Day two in Zilker Park got off to a bumpy start with late morning showers that led to the festival’s decision to delay the opening of the gates. Luckily, the rain stopped just in time, so no set times were affected. The humid Austin heat was in full force once again and this time I’d have to bear the Texas sun with a gnarly sunburn. Despite those slightly uncomfortable circumstances, the sets from day two were even more potent and urgent given the news of Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court.
Fittingly, day two was dominated by powerful women who refuse to back down like St. Vincent, Chvrches, Japanese Breakfast, The Breeders, Sharon Van Etten and more. The infamous “boner plane” returned today (revisit our ACL day one recap to catch that reference) and today’s appearances by Metallica and Deftones meant a sea of tattoo sleeves and black t-shirts, which shows a noble devotion to traditional hard rock and heavy metal garb in spite of the weather.
Fresh off a support tour with Car Seat Headrest, Seattle rock trio Naked Giants gave the festival a hypercharged start with songs from their recent debut album, Sluff. The band melds ‘60s and ‘70s style garage psych and blues with modern rock and though some might find their sound too derivative, their musical technicality and infectious energy should reward them with the benefit of the doubt. Songs like “Regular Guy” and “Everybody Thinks They Know” featured leg kicks, hair flips and endless whoops as well as guitars being played over their heads and while rolling around on the stage. “Twist” was accompanied by actual twists. “TV” showed off their bassist’s animated vocal personality. Their lead guitarist has days worth of saucy guitar licks. And their drummer is a naturally gifted workhorse, resulting in a well-deserved mid-set shoulder massage from their guitarist.
Performing tracks from her two LP’s as Japanese Breakfast, Michelle Zauner faced a somewhat lackadaisical ACL crowd, possibly due to the video boards that signalled incoming rain (which never arrived). However, Zauner persevered rather than retreating. She opened with the mesmerizing, melodic and candidly fervent “Diving Woman” and later took on the bass-heavy, sample-filled “Road Head.” Zauner certainly has an otherworldliness about her voice, but she also gives off a mystical energy that’s hard to pin down. By the time the school dance-like sway of “Boyish” and the singalong starter “Everybody Wants To Love You” came around, she had the crowd right where she wanted them. She then decided to go in for the kill with a cover of The Cranberries’ “Dreams” and though few singers display Dolores O’Riordan’s perfect pitch and Irish vocal flutters, Zauner brought a captivating pop elegance to the song.
Sharon Van Etten
Sharon Van Etten recently announced her fifth studio album, Remind Me Tomorrow, her first full-length record in five years. Based on the new material she performed, Van Etten appears to be far from her peak. Van Etten played her woozy 2014 track, “Every Time The Sun Comes Up,” marked by spiralling keyboards and her incredibly powerful folk-tinged voice. She performs as if the track is wedged into the deepest depths of her heart and the crowd treated it with the reverence and awe it deserved. Tracks like “Magic Chords” and “Don’t Do It” put her breezy, airy vocals at center stage and you could feel the crowd’s collective wonder.
Scottish synth-pop trio Chvrches have steadily built a loyal fanbase in the U.S. and with this festival performance and their third album, Love Is Dead, it feels like they’re breaking new ground. I don’t know if it was the Kavanaugh news or their intrinsic euphoria and shake the stress away mantra, but the crowd was in sync with the band in a way that most acts I’ve seen at ACL so far haven’t been. Frontwoman Lauren Mayberry had the crowd wrapped around her finger from the very beginning as the masses clapped along to the opening track and recent album cut, “Get Out.” Mayberry twirled around the stage with a white flower dress as the rumble of electronic percussion and the radiancy of her voice could be felt from far away. Mayberry and the Scots decided to call out Kavanaugh’s confirmation but instead of opting for a moment of silence, she decided that a collective scream of the f-word would be a far more suitable reaction and release of justified rage.
St. Vincent’s Annie Clark redefines what it means to be an individual. Music aside, her avant garde attire, absorbing video backdrops and unwavering stage presence put her in a league of her own. She walked out on the stage with a fierce strut and piercing look in her eyes and it made me fear her as much as it made me want to be her. She kicked things off with a Masseduction track, “Sugarboy” and her freakish, one-of-a-kind guitar tone and insane proficiency was immediately evident. The slick, harsh left-field pop beats of songs like “Los Ageless and “Pills” were riveting and once she raised her fist and defiantly proclaimed, “Let’s fight the power,” she sealed the magical fate of her much-anticipated ACL set.
At last, thousands of metalheads across the festival grounds would have their moment as legendary metal ambassadors, Metallica graced the American Express stage. Early on, the band came out swinging with the first few bars of “Seek and Destroy” with rampant air guitar and metal horns breaking out in the crowd. Obviously, it was a noticeably different crowd than McCartney’s happy-go-lucky affair yesterday, but their stage setup was also noticeably different. The band had a U-shaped stage platform jetting out in front of the main stage and into the crowd, which allowed James Hetfield and co. to run out towards the crowd like madmen and let fans scream the words back at them. Playing the bass at his knees, Robert Trujillo thrashed while twirling his guitar around and he covered so much ground that he was probably feeling it today. Lead guitarist Kirk Hammett was definitely feeling it as he ran back to the main stage, laughed, cursed and stuck his tongue out at his crew member to signal his fatigue.
Apart from Lars Ulrich, the band members scattered all over the massive U-shaped stage where they had microphones stationed all over in case they felt like parking themselves there for a bit. Each member showed off their own independent persona and it felt like they were each recognized with equal stature. American Express allowed some members of the press to watch from the platforms hovering above the side of the stage and from our angle and perhaps in the rest of the crowd, the sound mix wasn’t very clear. Despite Hetfield’s vocals being often obscured, spectators lent their voices to compensate for a less than impressive mix. Ulrich’s drums were by far the loudest element and you could tell by people’s reaction to his playing that they felt like they were in the presence of a musical god. The band was in a playful mood, at one point Hammett and Trujillo crouched down on their knees and started butting into each other while Hetfield reached his guitar out to fans on the U-stage, inviting them to strum his guitar. The band closed with the pyrotechnic-assisted “Enter Sandman” and fans got the triumphant, blistering performance from one of metal’s greats that they were hoping for.
Disclosure: American Express paid to send Paste to cover Austin City Limits Music Festival.