Words: Garrett Smith // Photos: Ellie Alonzo and Garrett Smith
It’s that season once again – the Texas heat is finally giving up the ghost, as a relentless summer begins to segue into the mild breeze of fall; elections loom ominously, but optimistically, on the horizon; and, of course, Austin’s very own sweet-sixteen year old, two weekend long festival comes around once again: Austin City Limits.
This year, we truly took it to the limit for y’all.Whether you missed out on the action, you’re gearing up for weekend two, or, you’re itching for next year already and need that sweet photographic fix –
you know we’ve always got you covered.
Paul McCartney, Metallica, The Revolution, Janelle Monae, Phoenix, and more: whatever your fascination may be, there was a little bit of something for every one of the hundreds of thousands of people who stepped foot in Zilker Park this last weekend.
We – your favorite dynamic duo, Ellie and Garrett – invite you to take the first steps into our favorite home-state festival, and to walk with us just one more time through those festival gates.
After all, you’ve walked with us before, haven’t you? Entertain us once again, then, because we’ve got quite the show.
// Day 1
Day 1 wasted no time in kicking things off, and we made sure to get in gear bright and early to make that holiest of pilgrimages: the 35 drive from Dallas to Austin. We kicked things off immediately with a refreshing dose of laidback late-summer vibes with one of our recurring favorites – Alvvays.
After that, the music went full throttle. The legendary David Byrne made another Austere appearance, playing a welcome familiar, barefoot set against a curtain of silver chains, accompanied by the iconic host of grey suits and whimsically choreographed instrumentation. Golden Dawn Arkestra performed in a similar vein, albeit these “children of the sun” had a, shall we say, brighter motif.
BØRNS, Greta Van Fleet, and Khalid all dialed the volume up in their own respective genres, creating that glowing festival vibe that energizes the crowd and gets us all through the long, sweaty day. The National piled on to our recurring festival cast, giving us yet another beautifully heart-rending set; Father John Misty and Hozier brought us to church with anthemic setlists and soaring performances –
though the former’s pulpit was less of the fire-and-brimstone variety, and more of the playful and satirical.
We headed towards the closing of the first day with a gorgeous, electrifying set from electronic wunderkinds ODESZA, which led in to the highly-anticipated set of ACL veteran, living legend, and favorite musical grandfather, Paul McCartney. Perhaps one of if not the most deific entities we’ve had the privilege to cover here at Austere, Sir McCartney was nothing short of angelic – whether it be through his playful finger-guns and mannerisms, his grandfatherly tales of musical legends and friendships, or his seraphic voice, no worse for the wear at 76,
the performance was everything.
Opening with “Hard Day’s Night”, Paul soared through his entire oeuvre, and even surprised us with little things – a whimsical ukulele cover of George Harrison’s “Something “, a guitar solo tribute to Hendrix’ Foxy Lady, and a tale of haunted regret, sung forth in the imagined conversation with lost friend Lennon in “Here Today”, and a pyrotechnic symphony to accompany a rocking rendition of “Live and Let Die”. It was an emotional set that spanned the spectrum of feeling and the course of time, brought home with the triumphant tear-jerker “Hey Jude” and closed out with the rebellious “Helter Skelter”.
He paid tribute to fallen friends – and paid “tribute” to our home state; or so he though – played cheerfully with the crowd’s expectations (his removal of a jacket was noted as “the one wardrobe stage”), and he delivered everything one could have wanted while being sure to stay true to his own art. His choice in new and unfamiliar songs prove, even at his age, that he is every bit the font of musicianship in 2018 that he was in 1960. We can only hope that our favorite Beatle’s got many more albums – and many more festivals – in his future.
// Day 2
Day 2 brought with it rain and delayed openings, but such are the fruit of the festival loom, and none were deterred in their pursuit of the tunes. Brit-rock legends The Wombats dove right in with an upbeat set, while Mon Laferte perked our ears with a tantalizing Latin vibe. From there, alt-rock/grunge elders The Breeders and their punk inheritors, Highly Suspect, delivered the much needed kick in the pants to keep us alive and electrified, while Japanese Breakfast took things down a notch for a chill-worthy set best appreciated swing-swaying in the shade. The crooning of Brandi Carlile and Sofi Tukker gave way to the down-home and yet, often haunting, ethereal stylings of Sharon Van Etten,
and then, we were in for it.
Deftones delved into their delectable alternative history and, despite sound troubles and a high-strung crowd, absolutely slayed their set and left not a one fan famished, after such a musical buffet. CHVRCHES, meanwhile, gave us their synth-pop sermon, drawing quite the flock of pilgrims into their manic electric dream. Our favorite hometown hero, Annie Clark of St. Vincent, represented we Dallasites well, sparing no expense of energy in her legendary stage presence and high-flying vocal abilities.
And then, it was time to rock: the heavy legends Metallica were live and ready for heads to roll. Opening with the killer dual-throwbacks of “Creeping Death” and “Seek and Destroy”, the living gods of metal were manifest in Austin, and it seems all of Austin was here to bear witness. “We never take any of this for granted”, the handlebar mustachioed James Hetfield made sure to note – and their performance did indeed hold an air of freshness, of revival, like two high-voltage paddles had been applied to the thirty-seven year old band. Some surprise choices like “Fade to Black” made their way into the mix alongside expected hits like radio-dominating “Nothing Else Matters” and the omnipresent “Enter Sandman”.
The group made sure to pull out every stop
The boys brought along with them a diamond-shaped ego ramp referred to as the “Snakepit”, where lucky high-income fans could be boxed-in front and center for all of the highly-mobile antics. Kirk Hammett and Rob Trujillo busted out a completely unexpected instrumental cover of “Telephone Song” by Stevie Ray Vaughn, giving us an exercise in musical bravado and, even more importantly, a lesson in the deification of bass that is Trujillo.
Hammett and Hetfield commanded their expanded stage, traveling from various mic stands and power poses during their two-hour set. In both big moments of pyrotechnics, and in little moments – like a coy Hetfield playing with the camera and revealing, with a sly flick-of-the-wrist, a custom Metallica ACL guitar pick – the men of Metallica proved that none can challenge them in the comforts of their lofty throne.
// Day 3
Day 3 arrived with mixed weather, alternating between the doom and gloom of approaching storms, and an unrelenting sunniness – a perfect mix, then, for our bittersweet realization that today, alas, was our last day at this year’s ACL.
We fought off those impending post-festival blues with a rowdy opening set from local favorites Sailor Poon, and with their unrepentant, defiant noise punk stylings, we were ready to enjoy every second of the remainder of the day.
From there, Twin Shadows boosted us with a cheery electronica-meets-guitar-shredding set, and the women of Flor de Toloache brought us to life with their gorgeous mariachi music. We livened things up with the delectably grumpy punk classics ParquetCourts, which gave way to the famously “wishy washy” dual-natured, double-MC’d Injury Reserve, who playfully teetered between their self-proclaimed “sad songs” and throat-busting, high octane moshers.
We were then met with a host of superbly talented queens, in the form of soulful Elle King and crooning pop queen Janelle Monae, who made sure to make everyone feel loved and welcome, stating that her set was “about self-love” and that “anyone was welcome at her sets, no matter who or how they loved”. Khruangbin swooped in with delicious virtuosity and swaying hips, providing an upbeat comedown from the heat and energy of the day. Phoenix and SylvanEsso both hit their strides with lovely synth-pop energy and sweet saccharine vibes –
like cold popsicles on relentlessly sweltering days.
It was a somewhat underplayed band that stole our hearts unexpectedly, however: The Revolution, which we wouldn’t fault you for not immediately recognizing, being without the Prince that gave the band its notoriety. Sans the dearly departed symbol-toting artist himself or not, The Revolution – complete with iconic Matthew “The Doctor” Fink, Lisa Coleman, Wendy Melvoin, Brownmark – completely wowed fans with seamless renditions of Prince classics such as “When Doves Cry” and “Raspberry Beret”.
But the true masterstroke of the set was when Wendy told the audience that the next song was “something they had thought long and hard about how to do it right, how to honor him best”, and concluding that the only right way would be for we, the audience, to take on the role of lead singers. Thus began “Purple Rain”, and it was a chorus of painful loss and the happy tears of something beautiful being shared for everyone in attendance. Closing with “I Would Die 4 You”, The Revolution made it clear that they – and all of his fans – would never stop celebrating Prince.
And as so many fingers pointed a singular digit skyward, it seems Austin, or Mother Earth, decided she would throw in on the celebration, too.
The night – and the festival – ended with two diametrically opposed genres – the traphouse party of Travis Scott, and the angsty Sheffield-stylings of modern day greasers-turned-lounge-crooners, Arctic Monkeys. Travis Scott was in peak form, following his headlining predecessors with plenty of firey pyrotechnics and stage antics, riling up an early Sunday night crowd into a late Friday night warehouse throwdown. He’s not the most eloquent or longevitous of the headliners of the weekend, but the appeal is obvious: the man is a hypeman, no doubt.
The Arctic Monkeys, meanwhile, are toying with new styles and manners of expression, and the former pompadour-rocking, leather clad Alex Turner has taken an aesthetic spin with their new album, eschewing hair entirely and donning crimson glasses with a swanky, lounge-singer outfit perfect for his confessional croonings and subdued musings. Of course, we saw and heard hits across the span of their oeuvre, and not a single stone – or album – was left unturned.
And so, we made our way out with the huddled masses, heels and shoulders sore with the many burdens of a long festival weekend, fraught with legendary music, local foods,
and visions of next year’s fruits, dancing in our heads.
With that, Ellie and I bid you farewell, for now, constant readers. We’ve had nothing but the best of times, reliving these festivals with you, and we’ve got so many more stories in us to tell. Like many of the performers we’ve covered, there are always new explorations and wardrobe changes. There’s a sordid past and a promising future surrounding us, and we know you’ll roll with every tune, old and new. Whether you keep up with us now, or catch up with us later,
Don’t be a stranger.
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