ACL Live Review: Blood Orange

Rarely live Londoner excels at free funk and soul

Devonté Hynes’ ACL debut began with a prophecy his Saturday set soon fulfilled.

Photo by David Brendan Hall

“We are not limited by biology.
We get to make ourselves.
And we get to make our families.”

The monologue by writer and activist Janet Mock appears on the singer’s recent Negro Swan track, “Family.” As it came to a close, the British multi-instrumentalist took the stage draped in a Blood Orange-branded bandanna and his patented white tank.

Hynes self-describes as sexually fluid and much of his music as Blood Orange reflects the search for refuge in our heteronormative culture. During a Saturday dinnertime slot, he found it on the ACL stage. Free as a kid singing to a hairbrush in the comfort of his room, Hynes commanded the stage with calm confidence as he danced and juggled between instruments.

Thumping 808s on “Saint” livened a crowd battered by the day’s heat, while “Out of Your League” and “Charcoal Baby” had them bobbing like broken bobbleheads to the track’s rubbery funk accents. The Negro Swan cuts set the tone for the 32-year-old Londoner’s set as the bandleader, and a sixpiece ensemble delivered a constant flow of sunny melodies over sparse, dystopian, Eighties dance-pop instrumentals that commingled synth blips with bursts of jazzy horns and lush grand piano and guitar from Hynes.

The mastermind behind these deep textures made sure each member of the ensemble got their close-up. Rhythm sectioners soloed often, and the most impressive vocal performance of the show came from backup singer Ian Isiah during gospel ballad “Holy Will.” He and crooner Eva Tolkin brought depth to Blood Orange’s airy melodies throughout.

The audience didn’t help much except during hits “You’re Not Good Enough” and “Best to You.” In fact, a predominantly white crowd couldn't truly empathize with Hynes’ reflections on the anxieties of the black experience, but his unquestioned self-love and free expression united most into a single Blood Orange family. Those grooves are universal.

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Blood Orange, ACL Fest 2018, ACL Music Fest 2018, Devonté Hynes, Janet Mock, Ian Isiah, Eva Tolken

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