ACL Live Shot: Imelda May

Dublin rockabilly turns in a Kustom Kar set and owns the place

Sunday afternoon, Zilker Park became a swamp that smelled like stockyards. Large chunks of lawn transformed into muddy bogs getting steamier once the sun came out and cut through the chill. Which made it all a big, stanky sauna.

Graciously, church was in session inside the Zilker tent. A sermon preached by rock & roll consultant BP Fallon, “I Believe in Elvis Presley” (“I believe in rockabilly and rock & roll”) improvised its climax: “I believe in Imelda May.” One force of nature thus made way for another.

Girl Just Can’t Help It: Irish rose Imelda May (Photo by David Brendan Hall)

With May’s crackerjack band setting a gravedigger groove, the Dublin-born rockabilly sensation slinked out in a form-fitting, black-striped dress, hair piled high. Her husband Darell Higham laid down fat, reverb-drenched Eddie Cochran figures from a big, orange, hollow-body guitar as the rhythm section crackled.

Meanwhile, May oozed sultry tones suggesting Wanda Jackson on a Billie Holiday bender. Mind you, neither Jackson nor Holiday ever wrote a lyric complaining about their man being on eBay too much. Nor would they have gleaned inspiration from Aleister Crowley via “Hellfire Club,” found on new LP Tribal and here a live set highlight.

May’s enormous voice filled the room, captivating a crowd with more Jayne Mansfield-proportioned young women than a Kustom Kar rally. Two tunes from the end, she and Al Gare sat atop his doghouse bass. He strummed a ukelele, she crooned Blondie’s “Dreaming.”

In that quiet moment, Imelda May owned ACL Fest.

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ACL Fest, Imelda May, ACL Fest 2014, Darell Higham, Al Gare, Eddie Cochran, Elvis Presley, Wanda Jackson, Billie Holiday, Blondie, Jayne Mansfield, Aleister Crowley

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