Out of all three days of the first weekend of ACL, Sunday may have been the best.
In any regard, you’d think Sunday would be the toughest day of the festival to take on after two long days in the sun rocking out and dancing, but the vibes were alright, alright, alright (I make no apologies for my cliché references to popular culture).
By this point, I had my lay of the land and picked up on some best practices in how to get to the festival and how to pace your day.
For one, and if you’re reading this anticipating Weekend Two, probably the easiest way to access the festival is to take a rideshare down near Austin High School and walk across the pedestrian bridge underneath Mopac. It’s only about 10 to 15 minutes of walking to the gates. However, you need to already have your wristbands for this entrance. If you get to Republic Square downtown from a Cap Metro bus, the free ACL shuttles are also pretty great and take you right up to the southern gates and the box office. As for leaving, it’s definitely a free-for-all, where if you don’t leave before 9:30, you’ll either need to walk to downtown to get a ride or wait a while for a shuttle back to Republic Square. Luckily, Cap Metro is running late both weekends of ACL to accommodate.
Here’s the highlights:
If there was one band that was the most fitting for Sunday, it had to be Whitney. The mellow indie-soul group is still touring off the successes of “Light Upon the Lake”, and at this point, lead singer and drummer Julien Ehrlich didn’t care at all about the setlist. After each lovely performance, he’d sort of slouch, and then ask the crowd what they wanted to hear.
Of course, everyone cried out, “No Woman!” and “Golden Days!” to which he said, “Yeah, I know, No Woman will be at the end and we’ll play Golden Days pretty soon. Maybe next. I dunno, we’ve got an instrumental and a couple more covers. You guys want a Bob Dylan cover?” and the crowd cheered.
Whitney’s summery sounds of warm falsetto vocals, fuzzy electric piano, Max Kakacek’s (the other official member of Whitney) bright slide guitar and powerful trumpet playing made for a delightful afternoon set. When the band got into some of the jam sections, they were impressively tight. What was most impressive was how many satisfying drum hits Ehrlich was able to fill to really put on the heat.
Having thoroughly enjoyed the set, I stupidly asked the sound guy for a set list, which he of course replied, “Sorry man, we don’t do setlists!”
As for the least Sunday vibed band, but maybe one of the best acts of the weekend, that is Run the Jewels. They were certifiably awesome.
So much raw power in their set, and Killer Mike and El-P were just so cool. Just two large dudes trading verses, swapping rhymes and making jokes about each other while some super heavy beats shook the entire crowd. Up by the stage, fans crowd surfed and rocked their arms back and forth to the massive beats. It was near impossible to not want to get up and dance to the show’s fiery songs.
Near the end of the set, Danny Brown (who played a bizarre, also “lit” set earlier in the day) came out and rapped his verse on “Hey Kids (Bumaye)” to the surprise and delight of everyone there.
“That guy is a rockstar,” said Killer Mike.
In short, RTJ gave everyone at their show a booster shot of energy and set the tone for what was left of Weekend One.
As the first chord of The Killers headlining set rang out to Tom Petty’s “American Girl” (which Lukas Nelson also covered Friday) a certain kind of magic filled the air. It was a faithful tribute. Right before the song’s iconic guitar solo, Brandon Flowers shouted out: “Ladies and gentlemen, pay some rock n’ roll respect to the irreplaceable Tom Petty!” To which each screen illuminated with a portrait of the fallen rock star.
As the song came to a close, The Killers surprised just about every single person there by going straight into “Mr. Brightside,” the song we all thought was going to close out ACL. It was a bold move, and maybe costly, as many people left just a few songs after to go catch the rest of Gorillaz and leave. I stayed for another 40 minutes or so, because growing up, these guys were one of my favorites. Hearing some of these songs live as an adult, and in such a grandiose spectacle, really made me re-evaluate just how good this band is (or was) at writing pop/rock songs.
The show reached a cathartic height when Flowers took a moment during “The Way it Was,” when he addressed the Las Vegas shooting one week prior that left 58 dead and hundreds injured. The band is from Las Vegas, and this show was the first they had played since.
“Coming from Las Vegas, and as musicians, I want to say thank you for coming out tonight,” he said. “Don’t you ever let any (expletive) get in the way of doing what you want to do.”
A passionate cheer from the crowd came in response, and then came another hit off 2004’s “Hot Fuss,” “Smile Like You Mean It.” The night was full of hits from the band’s first two albums, “Hot Fuss” and “Sam’s Town” and only two (“Run for Cover” [which may have been in poor taste, even though they mean from relationships] and the kind of awful “The Man”) from the group’s newest, “Wonderful, Wonderful.”
Stay tuned for a final thoughts recap of Weekend One later this week.