The Most Memorable Moments of Saturday’s ACL Fest
Billie Eilish, Jack Harlow, Mongolian metal, Doja Cat, Dayglow, & more
By Kevin Curtin, Christina Garcia, Raoul Hernandez, Alejandra Ramirez, Rachel Rascoe, Morgan-Taylor Thomas, and Derek Udensi,
10:04AM, Sun. Oct. 3, 2021
A sunny Saturday set the scene for a packed day of live music at Zilker Park. Here are the Chronicle music writers’ highlights from day two of ACL Fest.
Jack Harlow’s Huge Crowd
On Saturday night, while looking over a sprawling audience, Jack Harlow reflected on his first trip to Austin: South by Southwest 2017. By his own approximation, he had just 7,000 social media followers at that time and some of his shows were only attended by 12 people. “That’s why this is special,” he said, noting that every time he’s come back, the crowd’s been a little bigger and how those benchmarks have been part of him finding himself as an artist. Still, he was taken aback by the hordes who showed for his set in the penultimate ACL time slot, during which he delivered an impressively dialed-in performance set around a front porch facade: “Look at that sea of people – Jesus Christ.” The Louisville, KY rapper’s enormous crowd, maxing out the area around the Miller Lite stage and then some, brought back memories of when Kendrick Lamar – on the heels of Good Kid, M.A.A.D City in 2013 – drew similarly massive attendance at that corner, secondary platform in a very different time when ACL Fest had few marquee hip-hop bookings. Unlike Lizzo’s storied overdraw in 2019 on that stage, festival promoters must have known Harlow would pull a huge audience. “You mind if we do the biggest song in the world right now?” Harlow asked before jumping into “Industry Baby,” his new collaboration with Lil Nas X. – Kevin Curtin
girl in red’s Anxious, Excellent Ramblings
Marie Ulven, aka girl in red, began anxiously concerned that she had to pee, ate too much chicken for breakfast, and wanted a stagehand to bring her shoes back, which were not on her feet. The Norwegian singer-songwriter reveals a lot in her turbulent, darkly intimate indie pop, but managed to share even more onstage in asides and excellent liner notes to her catalogue. This summer, just as social spaces reopened, she made out with a girl at a bar in Oslo. They fell in love, and now she misses her, granting new meaning to 2018 track “we fell in love in october.” When an older tale told of a wayward ex, some attendees held up middle fingers for the story’s villain. Ulven wisely countered: “Nice people do shitty stuff. Let’s normalize being fucked up. We need more room to go and do shitty stuff and realize we fucked up.” Twice warning “I’m a rambler,” girl in red radiated comfort in her self-aware semi-neuroticism. – Rachel Rascoe
Freddie Gibbs Hates 12, but Loves the 512
Freddie Gibbs charmed an appreciative Saturday afternoon crowd at the T-Mobile stage with barbs thrown at his very own DJ (“‘Sup Ralph? You’re sweating like a motherfucker like you on crack back there – goddamn!”) and about 50 shouts of “Fuck the police!” At one point, the hilarious – and admittedly drunk – Indiana emcee joked that attendees representing the Live Music Capital needed to match energy levels displayed by more rural towns such as Birmingham, Ala., after February single “Gang Signs” required multiple drops to attain a sufficient amount of people chanting “Fuck 12, suck a dick.” There’s no beef between Austin and the Grammy-nominated rhymer – Gibbs stated on more than one occasion how much he loves Austin. And attendees responded with shouts of “Freddie” and demands for an encore after set-ender “Big Boss Rabbit” featured front-row spectators receiving swift meet-and-greets. He didn’t miss a bar or a step despite his ACL Late Nights performance less than 24 hours beforehand at Emo’s. Let’s enjoy one of rap's finest just in case he’s not trolling about this whole returning to R&B thing. – Derek Udensi
Pop Alien Doja Cat Finds Diva Elegance
Accounting for the Saturday increase in cow print at Zilker Park, pop oddity Doja Cat delivered the best stage design and choreography of the weekend so far with a wonderland of greenery somewhere between Avatar and Rainforest Cafe. Pulling from the campy sci-fi themes of latest album Planet Her, the singer and four flanking backup dancers beamed down in tattered earth tones to present 2019 “Rules” with the lyrical explanation: “Look at me like I'm alien / Bitch, I'm fucking reptilian.” Nonstop movement met a high-voltage band, keeping momentum with an unexpected streamlined arrangement of “Kiss Me More” and a metal edition of “Say So,” and even when Doja missed a few lines in the quick clip of “Get into It (Yuh).” An online contrarian adept in bold visual statements, the artist’s elegant and organized performance showed more in common with the traditional pop archetype than many gracing the festival stage. – Rachel Rascoe
Hu’s That Mongolian Metal Band?
While Team Chronic debated the live integrity of Doja Cat and her Jumanji-esque stage show, the bedrock Tito’s Tent grew increasingly uproarious throughout a 55-minute set by the Hu. As Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey age out of the Who, this Mongolian folk-metal octet takes up the standard through drones, chants, and flute solos pounding through a growing mob of ecstatic headbangers. Every song that finished raised their volume and the tent’s metal roof.
Classic metallic template of dual lead Morin khuurs – a two-stringed horsehead fiddle – and an occasional third, the Ulaanbaatar usurpers opened looking like Jimmy Page clones, sawing their bows and raising a vibrating hum matched at intervals with the frontman’s deep throat singing.
“We so happy to be here,” he barked like an epithet, Galbadrakh “Gala” Tsendbaatar sporting a utility belt slung with flutes of all lengths.
Buttressed by guitar, bass, and a pair of percussionists, the core quartet aligned across the stage front in a wall of top knots and truncheon tempos. Recall, if you will, the talkbox intro to Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer” and elongate it across T. Rex/Gary Glitter downstrokes as Tsendbaatar exhorts, growls, and drops into a death metal croak. Meanwhile, Austin can’t gawk and stomp along enough.
The second half of the set plodded without variations in velocity – they could use a ripper or two – but when their closer clicked into an uptick toward the end, it triggered the tent’s auto-response all along: “Hu! Hu! Hu!” Don’t get fooled again by the name: These Mongols incite. – Raoul Henandez
Phoebe Bridgers Endeavors Intimacy on a Mainstage... and Covers Bo Burnham
Golden hour peaks and Phoebe Bridgers isn’t donning the familiar all-black skeletal costume suit that she’s normally worn throughout the tour with the rest of her band. I don’t blame her for opting out this time around. As she opens with the devastating “Motion Sickness,” screams about abusive exes, staying clean, and moving on fill the hot air. The Los Angeles songwriter cradles an acoustic guitar as she streamlines through her latest and phenomenal album Punisher. Crystallized with trembling ballads of depression and alienation, the album’s heavy and intimate nature translates a bit awkwardly to the festival setting. Rare exceptions came with a trumpet-assisted and splintered rendition of Bo Burnham’s “That Funny Feeling” (released this week to raise money for Texas abortion funds), plus twofer “Graceland Too,” and “I Know the End.” The former’s country tactile intimacy teases the latter’s apocalyptic maelstrom as trumpet squawks, battery acid distortion, and Bridger’s screams to a fathomless boom. – Alejandra Ramirez
Puerto Rico’s Lunay Brings Sex and Romance to the Tito’s Tent
Fifteen minutes late for a one-hour set and the crowd was impatient. “Culero!” they shouted. “That means the crowd is mad at you,” said an English-speaker who had heard it at a soccer game. Young Puerto Rican rapper and singer Lunay emerged unfazed, hot summertime poise in a sweat suit. The heavily Latin-American audience (self-identified through cheers at the question) was ready to dance. “Cuantos vinieron a perrear reggaeton?” Lunay asked. How many people came to grind? Reggaeton lands heavy on the hips, and 20-year-old reggaeton star Jefnier Osorio Moreno delivered a hit of party music entirely in Spanish as his crowd sang along. “Apaga,” “La Cama,” and “Todo o Nada” from this year’s album El Niño. “La Curiosidad,” too. It was a set of pure dessert – sex and romance dialed to varying levels with suave delivery. “Donde estan las mujeres solteras?” asked Lunay. Where are the single women? Rapping on his 2019 hit “Soltera,” a packed pavilion sang about how it’s fashionable for women to be single. – Christina Garcia
Remi Wolf Electrifies Ahead of Debut Album
Vocal gymnastics from flip-flops to show-stopping balladic bows – central to the funky, soulful music making of Californian Remi Wolf – landed even more colorfully in person. From the flashy rapped intro to “Guerilla” to the final nu metal bombast of a live-reworked “Quiet on Set,” the 25-year-old presented ample reasons to listen to incoming debut album Juno (out Oct. 15 on Island Records). Her charismatic collage of influences fueled onstage selection of Gnarls Barkley’s aughts soul familiar “Crazy” and MGMT’s “Electric Feel,” sung as if written by Janis Joplin. Finding calm between swapping places with her drummer and rolling on the floor, the performer led the crowd in a shared inhale and exhale. Fellow Californian Gracie Abrams instructed a similar group exercise earlier Friday afternoon. Today’s rising pop stars are into … breathing? – Rachel Rascoe
Sir Woman Make Up For Lost Time at Zilker Park
Kelsey Wilson’s band, Sir Woman, is more fun than a bag full of blue-tagged, farm-grown bud. The farmer’s daughter took the stage under the Tito’s Vodka pavilion at 1pm in pre-sweltering conditions for a 45-minute set of well-loved recent singles like “Bitch,” “Taking the High Road,” “Making Love,” and “Thinking About Tomorrow” with backup singers Spice and Roy Jr., in particular, bringing pounds of charisma to the gospel tent of yore. Soulful R&B voices and genuinely joyful dancing were the vocalist’s calling card. “I love this band,” said Wilson, who is part of two other popular Austin acts: Wild Child and Glorietta. Sir Woman’s drummer, Amber Baker, one-time battery for Unknown Mortal Orchestra, kept time for the group as they played to a full tent. Back in August, a spiking plague nixed Sir Woman’s slated appearance at free summer series Blues on the Green, which is also held at Zilker. What a return to the park. – Christina Garcia
Dayglow Goes From UT Dorms to a Top-Tier ACL Slot
“Not too many years ago, I uploaded something onto SoundCloud while I was in my dorm room at UT,” said Dayglow’s Sloan Struble, winning an applause from the university crowd. “It was Fuzzybrain and it turned out to be a monumental release for me.” Three years since its release, the literal bedroom pop phenom has now upgraded to an evening slot at ACL (a bigger and cooler time slot since his 2019 BMI afternoon appearance) and released his sophomore album, this year’s Harmony House. Opening with the zany upbeat “Something,” the 21-year-old bounced and bopped on the stage like a strung puppet. Fuzzybrain twofer “Fair Game” and “Hot Rod” gleaned spring-bounced hooks echoing the sun-kissed pop flare of Phoenix and MGMT, whereas the anthemic inevitability of soft rock ballad “Woah Man” was met with a fitting light rain. Standout Eighties throwback “Crying on the Dancefloor” culminated in a sax solo following in fashion to a rendition of Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.” A local kid done good; I couldn’t write it any better. – Alejandra Ramirez
Welcome to Hot Times: Charley Crockett
Even on an Austin afternoon when the high ONLY hit 82 mildass degrees, the sun beat down like ploughshares at 3:30pm. Not exactly ACL Fest’s early years of a single August/September weekend that cooked brains, dust, and 100-plus degrees of hydrogen fusion beamed down from the white dwarf star skirting the clouds in a 3D Texas sky.
Charley Crockett in his lavender suit with sequins and Western headwear therefore enjoyed optimal conditions for a grand convergence just across Barton Springs Road from the rest of Zilker Park. “Welcome to Hard Times” he rolled around on his tongue, from the local’s mutton chops down to his gold teeth, but on a Saturday afternoon reviving the capital with its second largest festival, a thick, sprawling throng felt zero pain. Double bass, two guitars including the bandleader’s acoustic, plus pedal steel and organ/keys launched “Lies and Regret,” yet again the lyrical blues emanating from this ascendant state hero belied the earnestly upbeat Zen delivered to a blissed-out populace of maskless sun worshippers.
“That’s what I’m talking ’bout right there,” exclaimed Crockett afterward. “C’mon, boys! Don’t play it too slow.”
“I Wanna Cry” howled like “Werewolves of London” and “Lesson in Depression” set off pockets of dancers throughout the giant backyard hang. Atop “Goin’ Back to Texas,” the Lone Star soul man loosened his knees, his stage lip boogie, and the band, and everyone sharing that space partied hard. “Borrowed Time” and “Trinity River” set up a Justin Townes Earle shoutout and George Jones’ “The Race Is On.”
And it is: How long will it take YOU to test drive true Texas treasure Charley Crockett? – Raoul Hernandez
Billie Eilish Makes Us Happier Than Ever
“That was one of my favorite shows I’ve ever done,” Billie Eilish gushes about her early evening Honda stage performance two years ago. Now she’s in ACL Fest primetime: Saturday night mainstage headliner – this time with a fresh cut ‘n’ color and a full ton of confidence to boot.
Cloaked in a sandy, baggy tee, plaid biker shorts, white Air Force 1 hightops with coordinating socks, and a plethora of pearls and chains, the 19-year-old’s holding down a big stage somehow dwarfed by her aura. Unlike her 2019 set, this Earth toned version doesn’t fight for approval. Instead, she basks in overwhelming admiration conveyed in echoing affirmations and constant mirrored jumping.
Like a fairy tale, the seven-time Grammy winner opens with tongue stapling, step on glass era “bury a friend” and closes with her latest title track, delineating her transformation from angsty teen to captivating and stunningly poised pop star. Touching on the Texas abortion ban and importance of acknowledging global warming, the vocalist keeps her audience grounded, but still feels focused on life in the moment – truly seeming “Happier Than Ever.” – Morgan-Taylor Thomas