From the get-go on the first Friday of the Austin City Limits Music Festival, which kicked off its 15th anniversary over two weekends (Sept. 30-Oct. 2 & Oct. 7-9) in Zilker Park, the odds were largely in the fest’s favor.
Temperatures hovered near a blissful 80 degrees with low humidity and clear skies throughout a day with a decidedly diverse lineup: top electro stars (Major Lazer, Flume), reliable rockers (Band of Horses, Foals), the hippest in hip-hop (Banks & Steelz, Tory Lanez, Die Antwoord) and plenty of upstarts (Julien Baker, Maren Morris, Gina Chavez) — plus a headline turn from Radiohead on the immense Samsung main stage, which marked the band’s ACL fest debut and fourth ever performance in the Lone Star State capital (their first was in 1995 behind The Bends, opening for R.E.M. at South Park Meadows).
After low-key opening hat-trick (“Burn the Witch,” “Daydreaming” and “Ful Stop”) off recently released ninth studio album, A Moon Shaped Pool, plus a dreamy drift through relative rarity “Airbag,” the British quintet’s impish frontman Thom Yorke riffed on a few lyrics from the Smith’s “How Soon is Now?”
“I go about things the wrong way/ I am human and I need to be loved/ just like everybody else does,” he sang.
Most faithful fans in the massive crowd would’ve likely disagreed with the former sentiment in light of the fact that all-in sing-alongs during raucous deep cuts like “The National Anthem” and “Street Spirit (Fade Out)” were as impactful as reverent quiets observed during hushed renditions of “Exit Music (for a Film),” “Give Up the Ghost” and “Nude.” And anyone observing, diehard follower or not, would’ve likewise concluded that love wasn’t in short supply during this occasion — a colossal a cappella crowd chorus to round out ever-cathartic closer “Karma Police” sent the band off wearing contented grins.
Earlier in the evening on the tiny BMI stage, Memphis-based singer-songwriter Julien Baker didn’t have as easy a time. “You guys are missing Die Antwoord for me? How sweet,” she quipped as she launched into a set of solemn tunes off 2015 solo debut, Sprained Ankle, which stuttered somewhat to start with feedback problems, not to mention the general issue of battling the South African trio’s aggressive Zef stylings directly across the field. Yet, though she often appeared on the verge of tears, the amped up emotion only added to one of the day’s most powerful deliveries of rapturously raw poetry on key cuts like “Rejoice” and “Vessels” — she’s an Olympian when it comes to nailing challenging high notes.
By contrast, Texas-raised, Nashville-based singer Maren Morris’ performance on the same stage a couple hours before was a country-fied coup. Sporting a baseball cap and reflective aviator sunglasses, a somewhat revealing green, lace-up top, denim shorts and knee-high black suede boots, the 26-year-old strutted and sashayed through a smattering of R&B-and-twang-infused cuts pulled mostly from June’s U.S. country chart-topper Hero, with the Gold-certified “My Church” — which easily achieved the “choir” treatment she asked for — as the centerpiece.
Award-winning Latin folk-pop Austinite Gina Chavez, on the other hand, told Billboard backstage that she feels “a responsibility to bring it” as an ambassador of local music. In favor of revealing any new material during her debut ACL fest set, she chose to up the dance factor by reworking bilingual cumbia tune “Miles de Millas” into a sizzling salsa number for the first time ever.
The fest’s first Friday was packed with myriad other standout moments, including a strong showing from local psych-soul outfit Los Coast, stirring stuff by Sting offspring Eliot Sumner, a raucous early turn from budding Atlanta rapper Raury and some cool, early afternoon grooves crafted by indie hip-hop trailblazers Banks & Steelz.