Day three of Austin City Limits Music Festival was all about the youth with by far the most young people in attendance in comparison to the first two days, which both featured legacy acts as headliners. When Childish Gambino pulled out of his Sunday headline slot, the festival gave the opening to Travis Scott while also adding French rockers Phoenix to the Honda Stage to beef up the lineup. Arctic Monkeys headlined the Honda Stage and unsurprisingly they drew a crowd size comparable to that of Travis Scott.
Sunday saw the most clouds of the festival (though that’s a pretty low bar) and even a brief passing shower. I have to say I would’ve appreciated more clouds or a shower earlier on in the weekend, but I guess my sunburn will heal eventually. The first weekend of the festival featured an exceptionally solid lineup and a plethora of memorable performances. In fact, several of the best performances of ACL’s first weekend came on Sunday. Revisit our day one festival recap here and our day two recap here.
British post-punk quintet Shame released their debut album, Songs of Praise this year and according to the band, ACL was the second U.S. festival they’ve ever played after SXSW. Their bleached blonde lead singer Charlie Steen stomped around the stage, preaching the band’s good news via searing tracks like “Tasteless,” “Concrete” and “Gold Hole.” Steen lurked around the barrier and roared in front of fans, but his boisterousness is counterbalanced by his shirt that reads “not angry” and his usual quip, “Smile! This is entertainment!” Bassist Josh Finerty sprinted across the spacious Honda Stage (exponentially bigger than the small sweaty club they played for their official ACL aftershow the night before) before winding up into jumps and other various unhinged acrobatics. After the band finished their set, I overheard countless people say that Shame were the most entertaining live band they’d seen in a while. People walked away from that set feeling invigorated and in alignment with Steen’s hopeful sentiment—definitely entertained and with smiles on their faces.
New York musician Damon McMahon aka Amen Dunes released his latest album, Freedom, via Sacred Bones this year and as it stands now, it’s one of my dark horse picks for album of the year. After touring in support of Fleet Foxes in the U.S. and playing domestic and international headline shows, McMahon says this is his last show after being on tour for six months. Part of Amen Dunes’ appeal is McMahon’s unmistakable vocals marked by perfect imperfections. His performances of tracks like “Believe,” “Miki Dora” and “Calling Paul the Suffering,” extracted both youthful, bluesy grittiness and the wisdom of a well-travelled old man sitting atop a mountain. McMahon’s genre fluidity also makes him such an exciting, enigmatic performer to watch. Whether you connect with his deeply spiritual vibe, his rootsy rock sound or his flourishes of folk, rap and reggae, Amen Dunes offers something for everyone—and that something is pretty damn good.
Though I saw plenty of impressive moshpits throughout the weekend, nearly all of them were for hip-hop and rap artists, but finally I witnessed a good moshpit for a rock band while watching New York City’s Parquet Courts. Playing ACL in support of the band’s latest album, Wide Awake!, Parquet Courts commanded people’s attention with their punk energy, art rock idiosyncrasies and their engrossing personality. Frontman A. Savage was spring-loaded—calm and cool one moment and raucous the next—and guitarist Austin Brown was equal parts goofy and sophisticated. Cuts like “Total Football,” and “Almost Had to Start a Fight / In and Out Of Patience” set off the crowd into a moshing frenzy with kids spraying full bottles of water that security members had literally just given them. The title track from their album was another obvious highlight, with its infectious bassline, repeated whistles and street carnival-esque percussion.
Janelle Monae’s newest studio album, Dirty Computer, drew rave reviews from fans and critics alike, adding to the rock solid reputation she’s built. Based on her discography and massive crossover appeal, the crowd received her set with the same respect as a classic artist. Two of the most moving moments were “Django Jane” from her new record and her 2013 track, “Electric Lady,” which fluctuate from flashy pop and smooth R&B to towering, truth to power rap. Her stage show was impeccable as she underwent multiple wardrobe changes, sang while perched upon a big throne and was backed by dancers and musicians dressed in a similar black, white and red color scheme. She gave several shoutouts for LGBT pride and repeated just how much love she felt from the crowd because people of all demographics danced, bounced their arms and rapped or sang along together. Monae seems like one of those rare, innately artistic souls that transcend genres and demographics and her ACL set proved that.
French rock four-piece Phoenix may have been an unexpected addition to the lineup, but they turned out to be one of the best sets of the festival’s opening weekend. Frontman Thomas Mars is known for his ventures into the crowd with his trademark red-corded microphone and Austin fans got another piece of that. Throughout the set, he planted himself in the crowd and even floated above them with the help of fans who hoisted up his feet as he continued to sing. The band mostly played tracks from their three latest records, especially their 2009 modern classic, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. Songs like “Lisztomania,” “Entertainment” and “Fior Di Latte” showed off the strengths of each of their last three albums—the pumping singalongs of Wolfgang, the slick, ultra-modern pop of Bankrupt! and the Italian disco-tinged synth-pop of their latest effort, Ti Amo.
Though it was Travis Scott who manned the American Express headliner stage, British rock veterans Arctic Monkeys drew a crowd at the Honda Stage that was equally sizable. The band’s new album, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, definitely split opinions, but that didn’t stop the group from playing plenty of album tracks like “Four Out of Five,” “One Point Perspective,” “The Ultracheese” and “Star Treatment.” Though the songs aren’t necessarily as animated as their earlier work, frontman Alex Turner’s theatricality was undeniably engrossing and it’s refreshing to see him sitting at the piano. The band played lots of songs from their commercial juggernaut AM and apart from “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor,” those tracks connected with the crowd the most and were the biggest singalongs. Songs like “Cornerstone,” “Pretty Visitors” and “Don’t Sit Down Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair” were unexpected but welcome additions to the setlist, but it’s a bit of a mystery why they left out so many indie classics from their debut album.
The suavely dressed Monkeys didn’t engage in much stage banter, but Turner’s a tantalizing wordsmith in his songwriting and he’s got a head full of lyrics that he’s trying not to forget, so you can’t hold it against him. “Brianstorm” made the crowd thrash, jump and airdrum while “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High” made them swoon with Matt Helder’s danceable drumming and Turner’s absurd lyrical content. The band exited the stage as they walked on—to the sound of loud teenage shrills—and they returned to play a mean, speedy rendition of “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor” and an extended version of their typical set closer, the effortlessly cool and sleazy monster of a track, “R U Mine?” Arctic Monkeys have consistently put out stunning LP’s throughout their career and their live reputation lives up to their accomplished discography. Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino may not be your favorite Monkeys’ record, but its science fiction-themed, piano-based lounge music is another massively exciting and essential chapter of the band’s history. Their Sunday night ACL set was charismatic and exhilarating and throughout their 90 minute set, the crowd reciprocated that energy like the Arctic Monkeys were the only band in the world that mattered.
Disclosure: American Express paid to send Paste to cover Austin City Limits Music Festival.