ACL Fest Weekend 2: The Good, the Bad & the Weird

Florence + the Machine
Florence + the Machine
Photos by Jack Gorman


After reading multiple reviews earlier this week complain about how the band never plays "The Quiet Things That No One Ever Knows," you can imagine my surprise when all of a sudden, I recognized the song starting over the PA. Brand New have never been one of my favorites of that era, but I recognize an emo classic when I hear it, and I'm glad I got to hear it at least once. (CORY GARCIA)

Maybe last week was different. Maybe Leon Bridges did in fact put on the kind of next-level performance worthy of all the ink spilled about him. And I get it: He's an easy guy to like, so of course the music press wants to champion him. I can't say that watching Leon Bridges made me feel like watching a star being born, but I can say that I watched an extremely talented man perform extremely well. His songs are great. His voice is killer. Was his Weekend 1 set the type of performance that elevates him to the next level of success? I do not know, but I do know that I'm glad to have him around right now. (CORY GARCIA)

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During his headlining Saturday-night set, the main feature of the electronic musician’s current mouse-head mask was the bright beams of light that emitted from the eyes; these were initially hard to see because he was enclosed by the “Dome,” a special stage setup that opened to display another cage-like area that then again opened to fully expose the artist. The crowd ate up everything that he put out — “Entropy” and “Avarita” early on, and “Moar Ghosts N’ Stuff” and “Strobe” late — and at one point, all the music and lights disappeared except for his eyes’ high-beams. The blackout lasted much longer than another DJ would use to build up a big drop, but in true troll-like fashion, it all blasted back on in incredible glory. 

Later that night, he also was part of an official ACL late-night show across town at Emo’s. The concept was much simpler than at the large festival set and vibe, very minimalistic for an electronic show that had only a bit of colored backlight and fog.  Here Joel Zimmerman, the man without the mouse mask, simply played music for a select few who just wanted to see him.  One observer shouted to his friends, “Respect! Deep house to techno, then the mainstream shit.” This club set was pure bliss. (JACK GORMAN)

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Father John Misty played during the heat of the day. The dramatic front man, alter ego of J. Tillman, walked onto the stage belting out “I Love You, Honeybear” and continued on with several cuts from the same-titled album. He then maneuvered off the main stage and out to the crowd several times during the set. 

His band played the songs from the album nearly note for note and sounded almost as identical as possible – save for the banter to the crowd. His dry sense of humor and deadpan delivery make for some great laughs during his shows. Here are a couple from Saturday:

  • “I’m thankful that someone was thoughtful enough to put their phone down for a minute so they could punch me in my dick. God bless you all.” — after jumping into the crowd

  • “I’m not just a traveling sideshow. These are my fucking feelings, people.”

  • “Did you get a diamond platinum photo pass? Are you the festival owner’s son? Didn’t you get the memo? Three songs and you’re gone. All right, is there anyone left to make fun of? Hey, you’re stupid.” (JACK GORMAN)
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Florence + the Machine closed the festival and were far and away the best act of the weekend, no bones about it. Anyone who would try to argue that point was delusional after suffering from heat stroke. Florence Welch commanded the 60,000-plus in attendance as she ran back and forth across the large Samsung stage. The barefoot singer seemingly put more emotion into that performance than all Sunday’s other acts combined.  Her red hair flung around as she pranced up and down like a playful white-tail deer in the countryside. As much as she danced and moved, Welch’s voice never faltered, staying pitch-perfect through the 90-minute performance.  The group’s number of popular and recognizable songs is actually very surprising. (JACK GORMAN)

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I hope things work out for Halsey. I hope she ends up being the newest addition to the female pop canon. I feel like the odds are good that it'll happen. She had a pretty impressive crowd show up for her Sunday-afternoon performance, packed full of folks who already knew her new album Badlands back to front. There's an interesting disconnect, for lack of a better word, between how she presents herself onstage and the content of her songs. Her lyrics are so confessional, and yet she has this cool about her, as if she's already a superstar and she's waiting for the rest of the world to catch up to her. It feels like it's only a matter of time before that happens. (CORY GARCIA)

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Holychild started Saturday off with one of the earliest sets at 12:30 p.m., but got the small crowd moving and excited quickly. Lead singer Liz Nistico came out in a neon-green wig and gaudy golden outfit — perfect for their type of brat-pop sound. Drummer/producer Louie Diller supplied the beats in a fashionable onesie as Liz bounced around the stage showing off her dancing skills and strong pipes with diva-like flair. Much to the chagrin of the head of security, she ventured out into the crowd twice to dance, hug and kiss her fans. The energy this group put out was infectious as they ran through their entire debut album, The Shape of Brat Pop to Come. Highlights included “Running Behind” and “Money All Around.” (JACK GORMAN)

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The thing about festivals is that festival sets rarely make me feel anything. It's the nature of the beast; there are so many factors at play with a festival set that few artists are going to make that leap from "good show" to something that stirs real emotion in you. But there was Ryn Weaver onstage, baring it all on "Traveling Song,” and suddenly I felt my eyes well up just a tiny bit in the corners. The rest of her set was great, too — really glad to finally hear "Stay Low" and "Sail On" live — but that moment of her singing alone at the end of her song about her departed grandfather just killed me. Easily my favorite part of this year's ACL. (CORY GARCIA)

At a time when everyone seems content to ape the '80s for fame, fortune and YouTube plays, Wolf Alice bucks the trend by going all in on their '90s alt-rock worship. Their debut album, My Love Is Cool, is certainly very good, and the good news here is that they can deliver live. At the end of the day, looks and aesthetics are all well and good, but at the core I want a band that can impress me live. Wolf Alice are mighty impressive. (CORY GARCIA)


Foo Fighters' Dave Grohl
Foo Fighters' Dave Grohl

This is not a knock on the performers, who I both love a great deal, but both performances, in my ears, came off as really underwhelming because they just sounded so quiet, especially in comparison to the bass assault coming from the other main stage while they were performing (courtesy of Disclosure and deadmau5, respectively). Like, I get it: The crowd and the weather and all other manner of things contribute to sound quality, but I just don't understand how Billy Idol and A$AP "Sorry About Last Weekend; Birthdays, Am I Right?" Rocky could sound like world-beaters earlier in the day and the star attractions sounded so neutered in comparison. (CORY GARCIA)

Halsey did not live up to the hype. I left her set early because she came across as boring and a bit contrived. Maybe I don’t fully understand her music, or maybe so many other artists there were just better. It is quite disappointing because I enjoy her album, Badlands, through and through, but her performance could be summed up by this conversation overheard in the crowd at a different set:

Girl 1: “How was she?”

Girl 2: “She cut her set short by 15 minutes because she doesn’t have enough songs.”

Girl 3: “I’m glad she did because it was so depressing. I wouldn’t have been able to stay there any longer without having some sort of issue.” (JACK GORMAN)


I'm glad I'm not in charge of managing Alessia Cara's career, because honestly, I'm not sure what you do with her right now in her career. "Here" is a very, very good song, a song you could maybe build a career around, but I'm trying to connect the dots between "antisocial pessimist" and the girl onstage who seems super-nice and earnest about being at ACL. In that regard, I guess that maybe makes her the most human of all potential pop stars. While she's definitely one to watch, it'll be interesting to see how she frames herself in the greater pop landscape. (CORY GARCIA)

Billy Idol
Billy Idol
Shakey Graves
Shakey Graves
Dwight Yoakam
Dwight Yoakam
Kurt Vile
Kurt Vile

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