Austin is all quiet after a particularly rowdy weekend, one that drew attendees from all over the country and the world to the small city. Still going strong in its seventeenth year, Austin City Limits continues to attract some of the biggest names in music (the Killers, Arctic Monkeys, Camilla Cabello) to the lawns of Zilker Park, for an exhilarating three-day weekend filled with food, great music, and great company. With a lineup that each year tops the last, 2018’s ACL saw continued success to the tune of 60,000 attendees for the first weekend— and shows no signs of slowing down as it gears up for a second.
As C3 Events silently cleaned up the first weekend and prepared to pull it all off a second time around, we compiled our favorite moments from Austin’s third biggest weekend. Here are the 21 best things we saw at Weekend One.
It seems this weekend was one for old bands to come back. You’ve probably heard by now that the old members of Nirvana reunited at Foo Fighter’s Cal Jam this weekend, playing songs that haven’t been heard live in years and sending fans roaring for a reunion tour. But for Metallica, there was no ‘coming back’ per se, no reunion to have— they’ve always been it. With a near-original lineup, Metallica itself has outrun the hourglass and withstood the unforgiving test of time, despite a fair share of setbacks throughout the years.
For years, Metallica has been just about the biggest band for thrash metal, and a consistent run of albums has made sure they never got pushed to the back-burner as the years went by, receding into the shadows with other bands of years past. But as tonight proved, they’re the absolute opposite of back-burner material. With songs that demand to be heard live, Metallica has been touring pretty continuously since spring 2015, leaving plenty of time for songs, new and old, to be vocally perfected. In this blast from the past, fans were treated to a career-spanning setlist that invited us to reminisce about a time in which many of us were not alive, giving us young folk a chance to properly discover them and decide whether or not we were in love (we were). The show felt equal parts refreshing as it was nostalgic, with background graphics of the band in their former years, rocking just as hard as they were now. The evening’s emotional moment was no doubt Trujillo’s two-minute snippet of Anesthesia (Pulling Teeth), played as a tribute to late bassist Cliff Burton, who’d died in a vehicle accident back in 1986. Fans spent the final moments of the show standing in awe as Trujillo banged out the last notes of Enter Sandman to a shockwave of fireworks that rattled the ground even further, going out quite literally with a bang.
Metallica continues on their WorldWired tour (in support of their new album, Hardwired… To Self Destruct), but not before they return to Austin to blast ACL all over again.
In the midst of the bustle and heat, Big Thief dazzled us from atop the Barton Springs stage, again proving that hearing a song at a festival can hit just as hard as listening to music in the comfort of your own solitude. We were almost brought to tears by the sheer beauty of Lenker’s voice, and found ourselves wishing the emotion that came through in the live performance could follow us home to Spotify, just so we could relive the moment over and over. Her three emotional-charged solos (in which the rest of the band took a complete step back) found itself well-received amongst a crowd that was truly excited to hear them play. At the show’s end, fans were surprised with a yet-to-be released track: the mellow, yet fiery single, “Terminal Paradise” that channelled an early Alanis Morissette.
Hailing from Britain, the Wombats once again proved that they are one of Britain’s best pop bands. Songs like ‘Lemon to a Knife Fight’ and ‘Moving to New York’ bounced jubilantly over the loudspeakers of the American Express stage and into the moshing crowd, re-energizing folks after a particularly dreary morning. ‘Let’s Dance to Joy Division’ of course was a highlight for many, although most songs played came from their latest album, Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life, which fell comfortably in line with the style of their previous albums. We’d love to see them try out a more daring style, but with a healthy three million listeners on Spotify to date, its clear that whatever they’re doing is definitely not lost on their steadily-growing fanbase. And if you swear you’ve absolutely never heard of them, think again: their song ‘Here Comes The Anxiety’ (which was understandably absent from their festival setlist) found a particularly fitting niche amongst the 2012 Tumblr youth, being added to playlists along with ‘I’m not Okay’ by My Chemical Romance and ‘Please Take Me Home’ by Blink-182. It was the high school anthem for many who sauntered through the halls feeling out of place, propelled only by the thought of going home to listen to the Wombats in the comfort of your own bed.
The band continues on a tour as well, but we worry how much time frontman Matt Murphy will have to devote to the project now that he’s starting his new band.
In this heavily anticipated performance, what materialized was even better than the speculation, and nothing compared to finally seeing the lights of the stage turning on after months of waiting. Former Beatle Paul McCartney took the stage at approximately 8:02PM, and for two hours continued to blow us away with perfectly played chords and seamless vocals. It seemed the surreal nature of the fact that we were watching and listening to a former Beatle kicked in for the entire crowd around the same time, as suddenly the pit surges forward, erupting in violent cheers and reckless abandonment. It was a strange mix of emotions— joy, coupled with pride, mixed with longing for days past— that only intensified as he continued to wow us with an amazing talent we knew he had, but yet were still in awe we could be this lucky to witness it firsthand. It was no more a concert than it was an experience in itself; it was not just one festival set lost in hundreds of them: it was the festival. As McCartney ran his pick nimbly across the guitar strings, playing songs from the Beatles, Wings, and his own solo catalogue, it was almost as if we were catapulted through the years, floating through decades and ending in present day. We were left raw but whole, stripped but put together, and ultimately changed. An old woman who looked to be about eighty was spotted, jamming out to McCartney’s tunes while tending to her grandkids. It was a curious sight, but it made sense: she would’ve been about 25 when the Beatles were big. How he had drawn her (and her grandkids) out to the festival all these years later was a testament to the fact that he’s still got it.
Metallica wasn’t the only one with engaging background graphics. Despite playing at the exact same time as Paul McCartney (this was savage. No one should’ve been playing during Paul McCartney), ODESZA’s set was almost just as packed, seemingly targeting the younger crowd that didn’t grow up on the Beatles and had nothing to look forward to on the American Express stage. As with EDM sets, ODESZA’s show was every bit a lights show as it was a concert— something about an immersive audio-visual experience set to powerful, pulsing music can transport even the most casual of listeners into a territory of pure elation that lasts long after you’ve left the venue and settled into the Airbnb. Even if you’ve never heard anything by ODESZA before (which we doubt is true), it can bring forth an outpouring of emotion (which this year led some fans to mosh). The live instruments, the choreographed drum line, and the pulsing bass all came together seamlessly to bring along a show that exceeded expectations. It was a sense of euphoria with no drugs necessary.
Elle King was truly America’s Sweetheart on stage, bringing a hint of sassiness with her as she stepped on. Dressed in her red cowboy getup she was delightfully Austin, playing mostly songs from her forthcoming album, Shake the Spirit, and some old favorites, including ‘Shame’ and ‘Told You So’, which we thought wouldn’t make an appearance. ‘Exes and Oh’s’, as expected, did not fail to get the crowd riled up, and for a minute there, we were all haunted by our exes.
Alice Merton is definitely making a name for herself amongst the festival circuit this summer, hitting events such as Firefly, Governor’s Ball, Mountain Jam, and now, ACL. She’s a fiery force to be reckoned with, and her latest EP is the rare gem where each track is better than the last. It blends emotional lyrics and sultry vocals and an unconventionally danceable backing track, calling to mind a super early Shania Twain. A Shania Twain that has dealt with a lot.
“I wanna lash out,” she cried during “Lash Out”, prompting the crowd to do just that.
There was moshing.
Surrounded by people stumbling by with kegs of beer in hand, it was delightfully refreshing to see a booth dedicated to staying sober. The tent was fairly populated most times, and it was uplifting to see people sticking to their goals of sobriety, even with the Beer Hall directly across from them. Great view of people getting belligerently drunk while you stay sober.
“We’ve having a meeting in about 20 minutes if you want to come,” one staff member said enthusiastically as I went up to inquire about the tent. Little did he know alcohol was not an option for me. But still, a nice gesture.
This Guy’s Sign
📸: Yvan Nguyen pic.twitter.com/U4U5ESt63A
— Ones To Watch (@onestowatch) October 6, 2018
UK band Fickle Friends took ACL’s stage by storm, representing the British music scene in a positive light. You probably know them from one of their 2014 breakout singles ‘For You’, ‘Swim’, or ‘Play’ (and if you don’t, go listen to those right now), yet they are most recognized for a swath of songs from their debut album, You Are Someone Else. Front-woman Natassja Shiner really brings it on stage, engaging fans with playful banter, and its clear they all love performing.
Fickle Friends continues their tour, hitting Los Angeles next at the Teragram Ballroom.
Not sure why you’d need to watch the football game during the festival, but if this is absolutely integral to your festival experience, rest assured that, once again, ACL has thought of your every need. there were two giant screens on each side of the beer hall for fans to see the game, . it was a bit comical to see football fans cheering and carrying on for a touchdown as they would on Super Bowl Sunday at home, popcorn flying.
Beer was involved.
The strange emergence of mosh pits at sets that didn’t make sense
We mentioned before that there was moshing during Alice Merton’s set, and while this is understandable, there were definitely sets in which it was not in any way expected. The most notable set where this occurred was ODESZA’s, which out of all made the least amount of sense. EDM is neither the time nor place, yet fans were so overwrought with emotion that they found themselves crashing into each other, thinking that this was the only appropriate response. The spirit of the music festival— ‘careless and unencumbered fun’— had seemingly entered every single person in that pit, prompting them to bang against each other in a violent but purposeful fashion.
There was one girl in the crowd who was completely unprepared for this, and ended up riding the barricade pretty horribly while she held her expensive camera far up in the air and away from elbows.
Oh, wait, that was me.
VÉRITÉ was a sight to see. The second show of Saturday morning, she hit her high notes seamlessly while running around in this Austin heat (91% humidity!!), and as she pranced around in a bright pink suit, we couldn’t help but wonder how she was not burning (even though yours truly was on the verge of passing out in just shorts and a t-shirt). Talk about grace. Not only is she a great singer, but she’s also an amazing businesswoman! Managing her music and brand entirely by herself, VÉRITÉ is responsible for her own success, and you can always find her on a panel talking about this process and why she chose to be independent.
Unfortunately, a poor sound system obscured some of ‘Need Nothing’, but yelling fans were quick to fill it in.
We’ll admit, this was a set we’d been waiting for all weekend. Amongst highly seasoned performers and repeat festival-goers, flor emerged from the depths, dazzling us with a stage presence that matched that of years-long performers. It can be a hard task to figure out how to translate grand, heavily produced sounds into a live show worthy of a large arena, and entire careers can be spent doing trial and error trying to figure out how to do this gracefully. Fortunately for flor, however, it seemed to come easy, with their live set sounding nearly identical to what it did in the studio. We were so grateful to join them as they closed out the era of their debut album, Come Out, You’re Hiding, and can’t wait to see the new musical paths they embark upon. If there’s any band to burn in the sun for, its them.
Catch them as they support Andrew McMahon on his upcoming tour this winter, dates for which are here.
As you can see from the photos above, synth-pop veterans CHVRCHES did not come to play games. Lauren came out so dramatically, dressed like the Black Swan, dancing around the stage as unapologetically as if she was in her own living room. Bandmate Martin Doherty (not pictured) even left behind his instruments to give us a live rendition of ‘Under The Tide’, one of two songs on TBOWYB where vocalist Lauren Mayberry is notably absent. Of course, ‘The Mother We Share’ was the highlight of the set for most everyone, as it is their most known, but as they tore through songs from their latest album, Love Is Dead, it was easy to see just how CHVRCHES is maturing with every album. They’re maturing in more ways than one, too, as this performance, Lauren announced, marked the last of her 30th year. We hope we made it memorable.
That high note during just ‘Stay For Me’ echoed through the entire city, and that’s all there is to say.
X-Ambassadors have had a whirlwind two years. Their debut album, VHS was released to immediate acclaim, and gave our ears way to hit singles ‘Unsteady’ and ‘Renegades’, both of which skyrocketed almost overnight to millions of streams on Spotify. ‘Unsteady’ saw itself featured in several films (Me Before You, most notably), and their fanbase continued growing from there, . It was impressive how instant their success was; they had gone from small, unknown band from Ithaca to worldwide sensations virtually overnight, rising from the near depths. And here, one could see that the fame was well deserved, as with each song they played you could tell they were giving it their all, . Their energy on stage was matched only by their talent, and their guitar solos were the best we’d seen all day. ‘Unsteady’ was something of a dream, and the solidarity of the people singing along was almost better than the song itself.
Austin Kiddie Limits
This was so cute! There were a lot of kids, solidifying my belief that this was a family-oriented— or at least, a family-friendly event. It was definitely possible to make a family trip out of this, as we’d witnessed many times over as parents pushed strollers or ran to stages toddlers in tow. They even had a tag-a-kid service and were handing out earmuffs for kids so their small ears weren’t damaged by the loud noises. So, if you’re on the fence about coming next year, but can’t find a babysitter, worry not, as ACL is your babysitter. They’ve thought out every last detail about keeping your children entertained, and kids under 10 enter free.
A R I Z O N A
You would think increment weather would ruin a set, but in the case of Arizona at Austin City Limits— it only made it better. The wind blew ferociously as Arizona played “Let Me Touch Your Fire”, and something about the gale-force winds swirling as guitarist Nathan Esquite destroyed his Post-It!™-covered guitar made for an invigorating spectacle. The whipping winds almost mirrored the force with which they blew onto the music scene— fast, sudden, confidently, and sending us all flying. The teletron began to flash that there were storms in the area, but we couldn’t help but feel that they themselves were the storm, and as the rain picked up during the end of ‘LMTYF’, magic seemed to swirl in the air. We never realized how perfect a backing track to a storm that song was, until now.
It was a particularly emotional moment when frontman Zach Hannah recounted their band story (once the rain had stopped): “We’re just guys from New Jersey, and we’ve been best friends for so long… We just named it Arizona because we wearing a hat that said Arizona,” he said, sounding on the verge of tears (its ok, because we were too). Despite being well deserved, Arizona’s success was something of an anomaly: like X-Ambassadors, their songs had gone from nearly unheard of to being streamed millions of times, proving that Spotify and a good song can absolutely mobilize an artist. It’s the epitome of the digital age.
Bahamas was the perfect palate cleanser for those who’d just come from a high energy show like Arizona, and it was quite refreshing to spend an hour listening to buttery-smooth guitar lines and warm vocals that for a moment made the day’s outlook seem less bleak (in terms of weather, we mean). Their music lent to a much chiller atmosphere, energy to which they brought in a much different way. The residual sun-showers during their set fit oh-so-well: they were a bright spot in an otherwise cloudy day, and a beacon of hope that the day would get better.
As we stood there, we couldn’t help feeling that their entire live set sounded vaguely reminiscent of Spandau Ballet’s ‘I Know This Much Is True’— in the absolute best way.
Shoehorned in at the last minute to replace Childish Gambino after cancellation due to injury, the French band was a welcome addition to this weekend’s lineup. It was a bit of a last minute call, according to Mars based solely on the fact that they were in the area (having just played Stubbs a few nights before), leaving them a narrow window of time to gather together a festival setlist. But, being the phenomenal live band they are, there was no doubt in our minds that they would pull this off seamlessly. And we were right.
Songs primarily came from Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, much to the chagrin of newer fans, but die-hard Phoenix lovers were delightfully appeased as they tore through songs from their fourth, most popular album. You could tell they’d been singing these songs over and over for years as they knew every note like it was second nature, and in Thomas’s eyes there looked a strange mix of burnt-out, and ‘I want to do this forever‘. Among the many times he entered the crowd, not once did he skip a beat, even as he once lost his footing and slipped to the near ground. Unfortunately, Thomas announced that this was effectively the last night of their tour, so there will not be any seeing Phoenix firsthand any time soon.
Tinashe, from a distance
While us fans were patiently waiting for Phoenix, we were treated to a distant performance of Tinashe going on on the Miller Lite stage. As soon as we heard a cover of Drake playing, every head seemed to turn, and we all instantly wished we were getting lit at Tinashe’s set instead of standing in silence.
Staff handing out water bottles/People passing back water bottles (and briefly, ponchos)
Water was almost always going around, and fortunately so, as it was so easy to pass out from dehydration under the sun. The solidarity was strong, as people in the front row always made sure the bottles of water made it to those in the middle and the back, as these were our most vulnerable, packed like sardines against each other to a cacophony of body heat. The great thing about music festivals, however, is that you drink so much water, yet never have to leave your coveted spot to pee because you sweat all of it out before that happens! Here’s to sweaty bodies thrusting upon each other in close quarters!
Overall, the experience was one not to forget. With an amazing lineup and a tightly-packed schedule of events, ACL made sure there was never a dull moment in any attendee’s schedule, including the kids. As with all strictly-scheduled festivals, however, there was some pretty unfortunate overlap, often forcing festival-goers to sacrifice one act for another (or miss an act in order to secure a front spot for another). A diverse lineup made for a wild day: from The Wombats to Smino, then to Japanese Breakfast (or Highly Suspects!) is just one example of the genre-hopping schedule you could have, proving that Austin City Limits is indeed one of the best festivals to attend if you have a wide-ranged taste in music.
We’re already looking forward to returning to the lawns of Zilker Park for an 18th year of Austin City Limits, and are excited to see what lineup C3 throws together this time.