UPDATE: A rep for ACL informed Billboard “there was a mix up on the schedule for his Weekend One set and in fact, [JAY-Z] did not leave the stage early. The schedule has been corrected for next weekend.”
There’s absolutely no leeway with the 10 p.m. sound curfew at the Austin City Limits Music Festival, so it’s understandable that JAY-Z — the headliner on Friday night (Oct. 6) of the double-weekend affair’s 16th annual edition, back-dropped by an gigantic balloon animal dog as he performed on the enormous American Express stage — played it safe by ending his set early. But 20 minutes early?
That’s erring on the side of too safe, a sentiment that felt nearly universal as tens of thousands hesitated to vacate Zilker Park, gazing longingly toward the still-glowing stage lights for several minutes after the 47-year-old New York rapper concluded his first proper Austin performance since 2009 with a one-song encore of “99 Problems” to follow up the main set mass-singalong finale “Forever Young.”
Though his delivery packed a punch during those tunes — as well as on career high points like “Big Pimpin’,” “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)” and Kanye West collabo “Ni—s in Paris” — cutting things short and skimming over much of new, affectingly raw album 4:44 (save for “Bam,” “Marcy Me” and “The Story of O.J.”) read like missed opportunities. Even a run through Linkin Park split “Numb/Encore” lacked a proper dedication to the late Chester Bennington, though he did take care to deliver an uplifting message in the face of a particularly trying week (between the Las Vegas shooting and Tom Petty’s subsequent death) for the music community.
“There’s a lot going on in the world … a lot of hate and a lot of evil,” he said. “I want y’all to know that love will always conquer hate.”
Just before, across the field on the smaller Barton Springs stage, his sister-in-law Solange also exuded positivity, albeit more playfully, while delivering perhaps Friday’s most engrossing dazzler: “You know I’m from the great state of Texas, and wanna make this a family reunion… but I wanna know: who’s invited to the cookout?” Her highly choreographed, hour-long display was as much a performance piece as a revue of her funk-infused soul stylings, which, same as with Mr. Carter, did not include a Beyonce cameo like many had hoped for, and so definitively asserted her abilities as an inspired artist independent of her superstar sis.
None among the most prominent artists deigned to directly address the Las Vegas atrocity, but many pointedly paid homage to Petty: Early on, Asleep at the Wheel — the only band to have played every year of the fest — put their western swing spin on “I Won’t Back Down,” Andrew McMahon snuck in a snippet of “Wildflowers,” which was likewise handled in full along with “Refugee” by the Revivalists, and Willie Nelson’s veritable shredder son Lukas and his Promise of the Real closed out their golden hour set with a galvanizing go of “American Girl.”
Two others among the day’s top acts — New York’s ever-impressive young rockers the Lemon Twigs and Nashville-based grunge revivalists Welles — also enhanced their sets with covers, though not by the late legendary Heartbreakers frontman: the former injected their high-kicks- and air-splits-packed show with some OG Austin flavor in the form of Roky Erickson’s “I Walked With a Zombie” while the latter transformed Father John Misty’s “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings” into distortion-laden scream-along well suited to serve as Friday’s opening shot of adrenaline.