The best action from weekend one of the Texas festival

Weekend one of 2019’s Austin City Limits music festival descended upon Austin’s Zilker Park this past weekend. Year after year, ACL fest has something for everyone; from giant pop stalwarts like Billie Eilish and Lizzo, to more rock forward sounds coming from the likes of Guns ‘N’ Roses and The Raconteurs.

As always, there was a lot to see, and we did our best to run the diverse gamut that ACL fest provides. Ahead of part two starting later today, here’s a rundown of what we caught during the first weekend of the festival. 

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From the moment King Princess strutted onto the stage in her bedazzled Nikes, she had the crowd and she knew it. Frenetically pacing from piano to an emerald green Telecaster, to leaning on her sometimes tight and pronounced, and other times loose and spacey band, I don’t think I’ll ever hear anyone deliver a line like “Smoking joints like it’s my job” quite like she did. 

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“Y’all better get fuckin’ moving!” the Montreal-based producer and DJ Kaytranada exclaimed as he romped through his late-afternoon set behind the decks on the Miller Lite stage. Layered with tinges of neo soul, R&B, and deep house, his grooves were lush and plentiful. I couldn’t see anyone in the crowd who’d disagree with that sentiment. 

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Equal parts raw and polished, The Raconteurs have a live sound that’s every bit as life affirming as you’d think it would be, especially if you’ve listened to their records. Charging in and out of songs from their most recent album, ‘Help Us Stranger’, along with flashes from their back catalogue, Jack White and Brendan Benson have it dialed in - and dialed up - all the way to 11.

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Slash’s guitar was a little too hot and Axl’s mic sounded like it was turned down a bit, but who cares? It’s Guns ‘N’ Roses. Playing a sweltering two-hour set spanning their entire catalogue, and then some, those dudes still ooze more cool now as they ever have. 

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Tame Impala brought their lush psychedelic pop sounds to the Honda stage promptly at 8:16 and charged out of the gates with ‘Let It Happen’. Dotting their set with other tracks from their 2015 breakthrough album ‘Currents’, as well as some older and newer material, I'd been waiting a while to see them live, and the wait was certainly worth it. There’s a lived-in authenticity to their live sound I wasn’t expecting. Really fun light show to boot.

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The neo-crooning of Billie Eilish’s brother, Finneas, kicked things off on Saturday. Occasionally he’d nestle up to a keyboard or strap on a Fender Telecoustic, but for the most part, he sang along to pre-recorded loops and instrumentation. While his set might’ve been short on mystery, it didn’t really matter; Finneas had the sizeable early afternoon crowd eating out of the palm of his hand. 

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Coming out to an ever-anticipating packed Tito’s stage, Pink $weats delivered the goods during his hour-long set. His syrupy vocals played along side the minimal presence of his three-piece band rather nicely. Less pronounced parts of the set were met with dizzying guitar solo-laden crescendos and heavy drums; he’d sometimes jump on his stand-up makeshift drum kit, but most of the time he was letting his singing do the talking.

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“You guys, I keep burping up chipotle,” Billie Eilish exclaimed a few songs into her 6pm Saturday evening set. Her effortless transitions from pop, goth, and even, in some spots, industrial sounds sent shock waves through what was probably the biggest festival audience I’ve ever seen. It’s really rare a pop star comes along that’s not afraid to be themselves and try different things. Hopefully the precedent Billie has set will become something of a gold standard.

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21 Savage came out as the sun was setting-with timing on his side, heavy, aggressive beats banged out of the sound system of the T-Mobile stage, as he blazed through track after track of heavy trap. There was a thematic element to his set that came from what seemed like out of nowhere;  the video backdrop gave an almost goth/horror infused lens into street life-Savage seemed to know how to use these things to his advantage to not only move the crowd but create a live set that was really memorable. 

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As I write this, I’m still not sure I’ve seen anything like Childish Gambino’s headlining Saturday evening set. It was beautiful and cathartic, sometimes melancholy, other times so frenetic you could feel the energy from the bottom of your feet to the top of your skull. “This is an experience; I’m taking you to church!” he enthused, as he demanded the audience put away their phones. His reason? “This is for us, right now.” When he talks, you listen, and when he tells you to go to church, you go. 

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A common thread for the weekend seems to be artists trying to grapple with the heat by coming charging out of the gate. Duckwrth’s early afternoon set was no exception. Chaotic, driving beats and call and response rhymes dotted the first half of his set, while the second was reserved for some more mid-tempo bangers.

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“This song is for the immigrant,” proclaimed Idles lead singer Joe Talbot during their fiery early afternoon set. Their Marshall and Ampeg stacks might’ve been dwarfed by the cavernous Honda stage, but Idles more than made up for it with 50 minutes of sheer punk rock intensity. Blasting down the door with songs from their most recent release, ‘Joy As An Act Of Resistance’, and more, their presence at the fest was more than formidable.

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Nineteen-year-old reggae powerhouse Koffee’s set started out with her band building up the crowd for 10 or so minutes, which reminded me of an old soul band warming up the crowd for someone like James Brown or Wilson Pickett. When she came out, she lit up the audience with her fiery, updated dancehall-influenced reggae cuts that seemed effortless.

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One of the things I really like about pop music in 2019 is that it seems to be minimal; Rosalia’s late afternoon set was, in some cases, a master class on how this can be perfected. Her vocals shined over beats that could be explained best by what drum machine was being used; radiating with little to no instrumentation, an a capella song, and dancers choreographed to fit her sound. When she hit the big stride of her set, it nearly escalated into performance art.

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It was close to 6:53PM, Central Standard Time. Third Eye Blind was playing that one song everyone knows. Approximately seven minutes later, Lizzo hit the Miller Lite stage and affirmed the entire weekend. Everyone - festival attendees, other acts playing their sets - were there to see her. When it came time for her to do one of my favorite songs of this year, ‘Truth Hurts’, what seemed like everyone at the festival was singing along so loud you could barely hear Lizzo herself. Her set was a celebration of positivity, individuality, and love - things the world could really use more of right now.

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Coming out nearly a half-an-hour late, the restless crowd was just as giving to Cardi B had she come out when she was supposed to. Theatrical production value joined with Cardi’s razor sharp, no-nonsense tongue dominated the Honda stage to close out the fest; stylistically jumping through hoop after hoop, Cardi closed out weekend one of the festival with a set worthy of her larger-than-life persona.

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Words: Marty Kawa
Photography: Katherine Squier




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