The Best and Worst Acts of ACL Fest's First Weekend

LL Cool J & DJ Z-TripEXPAND
LL Cool J & DJ Z-Trip
Marco Torres

THE BEST

LL COOL J & DJ Z-TRIP
There are plenty of rappers-turned-actors in the world of entertainment. The same charisma and attitude that makes Ice Cube, T.I., and Ludacris successful lyricists translate over to decent, sometimes very good acting jobs. But the OG of them all, a pioneer of Hip-Hop and early adopter of acting is the man himself, Mr. LL Cool J. ACL was hit with a heavy dose of no nonsense NYC rap thanks to James Todd Smith, who five years ago partnered with stellar turntable ace DJ ZTrip and have been ripping up stages ever since. With a blaze of pyrotechnics to announce LL to the late afternoon crowd, the sun beat down on his muscular figure as he stared deep into his lady fans' eyes and hit them with his signature lip licks. Glancing into the crowd, many real Hip Hop heads rapped along to "Mama Said Knock You Out", "I Can't Live Without My Radio" and "I Need Love." He gave out roses to the ladies (and maybe a few guys) in the crowd, all while expertly complemented by Z-Trip on the beats. It was a damn near perfect showcase of hip-hop history. MARCO TORRES

M83
M83 is a good concert headliner, but they’re an incredible festival act. An hour is basically the sweet spot for their set, allowing them to hit the highlights and delve into some instrumentals without getting too indulgent. I love the depth that Kaela Sinclair brings to the vocals. I love the way Jordan Lawlor always looks like he’s giving 150% percent no matter what he’s playing. But mostly I love the way that Anthony Gonzalez can step back and appreciate the work he’s created with the same joy the rest of us do. CORY GARCIA

The Best and Worst Acts of ACL Fest's First WeekendEXPAND
Jack Gorman

CAGE THE ELEPHANT
Late Saturday afternoon, Cage the Elephant unleashed a pleasant fury on the ACL crowd. Vocalist Matt Shultz and crew displayed an energy unmatched by any other group on the festival circuit these days. The only band member that the Honda Stage could contain was drummer Jared Champion, because of his stationary drum set. Because fans weren't able to "Come a Little Closer," the band went to them. Brad Shultz jumped into the depths of frenzied fans several times while still playing his guitar. Things kind of slowed down for "Cigarette Daydream," but that was really only the tempo of the song; Matt Shultz still pounced across the stacks of speakers just in front of the barricade. A rainbow even appeared momentarily over the adjacent Miller Lite Stage towards the end of the set, giving the crowd another reason to pull out their phones to capture a memory. JACK GORMAN

The Best and Worst Acts of ACL Fest's First WeekendEXPAND
Marco Torres

TORY LANEZ
I truly believe that some people are born to be performers. Toronto native Tory Lanez is one such individual. The dude can flat out turn up the crowd with his gumbo of rap and R&B, and he brings an energy to the stage that is almost unrivaled by any of his peers. In fact, he only spends about 1/10th of his set list on the actual stage, opting instead to live amongst his fans in and on top of the crowd. Favorites like "Say It", "LUV", and "Controlla" kept everyone sufficiently LIT, and Tory was absolutely happy in his element. By his own admission, Austin is one of his favorite places to perform, and he let the world know it. MARCO TORRES

DJ MustardEXPAND
DJ Mustard
Marco Torres

DJ MUSTARD
DJ Mustard, whether he means to or not – I’ve never heard him speak on his DJ philosophy, is the perfect DJ for the hyperactive, over-stimulated youth of today. Rarely does his allow any of the tracks he plays to stick around longer than a verse or a chorus; just as you’re getting to a groove it’s on to the next track, frequently with the crowd roaring their approval every time a new track comes on. From modern rap classics to big EDM beats to trap jams, the man knows how to keep a crowd locked in and moving. CORY GARCIA

Bomba EstereoEXPAND
Bomba Estereo
Marco Torres

BOMBA ESTEREO
The viral video for "Soy Yo" is about the most amazing and cutest thing on the Internet right now, and Colombian band Bomba Estéreo gave the Tito's Vodka Tent at ACL life on a hot Saturday afternoon when it unleashed the smash hit onstage. Lead singer Liliana Saumet is a fiery, bumblebee performer who lets loose and floats around the stage with runaway emotion and a smile that would light up the darkest of hearts. Wearing a feathered coat, she danced around to her band's electro-tropical psychedelic cumbia and pop/rock rhythms in one of the most dynamic performances ever to hit the festival. MARCO TORRES

The Best and Worst Acts of ACL Fest's First WeekendEXPAND
Jack Gorman

ST. PAUL & THE BROKEN BONES
Having seen the soul group perform at a sold out and very sweaty Fitzgerald's, the question arose of how their act would translate to a diverse festival crowd. Paul Janeway walked out to the middle of the stage and "Like a River" put his raging soul on display. It is amazing that Browan Lollar's guitar strings are able to remain attached while he plays as their bent and stretched. Early in the set Janaway complained about his golden microphone to someone off stage, but the crowd wouldn't have known there was an issue by his performance. As his face contorted for nearly an hour, he dropped to his knees and then to the floor. He writhed on stage as the Broken Bones played around him. The lead man rolled into a prone position and out of a golden shoe and up to a crawling position to were he backed under the covered drum riser. He emerged from with dirt and soot on the side of his face. It was a sight to behold. JACK GORMAN

THE NAKED AND FAMOUS
The Naked and Famous are a good studio band, but that extra edge that comes from performing live really pushes them into greatness. The tone that Thom Powers pulls out of his guitar is deceptively sharp and heavy, and can occasionally be overwhelming in a good way. When Alisa Xayalith sings she is an absolute powerhouse, and the more anthems the band writes the greater she shines. New tracks like “Higher” add to an already impressive live set, and they’re headlining shows should be a treat. CORY GARCIA

The Best and Worst Acts of ACL Fest's First WeekendEXPAND
Jack Gorman

THE CHAINSMOKERS
The Chainsmokers could have easily replaced Kygo as the Saturday-night headliner. Their booming bass was elevated by top-notch stage production, including constant pyrotechnics and crisp lighting vaulted towards the capital skyline. The duo from New York mixed heavy beats with samples from KISS and Third Eye Blind, and delivered the surprise of Weekend 1 by welcoming special guest Desiigner to perform his hit "Panda" for the tireless crowd. JACK GORMAN

The Best and Worst Acts of ACL Fest's First WeekendEXPAND
Marco Torres

KENDRICK LAMAR
The good kid from the maad city of Bompton was acutely focused as he hit the stage as the headliner on Saturday night, channeling all of his lyricism, rage, and light-hearted party anthems to a large crowd ready to join him on his rejuvenating hip-hop journey. Fellow Top Dawg Entertainment ace ScHoolboy Q joined him onstage for "Collard Greens" and "THat Part," as he jumped back and forth within his discography with ease and masterful technique. I admit that this wasn't the best K.Dot show I've ever seen, but laying down on the Zilker Park grass while he performed was about as perfect an evening could ever be for this rap fan. MARCO TORRES

LIZZO
Some performers just grab you whether you want them to or not. The strength of their performance commands you to pay attention and will derail whatever it is you thought you were doing before you heard them sing. Lizzo is one of those performers. On stage she is so dynamic, from the way she moves to the way she emotes to the strength of her voice, that you have to watch her do what she does. Watching her live you can’t help but feel that the sky is the limit for her, and that while she’s an early afternoon performer now it won’t be long before she’s a late day festival sensation. CORY GARCIA

Kacey MusgravesEXPAND
Kacey Musgraves
Marco Torres

KACEY MUSGRAVES
Here’s probably the most predictable thing you’ll read all day: Kacey Musgraves is great. If you’ve ever listened to her albums you already knew that, but her live performance is just so flawless that it’s actually kind of hard to write about. Whether it’s going solo on “Merry Go ‘Round," covers obvious (“These Boots Are Made For Walkin’,” “Three Little Birds”) and not so obvious (Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy”), or the big singalong of “Follow Your Arrow,” it felt like Musgraves could do no wrong. She’s the real deal, y’all. CORY GARCIA

The Best and Worst Acts of ACL Fest's First WeekendEXPAND
Jack Gorman

MIIKE SNOW
This Swedish indie-pop outfit features a jackolope as its mascot; "I saw you licking a dollar bill" were the first words from tall, slender lead singer Andrew Wyatt. With the look of a serial killer at times, his wrinkled brow and ten-yard stare was quite ironic given his music's dance-like feel. As Wyatt sauntered back and forth from the front microphone stand to keyboard, fans gathering one stage over for EDM stars Porter Robinson and Madeon were faced towards the Swedes, enjoying the flowing beats and underlying serious tones of love and heartbreak. The band finished with an incredible version of "Animal" that seemed to span more than ten minutes. Miike Snow's live show provides fans an opportunity to witness Wyatt's greatness as a composer; his arrangements for "Sylvia" and "Heart is Full" both started out nearly unrecognizable from the album versions, but soon became the danceable tunes familiar to the fans. JACK GORMAN

Flying LotusEXPAND
Flying Lotus
Marco Torres

THE WORST

AUBRIE SELLERS
Aubrie Sellers has a perfectly fine voice, but her songs don’t really do her any favors. They’re just kind of there and kind of boring. To her credit she does seems like she’s trying her best with what she’s got, but what she’s got is just kind of lifeless, and at a festival with so many stages and so much going on at any one time you can’t start a set with material that doesn’t reach out and make people pay attention. CORY GARCIA

MUMFORD & SONS
With one half of the Houston Press photo team shooting LCD Soundsystem on the other side of the park, I ventured over to see and photograph folk/Americana darlings Mumford and Sons. Just as the media photographers were about to enter the photo pit, we were told that the band had made a last-minute decision to only allow their tour photographer the access, thus shutting everyone else out. With a bad taste in my mouth over this unexpected change of course, I attempted to watch a few songs and was not impressed; it just felt uninspired and boring. I should have gone over to LCD and danced the night away. I guess I know where I'll be for Weekend 2. MARCO TORRES

THE POST-FLUME FLOOD
I get it: Flume is big and had to play the stage that he was on, but the crossover between his fans and Major Lazer’s fans is so great that when Flume’s set was over it was like watching a tidal wave roll itself across the park from one side to the other. The mass was so big that it was legit difficult to get over to see Radiohead; sometimes all you could do was stop and stand and wait for the largely youth, slightly bro-ish crowd to pass by. At least all of them seemed happy, so there’s that. CORY GARCIA

FLYING LOTUS
This knock is not so much against Fly-Lo himself, as his sonic mastery is unrivaled, and his sets are akin to a movie or video-game soundtrack, telling stories and setting moods with jazz-infused hip-hop and experimental sounds. What did suck was the set time and stage he was provided. The Samsung Stage at 6 p.m. is on a direct line of sight for the not-yet-setting sun, which eliminated any chance to enjoy the amazing visuals Flying Lotus is known for. No visuals, no mystery, no mask...it just wasn't as cool or enjoyable. MARCO TORRES


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