It was the fest of times, it was the worst of times. Well, not exactly the worst— unless you’re counting temperatures upwards of 95 degrees and a scorching sun (thanks global warming). But, despite brutally hot temperatures (this was the hottest ACL weekend on record since 2006), the promise of great music and fun times drew sellout crowds of almost 60,000 to Zilker Park, eager to brave the sweltering sun for a glimpse of industry giants Billie Eilish, Cardi B, Childish Gambino, and others. And weekend one delivered; from Guns n’ Roses to Tame Impala, any sunburn was completely worth it as the festivities roared on and our ears cried happy tears. The temperatures were high and the sun was relentless— but that didn’t stop the festivities from roaring on as fans geared up to enjoy the last ACL of the decade. Check out the 21 best things we saw below.
*All Photos by Valerie Magan unless otherwise noted.
FIDLAR kicks off AMEX stage with red-hot set in morning Austin heat
“23 years of drinking cheap beer!” FIDLAR’s Zac Carper tells the audience assembled at the AMEX stage, a seemly Hawaiian-print button-down draped loosely across his body, a black guitar decked out in a spiderweb sticker and a giant 808 (the area code for Hawaii) in hand. He wears another band’s t-shirt— Emily’s Army, now defunct— a smug nod to SWMRS, another California band whose third album he produced.
A quiet trailblazer for L.A’s underground skate-rock scene, FIDLAR’s influence is not to be sneezed at. Fresh off a blistering sold-out show at Scoot Inn the night before (the first of ACL’s official Late Night shows), FIDLAR was just as ruffian and high-energy as ever, a ragtag number of ordered chaos— a description to which the band are no stranger. Their music is practically written to get adrenaline going— it’s even in their name, an acronym of ‘Fuck It Dog, Life’s A Risk. Playing a mix of cuts from their latest album, “Almost Free”, and from their debut, “FIDLAR”, the 45-minute time-slot on the AMEX stage was the perfect span for their music— any longer and the crowd might’ve passed out. The set goes by quickly, but ends not without a pulverizing version of old favorite, “Cheap Beer”— 2 minutes and 22 seconds of pure adrenaline. Being on stage with ‘Almost Free’, a surprisingly bold, vulnerable album that sees the four recovering from addiction and tragedy and rising above expectations of them, the band finds just that— freedom.
Weyes Blood’s larger than life performance outshines her stage
If Natalie Merring’s fourth studio album was titled any differently, I’m not so sure it would so aptly describe the feeling of falling into it. Weyes Blood, whose breathtakingly beautiful chamber-pop offerings lit up the BMI stage every bit as much as her stark white suit and starlike sunglasses, was a force to be reckoned with. Sounding at times like a pared-down Crystal Castles with Lana Del Rey as lead singer, Merring captures perfectly the ethos of finding pockets of serenity amidst unbroken chaos, even in live performance. Running through songs from this year’s aptly-titled ’Titanic Rising’, Merring takes listeners on a loop through the stages of a slow-burning catastrophe: the feeling of suspension— disaster oncoming— to finding a perverse exhilaration in watching it all fall apart. She sings “Movies” and “Andromeda” with an especially chilling grace, the sweeping orchestrals forming a beautiful corner of safety and refuge as the chaos of ACL forged on around us, making us temporarily forget about the heat as we stepped blindly into the North Atlantic Ocean, a Titanic-sized lump rising in our throats.
Thom Yorke’s man-bun steals the show
Thom Yorke has long earned the right to be arrogant. No one who had ended up here had just wandered in by chance. No. Every single person in this 8000-odd crowd had showed up for him.
He took no time to introduce himself, but needed no introduction anyway; years of playing as Radiohead’s frontman did it for him. And, as he’s managed to spin a career fronting one of the biggest alt-rock bands into one of the most exhilarating and creative solo projects in recent memory, there’s all the more reason to feel superior.
Billed on the festival lineup as ‘Thom Yorke Tommorow’s Modern Boxes’, the wording made for some early confusion, some thinking this was a set focusing solely on his 2014 solo album, and others thinking he had formed a new side-project. The latter, tonight, seemed to be true.
Performing with his current ensemble— who I’m very reluctant to call a Radiohead ‘side project’— Yorke arrived on stage cooly at least five minutes ahead of schedule, his signature top knot bobbing above him as ‘Tommorow’s Modern Boxes’ (longtime producer Nigel Godrich and fellow musician Tarik Barr) trailed obediently behind him. He felt no remorse about starting early; everyone who was here to see him would’ve been here already. Thirty seconds ahead of call time and they had already begun “Impossible Knots,” Yorke’s top-knot bun bobbing along to its namesake.
Even if you’ve been listening to Radiohead for years on end and still associate Yorke with the scathing metal clutches of ‘90s alt rock, we can all agree that his solo work is a wonderful compliment Radiohead’s work. It’s minimalist, elegant, poised, but chaotic and discordant in its own right. It seems to energize him. Here, we see a markedly laidback, mellow version of the Yorke seen hand-wrenching his way through early Radiohead concerts, recklessly frivolous and worthy of laughter. Yes, he still breaks out in odd dance moves— his signature move this time was the turkey head-bobbing while he adjusted knobs on the switchboard— and the song selection provided mixed results, but he’s much more poised, angelic almost. The juxtaposition on stage was almost laughable: never more than once did the other two look up from their screens, each soldiering on throughout the whole set with dead-eyed determination while their counterpart Thom Yorke billowed himself around on stage. We were excited to see we could count on his wild grandpa dancing, sometimes resembling a bull at a riding competition, even through ANIMA’s heavily digitized beats.
Tame Impala wows with fitting, futuristic set at sundown
As the sun started to go down and the Austin heat finally began to recede, Tame Impala’s descent into cool R&B was one much needed.
It must’ve been strange, performing at the same time as Guns n’ Roses, especially since, in sharp contrast to the heavy rock going on on the other side of Zilker Park, your music isn’t meant to rile up a crowd. There were defiantly some crowd members on the outskirts looking bored, swaying absentmindedly as “Let It Happen” crooned on. While it didn’t help that he didn’t interact much with the audience— and a lack of new material made four-year old songs sound even older— I’ll give them this: the way it all came together for better or for worse was the redeeming quality of the night. The pulsing light show, the slick veneer of pyschadelic-alt, and the whirlwind of fans starving for new music somehow made for a perfect storm, lifting and carrying us above air as Kevin Parker’s five-year-old hits satisfied once again.
While there was nothing in terms of new music to offer, other than two summer singles, “Patience” and “Borderline”, . At times completely drowned out by the seizure-inducing lights and laser pointers so intense I worried it’d trip up pilots, the band delivered as much of an enjoyable live experience as we could expect them to, closing out day one strong with their 15-track set of pleasant, ultrasonic lullabies. “Borderline” fit right in with surprise additions “Lucidity” and “WDYNMUYM” and the ever-popular “New Person, Same Ol’ Mistakes” sent Tame Impala out with a bang.
Guns n’ Roses arrives on time— and with an upgraded Axl Rose
“We’re in the jungle baby!” Axl Rose told Zilker Park. “You’re gonna die!”
The Saturday night slot at Austin City Limits has long been friendly to veteran acts for a while now, but even so, these last two years have been the year of ACL revivals. Last year’s Metallica was one such union, honoring an important musical legacy with hard rock and fireworks. Sure, like last year’s Metallica, it’s always a gamble to bill a veteran hard-rock act with such a small, niche subset of older fans as a headliner, but like Metallica, Guns ’n’ Roses still managed to draw in most of the older crowd, as well as a sizable subset of millenials who had skipped out on the ever-popular Tame Impala in favor of partaking in nostalgia of a time they were never a part of.
“Remember ’87?” Instagram stories seem to say— regardless of age— as Axl Rose performed revamped versions of “Welcome to The Jungle” and “You Could Be Mine” to a wave of phones aloft. And those who headed over from Tame Impala’s set were in for a very different ride, but everyone who stuck around just a little while longer ended up witnessing probably the best Guns ’n’ Roses performance in recent history. No, the sound mix was not the best— “Do you even fucking hear what I’m saying?” Rose yelled early into the set — and certainly must’ve sounded worse in a phone recording, but at least Rose looked the best he had in years, and Slash proved to us he still had it in him as he exited the stage with a handstand.
Misterwives is doing great
While you probably most know them from their 2014 single, Reflections, that caused quick success, you’d be pleased to know that Misterwives’ 2019 has been equally as great. Currently on tour with cult-favorite band TØP and hard at work on their third studio album, Misterwives is an absolute a ball of energy and excitement for what’s to come in the year ahead. They certainly looked it on stage; down from drummer Ettiene Bowler’s to lead singer Mandy Lee’s smiley, thrilled demeanor and bright orange getup, it’s the two freshest cuts that excite them the most, starting the set high-energy with their two latest singles. We’re certainly looking forward to their new material, and if it’s anywhere as thrilling as their ACL debut, there’s not a doubt it’ll be great.
Lil Uzi Vert
Whoops— we didn’t see that.
Tierra Whack gives a fan the shoes off of her feet
If ever there was a competition for the best stage presence, Tierra Whack (and DJ Zach) would be worthy contenders. The spitting image of a ‘90s underground rapper, Whack actually sports one of the more muted outfits of her “Whack World” tour: a wacky patterned purple and blue two-piece, complete with neon nails and doorknocker earrings. After a slightly-late start to her set after Zach’s computer overheats— which prompted stagehands to bring in a big-blade to place directly on the laptop— Tierra Whack to a crowd of young fans, . her DJ counterpart Zach Whack— a skinny, tattooed white guy with , Obviously “Clones” was a big hit, but she played other songs like they were just as big, and the audience responded accordingly.
“Is it anyone’s birthday today?” Whack asks the crowd of mostly student-aged festivalgoers, and, the middle of the horde produces the hand of small, student-aged boy with curly hair. In true festival style, surrounding festival-goers punt him up and over their heads and towards the stage, where he’s set down inches from Whack, who’s waiting expectantly for him to arrive. A quick exchange of banter and she’s handing him the shoes off her feet— a new, expensive, pair of patterned Nikes. She proceeded to complete the rest of the 45-minute set unshod, running through a record-shattering 18 tracks— including fan favorites “Cable Guy”, and “Pretty Ugly”— while sliding around on socked feet. What a birthday gift!
The anomaly of Billie Eilish, the teenager whose old soul outshines most adults
Call her what you want— an industry plant, a product of the studio, an extension of her brother FINNEAS— but there’s no denying that . You may be inclined to think … but there’s something incredibly drawing about Eilish, who. By the time she arrives on stage, the Honda setup is rammed shoulder to shoulder, ad unlike the usual crossed-armed, bleary-eyed, pop-in-to-see-if-its-good festival old folk, its obvious everyone here is a fan. How could you not be? Even if you tried to escape, bad guy has been on the charts all summer, making headlines for dethroning Lil Nas X’s Old Town Road. Her debut album, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?’ was a charming, albeit vulnerable 12-track of raw ramblings, produced by none other than her brother FINNEAS, who today joins her o stage on guitar much like h does in the studio, functioning as an impromptu hype man as Eilish bobbed around on stage in bright green. It’s clear the Eilish knows what she’s doing: with lyrics beyond her years and a concrete knowledge of just how to connect with her audience, Eilish boasts the energy and skills of an experienced touring musician, turning melancholy content best enjoyed alone, into an loud, shared experience.
“For this next one I have a request for you… I know you all know this chorus, but can some pits open up?” she asked, sounding akin to a rapper’s hype man at a hip-hop shindig. After all, she did look the part. Dressed like a ‘90s rapper in an oversized green tee, dangly chains and baggy cargo shorts hanging loosely off her small frame, Eilish looked less like an angsty teen and more like an uncle at the cookout. But, her music still cuts deeper than most; it’s a stormy, troubled attempt at catharsis that begs adult explanations for the abstract— culminating in “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?”. And whether you’re jealous of her for accomplishing more than you ever had at fifteen, or just one of those stony-faced parents forced to accompany their children to the pit, there’s no denying that Eilish captures hearts.
The Cure deliver bare bones Saturday night set, and Robert Smith is still the world’s most bashful superstar
A new generation may have taken over at ACL, but on Saturday night, we were reminded what it meant to be . A sharp contrast to what was going on across the park at Childish Gambino, middle-age nostalgics the Cure took the stage for what was their first run at ACL. Still managing to draw much of the older crowd to their set at the Honda Stage, The Cure found a lush audience in those itching for a bout of nostalgia much like they’d found in last night’s Guns n’ Roses. Despite looking a bit out of his element, Robert Smith . For a man that once sang the words “It doesn’t matter if we all die”, Robert Smith . While their days of blatant language and tism are far behind them,
It had been years since I’d heard emo classic “Boys Don’t Cry”, but it didn’t take much to remember every word. It feels almost cheap to say that emo-classic “Disintegration” rolled off Robert Smith’s signature painted-on lips as smoothly as it would’ve had it been 40 years prior, but it was true. Classics like “Friday I’m In Love” and “Just Like Heaven” had both older, dedicated fans and the Billie Eilish bleedover singing along in a surprising, cross-generational harmony to a song that had been around since some of them had been in their late teens, back when radio was the primary form of music consumption. Like Thom Yorke, Robert Smith has also earned the right to be arrogant; he gets everybody to their feet and singing with the snap of a note.
“See you next year,” Smith says, riling a few of us up before realizing his mistake. “See you next week!” he restates. Hopefully it will be both.
With church claps and smooth falsetto, Childish Gambino makes his ACL comeback
“5, 4, 3, 2, 1. I need y’all to do a church clap for this next song,” Donald Glover said as he demonstrated what he wanted. The audience followed suit, clapping all through the opening notes of “3005”. Why a church clap was necessary there, only he knows, but the audience was more than happy to oblige.
After cancelling his ACL performance (and remaining tour dates) last fall due to a foot injury, a refreshed Donald Glover , best version of himself that had been in a while. wild on stage— showed us just what last year was missing as he galloped around on stage, “This-Is-America”-style, capturing the crowd for all of his two hour set. And with the Cure playing faintly in the background, it was a wonderfully chaotic two hours for your ears.
“If you got a joint, you better smoke that shit! If you got somebody you love you better hold them close. Or if you just feeling the vibe… close your eyes and let me take you there.” His opening words were a seamless fit for his ultra-smooth single, “Redbone”— if anything, this was the vibe for a Saturday night. Although more highbrow songs like “This Is America” made for a serious frame of mind, tonight’s set boasted a particularly celebratory flavor to end out Day 2, as Childish Gambino fulfilled his promise of bringing us exactly what we’d been robbed of last year. “I broke my foot last year. I will not fail you this time,” he told the crowd, and it seemed like he’d taken those words to heart, treating each song like it would be the last time he sang it, adding falsetto and witticisms to tunes like “Sober” and “Summertime Magic”. In fact, he barely sang “Redbone”, and instead took the opportunity to show off his vocal range, swapping lyrics for falsetto and notes for soul-shouts. The crowd ate it up, more than happy to pick up the slack, filling lyrics in for him with their own scream-sing version of “my peanut butter chocolate cake with Kool-Aid”. “This is America” was a similar story, although much of the song was carried by the backup choir and dancers in school uniforms that made the stage look exactly like the video. And between songs, the audience got a beguiling glimpse of his personality: carefree, funny, relatable.
Julia Jacklin rises above hungover Sunday crowd
Cue Sunday. The last day of the festival, lingering Friday sunburns, and the searing hangover. We can all agree that Sunday mornings are not for the faint of heart, and with a mix of fatigue from late night parties and hangovers from a rowdy night out, it was clear that the heat was catching up to everyone as the early afternoon rolled on. Collateral to this was Julia Jacklin, whose soulful, beautiful musings echoed over a shortened Honda stage entirely too sparse for her talent. She took the sparse crowd in stride; her quiet, picturesque grace never once paused for breath, making us wonder why she wasn’t a headliner.
The Japanese House are indeed Good At Falling— on appreciative ears
Self described as a sad, modern ABBA, the Japanese House are absolutely Good at Falling. Good at Falling on much appreciative ears. Known for her super dreamy sets that make heavy use of a vocoder to achieve a deeper octave, it’s always a wonder how Amber Bain keeps her sets just as enthralling in front of an audience as she does in the studio. Such awe was definitely not missing today as we heard live cuts from their latest album. Some songs recall Frou-Frou— Imogen Heap’s band from years past— staying true to their older sound while still leaving room to grow. Amber is joined by two others, and she sounds even fuller this time. Not usually one to be too shy, Bain throws out hurried stage banter forced to a basic minimum as they blow through a carefully selected group of songs from this year’s debut, ‘Good At Falling’. Freshest single “Something Has to Change” was unfortunately missing, and the frustratingly short set is crowned by “Maybe You’re The Reason”. Definitely a must-see live, The Japanese House forge an incongruently haunting atmosphere in the middle of the searing Austin heat, reaching into unexpected sonic domain and creating a lush, celestial soundscape to go with abstract, deep lyrics.
Moshpits and abject chaos are the general order of the day at IDLES’ early afternoon set
“This song is a celebration of the best thing that ever happened to Britain, and the best thing that’s happened to your country… Immigration!!” IDLES frontman Joe Talbot screams as he launches into Danny Nedelko. Rather than just being another punk rock band, IDLES has taken their platform to share their wonderful form of protest punk. Old favorite “Divide + Conquer” finds an entire American festival dancing to a song about NHS cuts, while the raucous chorus of newer cut Danny Nedelko causes the biggest singalong about immigration and “ aliens” we’ve heard in a long time. Despite an underlying theme of pain and suffering in their lyrics, IDLES finds us plenty of moments to let loose, just be carefree for a moment. And that’s certainly what the four of them are doing on stage as they give each song their all, dangling around at the mercy of a microphone cable, herk-jerking about each other in a manner that Thom Yorke would probably envy. If you haven’t heard of IDLES yet, we suggest you do… now.
Rosalía brings Barcelona to Austin with stunning Flamenco Reggateon crossover
Rosalia’s debut at ACL was everything we could’ve wanted and more. Everything about the performance was beautifully timed and choreographed, from the formations of her dancers, to the contrast between her and them, to the emotional, seemingly-impromptu cover of Las Grecas’ “Te estoy amando locamente”. She treated us to a tear-inducing acapella version of “Catalina”, before running through “Con Altura” (albeit without her counter part, J Balvin).
“You know I come from very far away. I come from Barcelona,” she said in near tears to an audience of screaming thousands. She stood in humble disbelief that she had crashed into this market so suddenly, so unexpectedly, and had spent nearly all summer on a run of festival appearances, bringing a wonderful mix of Flamenco and Reggaeton to American audience. We’re all for the latin revival in mainstream music that’s been happening in recent years, and it’s exciting to see such a humble artist break through the barrier. This can only signal a much-needed widening of musical barriers, and we’re excited to see where this takes us in the next decade.
BANKS brings the fire in red getup
BANKS, who gained momentum the past few years with her song “Begging For Thread”, has catapulted to the forefront of indie. Clad in black thigh high boots and a tight ponytail, BANKS took on a boss-bitch vibe as she sang songs from her third album, making for a rich and compelling performance that took command of the audience and made sure you didn’t take your eyes off of her. Everything about her and her dancers routines were perfectly coordinated, from the contrast of their hair color to the dark theme of their outfits— which recalled the sprites from Spirited Away. ‘III’, a break from her usual dark and moody R&B is, if anything, a set of catchy singles that made exciting hip-swingers.
Third Eye Blind wants you to know they’re “not a MacBook Pro Band
“We’re not a Macbook Pro band,” Stephan Jenkins told Zilker Park. “We’re not singing along to tracks. This is a motherfucking guitar band so we can do whatever the fuck we want!!”
This was the energy that Third Eye Blind began with, and quite frankly, it was the energy they deserved back. Building the band from the ground up, Third Eye Blind found rightful ‘90s success with ’97 single, “Semi-Charmed Life”, but not much is said about them otherwise. More than a wonderful brush with nostalgia, the four have put out consistent, sharp albums ever since, and are gearing up to release an album next week. “You are now part of Third Eye Blind. Show me your face and I’ll show you mine”, Jenkins said, taking his sunglasses off. Sold. We will.
Lizzo ‘sells out’ the Miller Lite Stage
Oh, Lizzo. The powerhouse singer that’s been absolutely everywhere this summer. Fresh off the release of her debut album, and a six-week chart run of her song-of-the-summer single “Truth Hurts”, Lizzo has become a cultural icon. The current queen of feel-good, body-positive music, her impact cannot possibly be denied. But as the Miller Lite stage packed from edge-to-edge, with fans lining up as early as 4pm for her 7pm set, it was clear ACL had underestimated her influence. Packed from the front of the Miller stage to the outer edges of the Honda stage the distance of two football fields away, the wait for Lizzo was the most hair-raising, tense time we’d had. Fans pushed, shoved, clawed, and shouted their way to the front, hoping to be as close as possible to what they had knew would be the most exhilarating set yet. Even the photo pit filled up quick as photographers and fans clamored to get a glimpse of the “Truth Hurts” singer and her backup dancers, all clod in an array of neon orange and yellow leotards.
And when Lizzo asked the audience to put their phone flashlights up for “Jerome”— one of the only times it felt right to see a wave of phones pointed skyward— it was like starlight had come and engulfed us. She was at the top of her game, belting out hard-hitting melodies as she ran through a wonderful selection of her hits and a few older songs. Needless to say, “Truth Hurts” and “Good As Hell” were one for the books— with the enthusiasm of everyone on stage and the roaring energy of the crowd, rowdiness and general disarray became the order of the day for those 45 minutes, taking the cake for one of the most exciting sets of the weekend. Way too short if you ask me.
LANY, Los Angeles’ near-overnight success, makes a case for themselves at the VRBO stage
Love them or hate them, there’s no denying that LANY are robust performers. Sometimes in this day and age that’s all you need, but thats certainly not all they have. An acronym for Los Angeles New York, the 4-piece’s success story is something of an anomaly, and mostly came about after the band was added to several popular Spotify playlists. But, to claim their success was contingent on a whim of streamings wold be unfair, as it would be equally unfair to suggest their fans were “New Music Friday”—ed into liking them. After all, for a band geared towards the sensitive young crowd, LANY has mature lyrics, vivid imagery, and mercurial soundscapes — all ingredients for a wonderful band.
With songs absolutely perfect for the late summer heat, LANY’s music is the perfect backing track as the sun dips into the pink and orange behind the hills, recalling memories of a gentle love— and taking our three day extravaganza with it. The fun is far from over, but something about seeing the sun— who had unwittingly become our enemy these past three days— make its way over the hills for the last time made it all the more real that ACL 2019 was coming to an end. Bittersweet excitement tinted the set, and from their early synthwave crooners “Made In Hollywood” to slower, more mature “Malibu Nights”, the bands hour-long sunset performance rivaled Lizzo’s in ?. While missing Lizzo was a sacrifice, LANY was an equally sound option that proved your 7-8pm time slot would’ve been phenomenal no matter which one you chose.
Tardi Cardi! Cardi B arrives thirty minutes late to her headlining set— but fans seem to forget as she finally appears
Sometimes chanting the artist’s name is a perfect way to get them to appear. This was not one of those times.
Notorious for being late, Cardi B was not on stage when the clock struck 9:00, and fans started to get antsy as time ticked on. A quick look at her Instagram story for the day revealed she wasn’t even in the United States twelve hours prior, instead wrapping up a trip overseas. But once B. took the stage, 33 minutes after her scheduled start time of 9:00, it was almost as if everything was forgotten. The crowd was euphoric to see the Bronx singer/rapper finally appear, and B. recovered quickly from her timely faux-paus with a high-energy torrent of career highlights, busting into that signature Cardi B.-twerk as fireworks signaled “I Like It.” And “Bodak Yellow” once again stole the show, going all out with its danceable beats and impressive pyrotechnic light show. Ringing in at 45-minutes total, the set felt undeniably short, but once again, Cardi recovered by reminding folks of her upcoming El Paso show on Oct. 8.
Mumford and Sons close out Weekend One with audience tears and unifying folk rock
No caption is needed for this amazing closeout—the pictures say it all.
And that’s a wrap on weekend one! Check out some more photos from the event weekend below, and stay tuned for weekend two!