Words by Cher Dunn | Photos by Marco Denzer
This year, the Austin City Limits Music Festival (ACL) was celebrating its 15th birthday, with over 130 incredible bands playing over the course of two weekends at Zilker Park. Covering Weekend Two, we went to Austin to bring you coverage of some of our favorite bands and musicians including LL Cool J, Foals, Nothing But Thieves, Radiohead, LCD Soundsystem and more.
Arriving in Austin from the East Coast was a little slice of summer heaven, with clear skies and warm weather that lasted through the entire weekend. On Friday we headed through the gates of the festival trying to mentally prepare for a mind-blowing day of live music.
You couldn’t really go wrong with The Wombats and Banks & Steelz starting the day off, and one of the biggest highlights of the day was the energy blast to the heart Foals gave when they lit up the massive crowd at Samsung stage. Playing a perfect brew of songs from each album, including their latest masterpiece What Went Down, out now. Never shy to throwing himself into live performances (and the crowd), Yannis Philippakis got as close to fans as he could as he electrified the audience with his undeniable raw vocals. Foals are a band that sound even better live every time you see them – each member is seasoned to exude so much energy and power that explodes through their instruments – it will make even the stiffest person in the crowd get a dance workout. The mid-day set woke a lot of people up and revived music fans to rock out another six hours of music all over the spectrum including Cold War Kids, Flying Lotus, Flume and the one and only Radiohead.
There was a buzz in the air Friday as so many Radiohead fans prepared to see one of the greatest bands in the world. Flying Lotus downed a bottle of Patron celebrating his and Thom Yorke’s birthday during his set, setting the groundwork for a night of dancing that continued as Flume blasted his hits across the dusty field and the sea of people that came to witness.
From Flume it was all about Radiohead- playing songs spanning their entire career you realize that every single song they have is a hit. Plus, the show felt extra special as fans celebrated lead singer Thom Yorke’s 48th birthday, too. The show started off strong with “Burn The Witch” from their newest album, A Moon Shaped Pool. The crowd acted as a choir, singing along to every song with some of their quieter tunes including “All I Need” and “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi” echoing through the park.
The band mesmerized the audience as the beaming lights made their figures shadows and video visuals made you feel like you were on stage. You could hear a pin drop as Yorke crooned the words to “No Surprises” from Ok Computer before the crowd sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to the frontman and screamed until they came back on stage to play an epic six-song encore including “Let Down”, “Present Tense”, “Reckoner”, “Paranoid Android”, “There There” and “Fake Plastic Trees”. The breathtaking show blew both your mind and vocal chords from cheering and singing along. Friday ultimately started you off with a voice and dance workout that continued throughout the weekend.
Saturday kicked off with an heavy set by UK duo Slaves. They electrified the crowd with sweaty, dark rock and roll fresh off the release of their album TAKE CONTROL. It’s hard not to be excited about this band, Slaves are in a league of the own and do not disappoint live. Even with the early set, Slaves set the bar high for shows the rest of the day. Luckily, those shows were great as well, including Nothing But Thieves, Caveman, Saint Motel, Jack Garratt, Catfish and The Bottlemen, and a set from absolute hip hop legend LL Cool J.
LL Cool J’s set was the first time many music fans there were seeing him live, and he did not disappoint. Performing with DJ Z-Trip, LL Cool J interacted with the crowd, handing out roses to some lucky ladies and even a gold chain to a little girl he brought on stage, reminding her she can do anything she puts her mind to. LL sounded exactly the same live as he did on his records and poured positivity and good energy across an infinite crowd that came to watch his performance. He made fans feel lucky to have caught such a great set including “Mama Said Knock You Out”, “Jack the Ripper”, “Doin’ It” and “I Need Love”.
After LL Cool J, it was back across the field to catch The Naked and Famous. The band (who took a brief hiatus) was back in full form playing fan favorites and new music from their upcoming album Simple Forms, which is releasing this Friday. One of those new tracks, “Higher”, sounded sweet as night drew closer and fans danced along.
No stranger to the festival circuit, Cage The Elephant held nothing back, diving into the crowd and filling the Honda Stage grounds with fans trying to get closer to the action. Another set that really stood out Saturday was Two Door Cinema Club. The band drew a large crowd and had a set that lit up the entire park. Playing a mixture their radio hits and new songs that had a touch of disco, the band had the crowd in the palm of their hands.
We ended Saturday night with a moving set by Kendrick Lamar. One of the most important icons and voices of our generation, Lamar performed his songs backed by a brilliant band of musicians who brought the jazz and blues undertones of his music to the forefront. The set was booming as the crowd of thousands sang along to favorites including “Don’t Kill My Vibe” and “Money Trees”, but nothing was more moving and emotionally charged than that many people chanting “We gon’ be alright” along to his song “Alright”, a song that fits the soundtrack of the Black Lives Matter movement. Lamar played two more songs to encore an amazing set before promising, “I will be back” as he walked off the stage.
Sunday was greeted with a mixture of excitement and sadness thinking about how this was the final day of the festival. The final day featured the vocal Olympics of Ra Ra Riot and Gallant, starting the day off nicely into the swoon-worthy story-telling of Pete Yorn. We caught bits of both Atlas Genius and Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, and we sweat dancing along in the Texas heat before heading back to the Samsung stage to see Texas king and overall legend Willie Nelson.
Introduced by Texas-bred megababe Matthew McConaughey, Willie Nelson led a sing-a-long that made everyone’s weekend that much more special, including “Good Hearted Woman”, “Georgia On My Mind”, and of course “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die” before bringing out more friends on stage including McConaughey for a finale of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken”. We all saw the light as Nelson serenaded us on what couldn’t be a more gorgeous day.
The night continued in full force as Porter Robinson & Madeon took over the Cirrus Logic stage and Young The Giant rocked the Miller Light Stage. But the weekend ended in a truly magical fashion with LCD SOUNDSYSTEM. The massive crowd was in top form as the band everyone was waiting to see graced the stage illuminated by a massive disco ball. Drowned in an ocean of light, the ACL crowd never seemed more massive as James Murphy led the dance party of hits including “Daft Punk Is Playing at My House”, “I Can Change”, “Dance Yrself Clean”.
The epic sing-a-long that occurred during “New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down” was extra special, and so was the one that ensued as they ended the show with “All My Friends”. After LCD SOUNDSYSTEM closed their set, fans trekked over to see Mumford & Sons finishing up their show before saying their last goodbyes to what was one of the best festivals and weekends of the year. The weather, music, and people couldn’t have been more perfect, and like many who experienced the brilliant festival this year, we can’t wait for ACL’s sweet 16 next year.
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