ACL Live Review: Nilüfer Yanya

English singer-guitarist animates acclaimed Miss Universe

Nilüfer Yanya exuded an effortless cool beneath a relentless sun at her 12:30pm slot atop the American Express stage on Sunday. The Londoner’s early set marked the end of a U.S. tour in support of her genre-bending debut, Miss Universe. Sadly, the nuanced and deftly textured songwriting from the lightning rod LP didn’t quite translate at ACL.

Photo by Gary Miller

Blame a festival setting rather than the songwriter’s own abilities.

Hypnotic radio hit “The Florist” from 2017 EP Plant Feed opened the 45-minute set, followed by the brass-heavy pop of “Golden Cage” from the same disc. Then she dipped into newer material. The crowd proved modest – especially given the acclaim heaped upon Miss Universe – but that was likely due to die-hard early risers hungry for discovery being split between the UK songwriter and fellow indie-rock star Julia Jacklin’s simultaneous set.

Even so, Yanya and her backing trio got ’em dancing with “Baby Blu,” the glittering Miss Universe highlight, a ballad ready for club hopping. A killer, lurching cover of the Pixies’ “Hey” rendered the song nearly unrecognizable in the best way thanks to the bandleader’s nervy guitar work and stop-start pacing.

Backed by a saxophonist/keyboardist, bassist/keyboardist, and a drummer, Yanya’s own sinewy guitar lines and powerhouse vocals carried the tight performance. Her singing felt explosive, a confident and piercing shapeshifting that slipped into a near yodel on “Heavyweight Champion of the Year” and a confident, heavily British snarl on punky, frenetic set closer “In Your Head.”

Compositionally, Yanya’s a musical force and her startling, barbed pop hooks came through, but the whole delivery felt more polite than anything else, particularly when dwarfed by ACL’s largest stage. A crowded, smoky nightclub or even the intimacy of the BMI stage would’ve proved better for absorbing the knotted intricacies of her sound.

Nilüfer Yanya

Sunday, Oct.6, 12:30pm, American Express stage

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Nilüfer Yanya, ACL Fest 2019, Julia Jacklin, Pixies

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