.” Those in search of a little melody with their rock, or a little edge with their melody adored their guitar-driven hour, which saw the Philly rockers move everyone with passionate renditions of “HEAL”, “Goshen ’97”, “Shut In”, and the closing slow burn of “JM”.

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Photo by David Brendan Hall

“Cheers to all you good looking motherfuckers,” Showalter exclaimed, offering up another one of his lovely Santa Claus smiles between songs. That’s the coolest hallmark of Strand of Oaks: their unadulterated passion to just bring fans an unadulterated rock ‘n’ roll show. They’re loud, but they’re not abrasive. They’re bad ass, but they’re not rude. They’re melodic, but they’re never sappy. They’re just right, as Goldilocks might add; that is, before Showalter would swallow her up with a big ol’ bear hug. What a guy, what a band, what a bunch of heroes. –Michael Roffman

Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe

Vince Staples

Saturday wasn’t a great day for Vince Staples. The Long Beach rapper tweeted this tragic news less than two hours before he hit the Austin Ventures stage. And he didn’t let up on any of this until halfway through his set, when he admitted, “I’m having a hard time up here.” It was a sobering moment for everyone in the crowd, especially after the guy had just blazed through five or six tracks, from “Lift Me Up” to “65 Hunnid” to “C.N.B.”, without pause.

Only minutes beforehand, Staples was riffing with his DJ about the predominately white audience at hand, joking that “they wanna hear about the hard life, #BlackLivesMatter, all that bullshit.” It was a great self-aware observation that led to an even greater moment, when some idiot towards the front tried his hand at riffing, to which Staples spit back: “You hear the white man scream Fuck Black Lives Matter? We really are in Texas.”

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Photo by Heather Kaplan

Still, despite the bombshell about Tiny Skrap, Staples refused to let the bad vibes get past him. “You’re all makin’ my day a little better,” he admitted, and it showed. Following this, he burned through bangers like “Jump Off the Roof”, “Norf Norf”, “Señorita”, and “Blue Suede”. Yet somewhere in there he developed this curious obsession with “Deep in the Heart of Texas”, namely because it made the Texas crowd clap and do their Lone Star thing.

I lost count but Staples must have made them do the whole call-and-response bit for at least six times, even after the set had tapered off and he was on the side of the stage ready to leave. It was hilarious but also intriguing to see how something so frivolous and asinine could send him over the moon despite the severely shitty day. But, hey, the little things… –Michael Roffman

Most Promising Mid-Day Main Stage Set

Father John Misty

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Photo by Amy Price

As Father John Misty slinked onto the stage and hoisted the mic stand behind his shoulders in his typical pseudo-striptease fashion, I couldn’t help but be impressed — J Tillman has come such a long way from his days behind the drumset with Fleet Foxes. The Honda stage was larger than any I’ve seen him perform on, and the band rose to the occasion. Strangely enough, there were notably fewer sarcastic quips made by indie rock’s sassy bearded prince — he genuinely seemed to enjoy himself.

Yes, he made mention of Dionysian orgies and mocked some selfie takers in the front row, but he largely stuck to the tunes and the performance was elevated because of it. Tillman has a bohemian smoothness to everything he does, a gentle contrast to his vocal styling which, while beautiful, certainly does not aim to seem “cool.” As his popularity grows, we will undoubtedly get more chances to see Tillman under main stage lights — it’s comforting to know he is ready for them. –Kevin McMahon

The Best Band with a Harp

Mikaela Davis

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Photo by Heather Kaplan

It’s not every day you see a harp. The angelic instrument is one of those rarely seen entities that always appear to be very fantastical even if they’ve always been very real — sort of like the platypus, or a DeLorean, or Donald Trump. ::rimshot:: And because such rarities invite curiosity, Rochester, New York’s Mikaela Davis and her sparkling harp were quite popular with those passing by the BMI Stage on Saturday morning. Now, before you shake your heads and scream, “GIMMICK! IT’S A FUCKING GIMMICK!”, take a chill pill, walk outside, and then keep reading. Okay? Sweet.

No, the harp is hardly a gimmick for Davis. It’s the centerpiece, sure, but it’s also what separates her brand of dream pop from any of her contemporaries. There’s an organic sparkle to every one of her songs that would otherwise be added with keys or programming. If anything, it’s a limiting device in the sense that she can’t really move around on stage and mostly focuses on the forest of strings at her disposal, all of which she runs through with stunning ease. What’s more, she manages to do all of this while singing at a level that would require most performers to bend or contort.

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Photo by Heather Kaplan

Again, it’s not exactly the most exciting thing to watch at an outdoor festival, which is why the intimate BMI Stage was a choice setting, but there’s reason to believe the sound can carry her to larger pastures. For one, she has other bandmates — three young kids that look like clones of Ben Kweller (ex. 1, 2, 3) — and if they can drop The Book of Entwistle, they might have something of a show on their hands. Second, they know how to jam in an unorthodox way. Amidst the bubble gum breadwinners like “Fortune Teller” or “Runaway”, the band cooked up an odyssey akin to Ravi Shankar or “Tomorrow Never Knows”.

During that moment, the crowd was speechless, ignoring the ensuing noise pollution of the festival and hypnotically watching the four work in unison as they spiraled deep into their respective talents. At one point, some cool old dude in a Violent Femmes shirt started spinning around in delight, perhaps lost in a euphoric state. He wasn’t alone; personally, I wanted to just fall down on the grass and lose myself in the sky. That’s a power that speaks beyond a great pop song, which fortunately is what they also have (see: “When The White Horse Takes Me Away”), and why Davis isn’t just an artist to watch but follow. –Michael Roffman

Austin’s Finest

Gary Clark Jr.

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Photo by Amy Price

If there’s one local artist who deserved an overwhelming outpouring of love on the opening night of ACL’s first weekend, it’s 31-year-old Gary Clark Jr., and by all rights, he got it as the sun set over the HomeAway stage. He’s somewhat of a big shot these days, regularly guesting with revered musicians like the Rolling Stones, Foo Fighters, and – in a cool twist Friday – Run the Jewels, but he’s certainly earned it.

His latest album, The Legend of Sonny Boy Slim, is further proof of Clark’s versatility. During “When My Train Pulls In” and “Don’t Owe You a Thing”, he showed that he’s still a master of the blues, but that he refuses to be pegged as a strict disciple of the genre. He displayed equal prowess with new cuts that dabble in R&B (“Cold Blooded”) and gospel (“Our Love”), yet still slipped in magnificently intricate and electrifyingly erratic solos on each.

With an admirable humility that shone through in his nearly unerring lopsided smile, Clark solidified Friday night that he’s Austin’s most worthy music ambassador to emerge in the larger scene in decades. –David Brendan Hall

Best American Pride

Run the Jewels

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Photo by Amy Price

When Run the Jewels take the stage, you know shit is about to get real. “I LOVE America,” boomed the outspoken Killer Mike in a comical, yet sincere way. El-P quickly followed, adding, “Even though it’s run by a bunch of corrupt motherfuckers that want to kill you and eat your children.” Such is the spirit of RTJ. Their music celebrates life’s pleasures and laments society’s flaws in one fell swoop with the kind of vicious passion it was meant to be lived with. It’s infectious, and possibly why their many featured guests love to share a stage with them.

For a Friday afternoon audience, RTJ brought out Boots for “Early” and even had Gary Clark Jr. come out for a quick guitar solo at the end of “A Christmas Fucking Miracle”. The performance had an effortless flow, from dancing to banter and back. The duo even took time to poke fun at the audience and themselves during “Love Again”, with El-P admitting: “I know it’s the dumbest chorus of all time, but we love when [the audience] say it, cracks us up.” It was American pride at its best: loud, fun, and catchy, with just a dash of self-deprecation. –Kevin McMahon

House Party 5: The Lawrence Brothers Return

Disclosure

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Photo by Heather Kaplan

It’s annoying that people still only know about Disclosure for “Latch”. Or that anyone could be too disappointed in their latest album, Caracal. As the Lawrence brothers proved Friday night with their lively headlining set, they’re not the same, they’re better. For an hour and a half, the English duo conjured up their meticulous brand of electronica by bouncing around their respective consoles, which looked like something out of Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind. They didn’t talk much, although one of them joked about the city’s barbecue, and with the exception of Brendan Reilly for “Moving Mountains”, they didn’t bring out any special guests, which is kind of a shame given that The Weeknd headlined Sunday night.

Still, they welded together an addicting medley of songs that indicate the bridge between 2013’s diamond-cut Settle and this past week’s Caracal is strong and sturdy. Newer hits like “Holding On”, “Hourglass”, “Bang That”, and “Superego” won over the crowd over past flare like “F For You”, “You & Me”, or even “When A Fire Starts to Burn”. One enlightening surprise was watching Howard take the lead on “Jaded”, from behind a bass guitar no less, perhaps hinting that Disclosure’s future might not need to be so guest-heavy. Still, no track received as much love and fervor as their set closer “Latch”. Once the signature “dat dow” vocal hook reverberated from the Honda stage, thousands of fans took over for Sam Smith as they jumped up and down together.

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Photo by Heather Kaplan

It was a great moment, but so was the preceding 90 minutes that solidified their status as a genuine electronic headliner. Purists of the festival, who clutch their acoustic guitars like a life raft each year the lineup drops (and who were likely scorching their throats by singing along to “The Pretender” at the Samsung Galaxy stage), might have balked at the idea of Disclosure closing their festival. But they’d be wrong: The Lawrence brethren work just as hard as any other musician, if not more, and based on the sheer volume of music they produced Friday night, they righteously earned a much-deserved spot on the PBS program. Whether or not the Austin City Limits stage could fit their alien spaceship, well, that’s another debate altogether. –Michael Roffman

A Modern Day MJ

The Weeknd

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Photo by Roger Ho

It’s no secret that pop has felt stale for quite some time. This upper legion of top 40 music has been run by the same forgettable tracks and artists — until now. Enter Abel Tesfaye, better known as The Weeknd, a man who is a lot of things, but certainly not forgettable. The hair, the voice, the indie cred — Tesfaye’s meteoric rise over the past few years has the makings of something sustainable and legendary.

Within seconds of the air-tight beat behind summer smash “Can’t Feel My Face”, a flurry of phones jetted into the air. The Weeknd is a viral ready machine that’s just getting started. ACL showcased his vocal talents, allowing Tesfaye to successfully test the upper limits of his register during songs like “Earned It” and “The Hills”.

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Photo by Roger Ho

Finally, here is an artist with the kind of radio-ready chops that don’t warrant a level of production so high all traces of humanity are edited out of it. From early mixtapes like House of Balloons to 2015’s Beauty Behind the Madness, there is a noticeable choice to deliver more chart-friendly music, but thus far, it has not diluted the end product.

As he aced covers of Beyoncé’s “Drunk in Love” and Ariana Grande’s “Love Me Harder”, even more phones stretched into the air. That’s not a bad thing to record; the audience was witness to the dawn of a new era. –Kevin McMahon

The Sexiest Hour at ACL

Kehlani

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Photo by Amy Price

Sexual healing was rampant all weekend, as evidenced by the three headliners that closed out the festival every night. Yet not even the likes of Disclosure, Drake, or The Weeknd could hold a torch to the dominating hour that Kehlani offered up Sunday afternoon at the BMI Stage. Working alongside two synchronized dancers, one equally spirited DJ, and a precarious keyboardist, the California R&B singer and member of the HBK Gang made everyone sweat and pull their collar as she brought her latest mixtape, You Should Be Here, to life.

Now, before PC Principal swings his siren arms at me, know that this superlative belongs to Kehlani strictly for the atmosphere she created on stage. She didn’t just earn your attention, she demanded it, staring at each and every one of her fans like a lion might circle its prey. Whether she was dancing or singing, those eyes were always watching. Of course, this would be somewhat jarring if her songs weren’t so damn passionate and alluring. How she delivered sensual numbers like “The Way” or “FWU” are like something straight out of a dream — or a movie.

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Photo by Amy Price

“Best friends or lovers can’t seem to draw the line between each other,” she sang on “Down for You”, essentially painting every drama that has ever hit the silver screen. The obvious difference is that this wasn’t a movie. She was right there before everyone, telling us the greatest things anyone could ever hear from someone. Here’s one line worthy of any Valentine’s Day card: “Every time I’m with you, I’m ignoring what I’m next to.” Even off-script she was reeling every one in; at one point, she waxed philosophical and insisted that we’re in this together: “There is no alone in this.”

Some fans might have been disappointed that Chance the Rapper didn’t pop up for “The Way”, especially since he was only a stage and two time slots removed from Kehlani, but in some respects, it’s a good thing he staved off. Anytime a starry guest appears, it’s less a cosign and more an aggravating distraction from the talent that’s center stage. Not sure that would have happened with a force like Kehlani, but it’s all the better that her power hour belonged to only her. (Reportedly, G-Eazy came out earlier; I missed it.) Though, if we’re splitting hairs, those back up dancers and DJ Noodles were something else, too. –Michael Roffman

Weirdest Show for a Lawn Chair

deadmau5

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Photo by Amy Price

Lawn chairs: portable, functional, some might even say they are downright comfortable. While I personally believe they have no place on festival grounds, the rest of ACL disagreed, so much so that “No Chair Zones” had to be enacted. After watching deadmau5 deliver an amazing, over-the-top multi-sensory experience, I can say one thing for certain: Watching that from a lawn chair — from the perspective of one of many the 40- or 50-somethings I saw doing so — would be seriously disturbing. deadmau5 is undoubtedly one of the biggest trolls on the planet, and I can only imagine the smirk on his face had he known that was taking place.

Despite his flaws, deadmau5 performances are extremely unique. There is a depth to his music and how it can be connected with that just isn’t there for much of the electronic garbage that same music inspired. Obviously, it was the kind of performance that could be enhanced with substances. Visually, his “Thunderdome” and accompanying pyrotechnics are stunning, and combined with the overarching musical narrative — from hard hitting techno to the melodic beauty of “Strobe” — one infers a theme of immersion and release, something that drugs and alcohol often facilitate.

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Photo by Amy Price

Having seen the man behind the mouse several times, this was my first completely sober. Not surprisingly, the concert was still surreal. The energy deadmau5 cultivated from the audience was available in spades, regardless of blood alcohol level. The Honda stage once again proved ideal, allowing for an engrossing and equally dynamic sound. As we entered the part of the performance where deadmau5 sips Coronas with Left Shark and a life-sized banana, the blank stares coming from the lawn chairs scattered around me somehow felt like part of the fun. –Kevin McMahon

The Most ACL Set of the Weekend

Alabama Shakes

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Photo by Heather Kaplan

“Y’all keeping weird out there,” Brittany Howard asked. “I’ll see you out there tonight, I’m weird too.”

You could feel it in the air: the excitement, the companionship, the benevolence. As mercury skies dissipated behind the Honda stage, Alabama Shakes soundtracked what essentially boiled down to a wild block party. Beers were swigged, backs were pat, smiles were reciprocated — there was a sense of community at hand that spoke to the band’s vivid roots rock sound. Off to the side, an ecstatic fan in a Dodger’s cap bounced from one person to the next, inciting sing-a-longs to “Hang Loose” and “Don’t Wanna Fight”. A few steps from that scene, a collection of neon hoola hoops were shared between those not on MDMA and those who just wanted something to dance along with as Howard roared through “Always Alright” or “Shoegaze”.

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Photo by Heather Kaplan

This is what Austin City Limits is about; these tiny snapshots of unpretentious joy. Not surprisingly, the Shakes would be many festivalgoers’ way of closing out Saturday night, and who could blame them? The Athens outfit is tailor-made for the festival, and had C3 Presents known Sound and Color would be one of this year’s biggest albums, they probably would have saved some money by pushing “End” on the call out to Drake. (Or maybe not, considering the massive crowds that swarmed Samsung that night.) Alas, they didn’t, which was kind of a bummer. Even Howard knew she deserved more, if only because she could clearly see the people wanted more. “Not my idea to end it,” she admitted. We know, we know. –Michael Roffman

They Came, They Saw, They Kicked Our Ass

Con Brio

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Photo by Heather Kaplan

“We got some places we wanna take you,” Con Brio frontman Ziek McCarter preached from under the Tito’s tent as Friday afternoon boiled over. A couple hundred passersby exclaimed as the human slinky brought everyone back to San Francisco, 1971. Supported by an incredible rhythm section, especially the “Hallelujah Horns” of Marcus Stephens and Brendan Liu, McCarter campaigned a unique blend of cheery funk and soulful R&B, saved from the whimsical confines of nostalgia by a jaw dropping, awe-inspiring physical performance that would give Nigel Lythgoe a hernia.

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Photo by Amy Price

McCarter can sing, he can shimmy, he can shake, he can groove, he can flip, he can dance, and he can proudly wear a pair of leather zipper pants like the late King of Pop. He’s got the contagious exuberance of James Brown, the rogue style of Sly Stone, the crossover swagger of Pharrell, and the alien athleticism of Michael Jackson. It’s telling the band has a song titled “California Cowboy” as that perfectly sums up the guy to a tee. His sweaty heart may still be in the dusty towns of Texas, where he’s originally from, but his loving eyes are all over the rolling hills of the Bay Area.

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Photo by Amy Price

Con Brio crafts midnight music, the stuff that urges everyone to shuffle in from the cynical city streets and onto the friendly obstacles of the bumpy dance floor. Hell, the band’s name is a musical direction that translates to “with vigor” or “with spirit”, and that’s clearly something of a motto for the outfit — especially Liu. Second only to the hyperbolic gymnastics of McCarter, the trumpeter stole a number of crazy moments, prowling the stage in a fury like a rabid mongoose in search for a feast. He bounced off his spirited leader like a second pinball, ricocheting chaotically without any direction. It was hilarious.

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Photo by Heather Kaplan

They also know how to pen a catchy tune, which is what elevates them from being strictly a spectacle. Songs off their recent Kiss the Sun EP beg to be heard again, specifically the moody imbalance of “Never Be the Same” or the sidewalk strut of its title track. They’re not too complicated lyrically, either, which is why those aforementioned hundreds doubled in size and started singing along to each and every chorus as they burned through their catalogue. “Do we have any new Con Brio fans out there?” McCarter asked with a knowing smile. The tent roared, undoubtedly drawing more people in, and that’s that. –Michael Roffman

Let’s Do The Time Warp Again

The Strokes

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Photo by Heather Kaplan

“Can I get more Weeknd in my monitor?” Julian Casablancas sarcastically joked mid-set. Despite his PBR&B competition across the way, the Samsung Galaxy stage was a raucous scene late into the Sabbath night, hosting thousands of diehard fans who were all starved for more vintage rock ‘n’ roll. Hundreds littered the area with flags and shirts and signs adorned with the band’s namesake and mythology — one read “Meet Me in the Bathroom”, another cleverly flaunted “I Just Want to Misbehave”, a gutsier one demanded Fab’s drum sticks. It was exactly what you would want for The Strokes.

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Photo by David Brendan Hall

Not surprisingly, the New York veterans delivered wholeheartedly with a set heavy on their greatest and most favorite hits. With the exception of “Soma”, “Alone, Together”, and “Trying Your Luck” , they played all of their 2001 debut, Is This It, spicing things up with essential selections like “Heart in a Cage”, “Reptilia”, “Automatic Stop”, “You Only Live Once”, and “Macchu Picchu”. They even offered a surprise appearance of “What Ever Happened?”, marking the first performance of that song since 2011. Sadly, they decided to play “You’re So Right”, but that’s forgivable since they also dusted off “Killing Lies”.

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Photo by David Brendan Hall

Still, it must have burned just a little knowing that the majority of the festival was over at The Weeknd, especially as they revisited material that spawned at a time when they were The Coolest Rock Band on the Planet. “Why are they always doing that,” Casablancas added, “having them play at the same time, making you choose. There can only be one! So you miss half of each and wonder if the other is better.” It was hard not to feel for the guy, especially as fans started making their way over after the two-punch hit of “Last Nite” and “Reptilia” midway through. Still, that hardly mattered to those who stuck around.

cos kaplan sunday thestrokes 2 Austin City Limits 2015 Festival Review: From Worst to Best

Photo by Heather Kaplan

Especially the lucky fan who waited patiently and was heavily rewarded by Fabrizio Moretti. The lanky and shaggy-haired drummer hopped off the stage following a blistering “Take It Or Leave It” and offered up his sweaty drum sticks to the cardboard-carrying listener towards the front, who undoubtedly had a heart attack as the melody of The Alan Parson Project’s “Eye in the Sky” wafted over Zilker Park. Whether or not anyone met the other fan in the bathroom is up for debate, though rest assured, everyone was misbehaving on Sunday night. –Michael Roffman

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Photographers: Heather Kaplan, Amy Price, and David Brendan Hall