Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Grace Sorensen, and More Highlights From Sunday at ACL Fest

From The Breeders’ sustaining cool to GloRilla’s unfazed flow

Stacking Katy Kirby, Jane Leo, and Grace Sorensen back to back, Sunday of Austin City Limits Festival opened with a Chron-beloved run of Austin-affiliated artistry.

From there, the much-reported 2023 fad of fans throwing things on stage reared its head, luckily with no direct harm done to Tennessee rapper GloRilla. Additionally, none of the many projectiles in flight during Death Grips appeared to make it over the photo pit. Despite the weekend wrapping with Mumford & Sons’ third ACL headline since 2016 (not to count Marcus Mumford’s 2022 solo appearance), the Chronicle team found quite a few refreshing high points on Sunday. Read our mini reviews of Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Kevin Kaarl, and more below.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs Leave Heads Rolling

Yeah Yeah Yeahs (photo by Isabella Martinez)

Donning a technicolor jumpsuit engulfed by a shimmering red cape like an Elton John angel, Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Karen O elevated the theatrics that put the New York City avant-punk-turned-electronic-rockers on the map 20 years ago. Starry synth apocalypse “Spitting Off the Edge of the World,” from the trio’s 2022 return Cool It Down, warmed up the Honda stage before the bandleader shot water into the air in literal spit takes. Following her own lyrical directions on “Cheated Hearts,” the vocalist removed her reflective sunglasses and cape before going full daredevil and swallowing the microphone. Massive inflatable eyeballs stage-dived for leather-laden electro-pop of “Zero,” waking a relatively dull audience (save for die-hards sprinkled throughout). Still, Karen O declared, “Love is in the air tonight, Austin” ahead of “Lovebomb.” When she softly cooed “come closer,” an entranced crowd obliged. Fever to Tell favorite “Y Control” injected guitarist Nick Zinner’s rhythm into sonic shrill, while the singer dedicated “Maps” to crisp drummer Brian Chase’s family, who happened to be in the audience. Ultimately standing statuesque at the stage’s closest possible edge, she brandished the mic with tinsel-fringed red gloves as a natural extension of her body. “Heads Will Roll” closed the 11-song set, somehow morphing 7pm Zilker Park into a dance club as soon as O screeched “UH-OH!” God is a woman, and her name is Karen O. – Laiken Neumann

Grace Sorensen Impresses with Breezy R&B

Grace Sorensen and guitarist Ezra Rodriguez (photo by John Anderson)

Under an already-beating overhead sun, a hip crowd of teens and twentysomethings rolled up to the BMI stage early Sunday afternoon for the festival debut of Austin R&B up-and-comer Grace Sorensen. Dressed to the nines in an all-ivory Jordan outfit, Sorensen’s silky smooth soprano broke through a wall of wailing Seventies-inspired synth. Waving to new fans and familiar faces in the audience, the 20-year-old Round Rock native breezed through pop-twinged ballads “Blissful Thinking” and “Pretty Boy,” sharing a palpable onstage chemistry with her mega-talented young band. Like her R&B and neo-soul heroes, Sorensen bounced between heartbreak and ecstasy with equal expertise, weaving with ease between romantic regret on “This Isn’t Love” and sultry yearning on “Attraction.” Her dance background, too, was put on full display, as the multi-hyphenate used each instrumental interlude for hair-flipping, hip-swaying choreo breakdowns. After a slow-burning cover of Fleetwood Mac classic “Dreams,” Sorensen invited Megz Kelli of exciting local hip-hop outfit Magna Carda onstage for closing scorcher “Digits.” As Sorensen’s effortless vocal runs combined with Kelli’s undeniable flow, their ACL audience nodded with conviction, both to the beat and to the knowledge that the future of Austin R&B is in good hands. – Genevieve Wood

Katy Kirby Comes Full Circle

Katy Kirby (photo by John Anderson)

At age 15, Katy Kirby marked her first music festival experience watching artists like Coldplay and Young the Giant at ACL Fest 2011. Coming full circle, the Texan indie rock wordsmith blazoned her own nine tracks at Zilker, adorning the daytime Miller Lite stage with a lush, cool aura. With backing band, Kirby’s discography spoke louder than she did. Dressed in a casual white vest and blue jeans, the songwriter delivered her vividly blunt lyrics through a wispy voice carried in the autumn breeze. “You don’t need a gardener to know/ Which way it is the blossom’s going to float,” she mused in “Juniper,” which blended smooth and invigorating fretwork. Meanwhile, August ANTI- Records debut “Cubic Zirconia” laced wistful confessions with sprightly percussion, picking up the pace before a solitary performance of “Portals.” Throughout, the Spicewood native singer-guitarist skillfully skipped through pebbled notes (“Traffic”) and painted metaphors of the natural and inanimate. The Sunday set closed with “Cool Dry Place,” leaving an interlude that incorporated crunches of distortion, as well as chilling, dynamic bass that surely scratched a cognitive itch. – Angela Lim

Jane Leo’s Avant-Pop Engages Early Risers

Jane Leo (photo by David Brendan Hall)

Art-pop duo Jane Leo returned from a five-week tour supporting Los Angeles indie-disco group Cannons to debut at their hometown fest. After all that practice, they effortlessly flew into the set, despite slightly sleepy day three attendees seeking refuge under the Tito’s tent. But whirling synths slowly grew over the conversations, and the pair’s New Wave romance – missing only sultry fog and more neon – became lure. Jane Ellen Bryant commandeered the synthesizer and achieved vocal synchronicity alongside guitarist Daniel Leopold in “Tell Me (I’m on Your Mind).” The latter’s scorching, soulful riffs contradicted their later bait-and-switch gag. “Leo’s gonna sing this one for you,” Bryant announced as he struck a sharp pose for about 30 seconds. “Thank you,” he jokingly closed, before briefly morphing into David Byrne to blend rockabilly and twiddling keys on “Big Life.” Bryant frequently strayed from her station to enrapture the audience, emboldened by a black feather boa attached to her bodysuit. Her piercing falsetto shined via “Doghouse,” while breathy apathy and whiney vocal stretch completed power-pop closer “Wow.” But the duo’s set wasn’t strictly a homecoming – the pair also announced their engagement. “How awful would this show be if she said no?” Leopold quipped. – Laiken Neumann

Kevin Kaarl Brings Paris Texas to ACL

Kevin Kaarl (photo by John Anderson)

On an every-hundred-years weekend of unheard of Texas weather, Kevin Kaarl transfixed for the full 60 minutes on the American Express stage. As did the Mexican troubadour’s twin brother Bryan on keyboards and the rest of his backing quartet, all dressed in matching Fifties chic – save for the frontman in a bright red shirt. Kaarl delivered on that accent too. Plying the Spanish dream-folk of last year’s sophomore home run Paris Texas, about a man suspiciously like both Kaarl and Harry Dean Stanton who ventures existentially on a journey of self-rediscovery, the bandleader strummed an acoustic as his sibling sang and blew trumpet, the guitarist pulled out an occasional banjo, and the rhythm section set a sun-kissed tempo: clip, clop, clip, clop. “Que te Vas,” “Abrazado a Ti” from 2019’s San Lucas, and “On My Mood” (“I wrote it in English so I wouldn’t have to translate it”) all romanced low and authentic, almost Leonard Cohen-esque in their disarming directness and relative monotone. Simple and effective synth leads helped nudge Paris Texas opener “Como me Encanta” into a slight tempo uptick that landed just south of Beck. I suggest a double bill of Kaarl & Ko. with haunting Swiss-Latin South by Southwest sibling duo Hermanos Gutiérrez. – Raoul Hernandez

The Breeders’ Casual Cool Wins the Crowd

The Breeders (photo by Isabella Martinez)

The (newly renamed) IHG Stage found Kim Deal repping Star Trek’s Jean-Luc Picard on her shirt, twin Kelley matching in jeans and tee, and bassist Josephine Wiggs under a trucker hat. With genuine admiration for 58-year-old Shania Twain’s metallics last night, it felt rare to see sixtysomething women playing ACL Fest without glamour as a central element. Kim Deal contextualized the refreshing alt-rock blast, part of Last Splash 30th anniversary celebrations: “We came from Ohio.” An hour slot didn’t allow for the tour’s full-album run, but the fivepiece hit nine Last Splash songs in a charismatic, catalog-spanning set. Drummer Jim Macpherson and techs worked out sound kinks in the “New Year” kickoff, while an added violinist/third guitarist stepped up for the swoony strings of “Drivin’ on 9.” As Kim started an upbeat sugar-rush run with “Saints,” her sister Kelley yelled out “oh! wrong song” and clomped on a pedal. Such whimsical near-misses, generally caused by the lead guitarist waving to fans, pushed tweaks on Kim’s end, too, like a casual dash through “catch him if you can” on the “Invisible Man.” Kelley’s crowd interplay will take the Nineties essentials far on upcoming dates opening for 20-year-old phenom Olivia Rodrigo, sure to unlock next-gen listeners. As the singer previously invited Alanis Morissette for a “You Oughta Know” duet, I imagine Rodrigo might like the kiss-off ruminations on motherhood in Breeders’ “No Aloha.” In fact, Kelley’s semi-distraction only upped hype for the latter power pop favorite, where Kim playfully flicked off her sister after a false start. While bassist Wiggs’ steely cool stood apart from the hijinks, as the rest of the band walked off, she already had a front-rower picked out for her setlist. – Rachel Rascoe

Breakout GloRilla Remains Unfazed

GloRilla (photo by Gary Miller)

Before Memphis-born rap heavyweight GloRilla even had the chance to spit a lyric at her Sunday afternoon set, a wheeling mosh pit broke out at the T-Mobile stage. Clearly eager to see one of biggest breakout hip-hop acts of the past year, the crowd’s energy quickly spilled over into ill-advised outlets: during hard-hitting second track “Nut Quick,” one boisterous audience member launched a pair of shoes in the 24-year-old’s direction. In a real-life play out of her deliciously confrontational lyrics, GloRilla cut the track short, warning festivalgoers not to interrupt her flow again (“Throw another motherfucking shoe!"). Unfazed by the disrespect, the Cardi B collaborator lived up to her reputation as a new leader in Southern rap, interpolating fellow Memphis natives Three 6 Mafia on bass-heavy banger “Lick or Sum.” Finishing her set with “F.N.F. (Let’s Go)," an endlessly catchy, head-bobbing ode to leaving lame dudes in the dust, the rapper hand-picked six audience members to join her for an onstage twerk competition. After an epic battle settled by applause, GloRilla Cash Apped the lucky winner $500 on the spot. – Genevieve Wood

Death Grips Prove Surprisingly Fest Friendly

Death Grips (photo by Isabella Martinez)

Free earplugs and extra precaution preceded Death Grips’ ACL debut, with a security guard perching on the barricade to tell the teenage hordes not to throw anything. Despite a bunch of thumbs up, following the first blast of “System Blower” off 2012 debut LP The Money Store, plenty of liquids and one shoe went flying. The notoriously rare-to-appear trio had already confirmed their Austin touchdown with two sold-out Emo’s dates this week. While early Death Grips fans certainly couldn’t have imagined the alt-rap noise project playing with a sign language interpreter (mostly throwing middle fingers and air guitar) and to a percentage of frat fans, energy machine MC Ride proved surprisingly fest friendly. Mic cord whips, straight-up screams, and harsh gyrations made it hard not to jump along – especially to the tracks with more danceable beats. Orange backlighting offered a surprisingly detailed view of shirtless drummer Zach Hill’s action on a clear kit. New touring guitarist Nick Reinhart (of Tera Melos) fit the bill, too, hitting statuesque angles to churn feedback in the no-breaks changeovers. As songs without pop-ish samples leaned metal midway, the combo of drums, guitar, young crowd surfers, and a lot of “bitch!” did spark memories of watching Woodstock '99 documentaries. Wrapping back to The Money Store, the innovative intensity of “The Fever (Aye Aye)” brought me back. Sticking to their cryptic punk bonafides, Death Grips wordlessly hauled offstage immediately afterwards, Hill and Reinhart both toting pieces of gear. – Rachel Rascoe

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ACL Fest 2023, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Grace Sorensen, Katy Kirby, Jane Leo, Kevin Kaarl, The Breeders, GloRilla, Death Grips

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