Editor’s note: We sent writer Eli Watson to Austin City Limits Music Festival with the lone mission of telling us about the best, worst and just a’ight acts of ACL.
- The Black Keys: I give not one f**k about your imminent response to my calling The Black Keys one of ACL’s worst performances. Maybe I had not managed to secretly gulp down enough beers, or maybe I was so energized off of Red Bull that only AVICII’s bro-tastic set could save me, but The Black Keys were nothing spectacular. Sure, the high school dance lighting and gigantic disco ball towards the end of their set were nice, but overall I found myself wondering why we all weren’t punching the sky with our fists, as AVICII pressed play atop a colorful head? The Black Keys’ crowd also did not help. I’ll take a shirtless, “gym-tan-laundry” bro over a pretentious hipster any day.
- Childish Gambino: We’re really not cousins so it’s totally cool that I say this: Childish Gambino left me bored. However, it’s not entirely his fault. Having seen him earlier this year at Stubb’s where his set was longer and new album Camp was his most recent release, Gambino’s ACL set came off as lackluster. Some stuff from his latest release Royalty would have been tight, but Gambino played it safe throughout the night.
- Weezer: Yup. I went there. It really pains me to say this but Weezer has run its course. Unlike Red Hot Chili Peppers who continue to redefine their sound with each release, it seems that Weezer has become complacent with being good old, 1990s party-rock. We wanted the hits and they gave them to us willingly. Maybe I’m being too cynical but don’t forget that this is the band who named an album Raditude, and made a song with Lil Wayne called, “Can’t Stop Partying.”
- Thundercat: I can already imagine most of my friends calling me a hipster due to this obscure name drop. That, and the fact that it’s at the top of my list. But Thundercat deserved it. What Stephen Bruner can do with a five-string bass is beyond me. It was great to hear songs that are normally two minutes and 15 seconds long, become living, breathing 15 minute-long musical journeys. He called his set “trippy shit.” I stayed for the ride from beginning to end.
- The Roots: Duh. The Roots are essentially hip-hop’s human encyclopedia, and their set supports that. Seriously, to try and catch all of the hip-hop references they made during their hour long performance, was almost more rewarding than the show itself. A dedication to Beastie Boys’ MCA; a psychedelic interlude based around J Dilla’s “Fall In Love” and guitarist Captain Kirk Douglas noodling through Outkast’s “SpottieOttieDopaliscious.” They even had a brief jam on Kanye West’s latest hit single “Mercy.” These guys are heralded as some of hip-hop’s best because they are, if not one of, the best still in the game.
- Red Hot Chili Peppers: I had high expectations for the Red Hot Chili Peppers. And I can’t lie, they delivered. I like most of their repertoire but my heart will always have a soft spot for Blood Sugar Sex Magik. Maybe it’s because my mother and I would always crack our voices during the final chorus in “Under the Bridge.” Or because I enjoyed slapping an invisible bass to “Suck My Kiss,” in my bedroom as a teenager. Seeing those songs come to life was great, but what I cherish the most about RHCP’s set, was its testament to the group’s constant change. They’ve made the hits and like Weezer, perform them willingly. But RHCP still challenges listeners by redefining their sound with each release. And for that I applaud them.
- M83: I went to M83’s set for two reasons: to see how many people would dip after the group performed “Midnight City,” and to see how their music translates in a live setting. I was surprised that I stayed for most of the group’s performance. Their use of electronic loops and samples made their set that much more enthralling. It added a jam-y backbone to their often straightforward arrangements, which allowed certain songs to breathe more. That and the production aspect of their show (the lights were incredible) kept me glued to their stage, long after they performed “Midnight City.”
- Neil Young and Crazy Horse: Neil Young is a man who truly gives no f**ks, and his set was proof of that. I mean, the guy opened his set with a 17-minute long version of “Love and Only Love,” and followed that up with five-plus minutes of distorted guitar. Honestly, I have no idea what kept me at Young’s set. I’m not a fan and I tend to confuse him with Ted Nugent. But his apathetic demeanor and “I could care less if you stay or leave attitude,” was simultaneously refreshing and polarizing.
- Jack White: I believe a brief description of White’s performance of “Seven Nation Army” will suffice. Backed by an all-female band White brought new life to this, and many other White-related songs. And that is what made the guitar virtuoso’s set so great. He gave new energy to the songs and allowed the chips to fall where they may. There were multiple moments where a Raconteurs or White Stripes song seemed to rock back and forth between success and failure. I’d like to think White knew this as he gave his backing band creative freedom throughout the night’s set.