ACL’s Hardest Decision: St. Vincent or Erykah Badu – Reviewed Side-by-Side

A novel persona and a paragon of realness in clashing set times

ACL Fest organizers tortured a certain segment of its audience – let’s call them “fans of bold, critically-acclaimed artists” – by slotting both Erykah Badu and St. Vincent at 7:30pm on Sunday.

Deciding between the two Dallas vanguards was an impossible choice (I watched the first half of St. Vincent and the latter half of Badu) so we decided to run recaps of their shows side-by-side for anyone who also had to grapple with that tough decision. – Kevin Curtin

St. Vincent Warms Up for Daddy’s Home

St. Vincent performing at ACL Fest 2021. (Photo by David Brendan Hall)

The last time St. Vincent played Zilker Park in 2018, band members wore masks to appear faceless. The leading Dallas native herself donned tight latex, backed by flashing visuals to accompany prior LP Masseduction. The neon overstimulation stands in stark contrast to the charismatic Seventies-themed onstage accoutrements of new album Daddy’s Home, full of expressive faces and fueled by three powerhouse backing vocalists.

The warmer presentation, still precisely charted to a T complete with a spinning platform, also left space for Annie Clark’s sharp, Broadway-ready sense of humor. The show began with the emergence of a plausible lookalike in a blonde bob wig and trench coat. A spotlight flashed to the real Clark atop a platform – wait, there two of them? – before kicking into “Digital Witnesses,” a promise from 2014 that the new digs could accommodate the old St. Vincent.

In fact, the set’s cartoonish cityscape cutouts provided the perfect background for nostalgic torch song “New York” off Masseduction. The four-piece band flipped between the brash, sleazy funk influences of Daddy’s Home and prior works cushioned by a halo of additional live harmonies. In between, Clark answered a ringing curly-corded landline delivered by an attendant dressed as a retro waitress.

“Oh my god, he didn’t. He’s the worst…. I’m onstage at Austin City Limits. I know, it’s crazy. Hold on, you don’t believe me and you want to hear the crowd really scream? [insert big cheer] Wait, you said Texas can do better? [insert bigger cheer] “Fuck yeah, that’s ACL Texas style bitch!”

Simultaneously softened and tightly-controlled, sassy wrist flips and handkerchief twirls led up to the melodrama of “Pay Your Way in Pain.” To end the 2021 track, the bandleader stared desperately into the jumbotron camera for a big final refrain: “I wanna be loooooved.” An unexpected finale converted the ready, jagged material of “Your Lips Are Red” off Clark’s debut Marry Me into a fully-fledged rock opera.

The setlist through line to the singer’s days as a curly-haired indie figure reminded not to make too much of her Bowie-esque aesthetic shifts. Bold, iconoclastic personas will always fit the St. Vincent catalogue. Brought to mind by Sunday’s inclusion of the 2012 track, they’re the types who “don't wanna be your cheerleader no more,” regardless of the decade stylings. – Rachel Rascoe

Omniscient Bandleader Erykah Badu Caresses Us with Her Voice

Erykah Badu onstage at ACL Fest 2021. (Photo by Gary Miller)

Radio feedback transmits to space, the final frontier, as Badu’s “Dial’Afreaq” bleeds bass-heavy cosmic funk. The relatively small crowd congregated to Badu’s astral odyssey at the Miller Lite stage as the song retained The Egyptian Lover’s “Dial-A-Freak”’s 808 bounce and coy playfulness.

Erykah Badu, steps out almost ten minutes late, but no matter. Her accompanying 10-piece band orbit a lunar suite: keys smear psychedelic watercolor and zero-gravity synths unfurl intergalactic in a fitting introductory procession. Arriving in her familiar oversized hat, rainbow kaleidoscope fringe garb, and a montage of Soul Train videos behind her, the native Texan segued into “Hello,” the last cut off her 2015 mixtape But You Caint Use My Phone. While improvisational jazz soars off the cliff, her smooth timbre caresses synced harmonies and floats on clouds, almost rivaling its influence of the Isley Brothers’ hit “Hello It’s Me.”

Venturing through Nineties catalogue, Badu reels back into neo-soul stand out “On and On,” and Common collaboration “Love of My Life.” In the former, like huffing a plume of cigar smoke, she drags her words, teasing her tongue and cheek cypher to Baduizm biblical testament. The latter transcended her register into widescreen panoramic, rippling soft and gentle, meandering through serpentine grooves, or soaring to the proverbial beyond.

Amongst a flourish of shape-shifting improvisation and afro-cuban percussion, fluid bass lines anchor and make landfall to the New Amerykah medley of interstellar “Window Seat,” and a slow vamped “Honey.” Fashioning an omniscient bandleader, her assertion flashes on full display, kick-starting the band in and out at the wave of a hand.

“We got eight minutes left in this motherfucker,” she railed before launching into the classic duo “Tyrone” and “Bag Lady.” Wringing out those minutes for all they were worth, the lover’s scorn anthems morphed freestyle banter to bedroom-eyed blues. No need to prove her mettle, she signed, sealed, delivered.
– Alejandra Ramirez

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Erykah Badu
SXSW Music Live: Erykah Badu, Thievery Corp, Wu-Tang
SXSW Music Live: Erykah Badu, Thievery Corp, Wu-Tang
Some go-go, some Baduizm, even Shaolin mastery

Thomas Fawcett, March 15, 2017

SXSW Music: Erykah Badu
SXSW Music: Erykah Badu
Now you see her, now you don’t

Kahron Spearman, March 17, 2016

More by Rachel Rascoe
Crucial Concerts for the Coming Week
Crucial Concerts for the Coming Week
King Louie, Killah Priest, and indie classical lead our recommended shows

May 26, 2023

Hot Luck Serves Up Music and a New Venue, Buffet Style
Hot Luck Serves Up Music and a New Venue, Buffet Style
Five assorted picks for this weekend's food and sound festival

May 26, 2023

More by Alejandra Ramirez
S.L. Houser’s Earnest “Wind in the Door” and Five More Songs From Austin Artists
S.L. Houser’s Earnest “Wind in the Door” and Five More Songs From Austin Artists
New music picks from Rod Gator, BLK ODYSSY, and Cloud Companion

June 2, 2023

Crucial Concerts for the Coming Week
Crucial Concerts for the Coming Week
The Austin Record Convention, Cinco de Mayo Extravaganza, Pecan Street Festival, and UTOPiAfest lead our recommended shows this week

May 5, 2023


Erykah Badu, St. Vincent, ACL Fest 2021, Annie Clark

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle