Friday of ACL – whether weekend one or two – will forever hold our hearts as a favorite. That being said, there is a significant bit of our souls that reaches out to Sunday as the day of ACL to beat. Certainly, there are no bad days at Austin’s premiere music festival. But there is something about the annual tradition of beginning the last day of the fest with an all-stage, all-volume playing of “Easy (Like Sunday Morning)” by The Commodores that sets the world to rights. Whatever exhaustion the previous two days (and nights, if you attend any late night shows) has made one suffer, it all goes away in the first few piano bars of the Lionel Richie classic.
And, if that weren’t enough, ACL schedulers make absolutely certain that the closing day’s schedule builds to a sweeping crescendo.
They almost went against type this year, however, putting NPR-favorite, Tank and the Bangas, early in the day. So much color and vibrance goes into their set and their clothing that it might seem like a third espresso shot in the morning coffee. This year, however, it was just what the festival ordered, as the pure adrenaline of Tank and the Bangas woke up not only the eyes and ears of the crowds, but their dancing shoes, as well. With so much attitude and sass, it’s impossible not to follow along when the band breaks into “Hey, Hey, Hey!” and drags the audience along with them. Tank Ball, a beat poet in a different life, is compelling in the best sense, pushing everyone in earshot to believe the best things about themselves and the world around them. If one needs proof, simply find any stream of “Quick,” their most commercially popular song to date, to witness the power and adaptability of both the band and Tank, herself. ACL brought the strong eye-opener, this year.
Once awake, the festival monster does not settle down, and the hunger for more overwhelms. We were subject to that hunger and were sated by a healthy dose of “Middle Kids,” who balance both beauty – in lilting tones and instrumentation – and raw strength – in soaring choruses and declarations. We may have been guilty of waiting for ‘our song,’ but that’s part of the ACL experience, as there is so much to see in one given hour, it’s important to prioritize, as best you can. Despite the fact that we were treated to our fondest desired request, “Edge of Town,” early in the set, sticking around netted us a cover of Blink-182 and a few of their own tunes we didn’t expect, but loved.
Speaking of surprises, the real shock of the day – though we should have expected it, given the set we saw them pull off at Hangout Music Festival earlier this year – was Rainbow Kitten Surprise. The band was an absolute throwback, unapologetic in their rock and roll genetics and destined to stay in one’s ear for months to come. Songs like “Run” echo the best of indie superstars, The Black Keys, while “Wasted” sounds more like Arcade Fire wiled through the studio while they were planning the tune. It speaks to their talent that the songs sound, at first listen, familiar. But, because they aren’t, the tunes demand attention and turn that attention into curiosity and that curiosity into devout fandom.
Milky Chance continued the curiosity trend, plying the strength of one hit – “Flashed Junk Mind,” with its strange staccato rhythm and vaguely Middle Eastern guitar riffs – into a magnetic set that kept the crowd’s interest, despite the toll of a weekend outdoors in the Austin summer. Theirs is jam-band music, which is perfectly at home at any festival, and more than a few hula hoops were put in service, as were a handful of flowy scarves. Why not, truth be told. The mood was normalizing and a modicum of Sunday languidness was beginning to creep into everyone’s bones. If people weren’t dancing, then they had settled on a patch of grass to sit upon and a beverage to carry them through.
By the time the early afternoon was through, energy finally began to wane, as it does for all; but, ACL programmers were undeterred. They ran through a who’s who of previous Austin City Limits Music Festival giants as they made the mad dash to the final song. First Aid Kit, The Head and the Heart, and Portugal, The Man all made remarkable showings – with The Head and the Heart perhaps drawing as big a crowd as the Friday and Saturday headliners to the American Express stage for hit after hit. We’ve loved this band since 2011, but it is still amazing that, in those 6 years, they’ve amassed such familiar hits as “All We Ever Knew,” “Down in the Valley,” “Lost in my Mind,” “Rivers and Roads,” and “Another Story.” They have the cred to skip any semblance of a cover, but still reached for Crowded House’s “Don’t Dream It’s Over,” and nailed it. As the sun set, their star – through hardships, life-stage changes, and the harsh rigor of stardom – continues to rise.
If you’re going to close out this good a weekend, you’ve got to finish off with a killer band. Forgive the pun, but ACL veterans, The Killers, are just the band for the job. Light show and heavy guitars with Brandon Flower’s anthemic vocals, this is how you say goodbye to an unparalleled weekend and good night to Day 3. With nearly 20 songs, and an even spacing between their hits, the mood of the crowd and the band could only be described as neon and laser, both of which were in abundance on stage to accompany songs like “Human,” “Read My Mind,” and “Runaways.” Flowers’ voice has lost nothing over the band’s nearly 17-year career, and it flew into the night sky, punctuating the best Austin City Limits Music Festival we’ve seen (and we’ve been to almost 13 years of them). And, just like The Killers’ set, the weekend was long, abundantly delightful, and still left us wanting more. Thus, just like the 2017 attendees, we’re making plans.
We’ll see you in Zilker next year, ACL Fest.