Day two of the Austin City Limits Music Festival largely took place under threat of storm, but the weather cooperated and after a short delay, the show went on.
Molly Burch started off the festivities with a jazz-soaked performance on the Barton Springs stage. Playing songs off her debut album Please Be Mine, Burch’s voice was soft and smooth over the mostly slow songs. Songs like “Next To Me” and “Every Little Thing” were soft, slow, and sultry as Burch and company played an intimate set for those who showed up early and braved the storm.
Newcomer Alice Merton wowed an early crowd with a lively performance of songs from her debut EP No Roots. Opening on the American Express stage with “Hit the Ground Running,” Merton played several upbeat songs before slowing things down five songs into the set with the ballad “Jealousy.” Merton’s sound was a unique mix of funk and dance beats, soulful vocals, sing-along choruses, and just enough rock guitar to give it an edge. Highlights included two as yet unreleased songs, the thumping “Keeps Me Awake,” and the slow grooving “Speak Your Mind.” Closing the set with the infectious single “No Roots,” Merton showed off the power of a distinctive voice coupled with propulsive rhythms.
The crowd at the Tito’s Handmade Vodka stage was treated to a festive soul performance by Curtis Harding. Harding, a former backup singer for CeeLo Green, expertly blended various influences from funk to rock, but soul music was at the root of everything. With a smooth vibrato and a vocal range that reached to the highest falsetto and plunged to a strong baritone, Harding’s voice carried the highly danceable offerings. From the shimmering R&B of “Need My Baby” to the funky “Go As You Are,” Harding and the band were in top form.
The Breeders, led by Kim Deal of Pixies fame, had the rawest rock performance of the festival. The band tore through its grunge set with a punk aggression, discordant lead guitar at times harmonizing with and at other times clashing with Deal’s growling rhythm guitar. The band played a mix of new and old songs, favoring tracks from the nineties, such as the outstanding “New Year” and “No Aloha” off 1994’s hit album Last Splash. The Breeders unfortunately were hindered by a poorly mixed sound, including the speakers being too quiet, but nonetheless were able to give a glimpse of what made them an influential band during the height of the alt-rock era.
The Honda stage was treated to a powerful folk rock set by Brandi Carlile. Backed by a full band and two cellists, Carlile played songs spanning her six albums. The set was a good mix of slow crooners and rockers. The power ballad “The Story” and the hard rocker “Mainstream Kid” were highlights. In the middle of the set, Carlile did a stripped down three-part harmony with Tim and Phil Hanseroth for “The Eye.” Covering Led Zeppelin’s “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You” (itself a Joan Baez cover) was a peculiar choice, but her cover of Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You” was stellar. Whether playing fast or slow, hard or soft, Carlile’s greatest asset was her booming voice, which was as impressive as any in the festival so far.
Dev Hynes aka Blood Orange had the most unique show of day two. With a genre-defying performance on the Miller Lite stage that melded R&B, jazz, rock, funk, hip hop, and more, Hynes and company threw caution to the wind and played several songs that use atypical structures and rhythms. Hynes played guitars and piano on several of the songs, showing further musical versatility. The performance was at its best when Blood Orange laid down catchy beats with great sing-along choruses, such as with “Chamakay,” You’re Not Good Enough,” and “Charcoal Baby.” Backed by a talented band, including two outstanding backup singers, Blood Orange’s performance often toed the line between artistic and inaccessible, but mostly stayed on the right side.
Scottish pop group CHVRCHES brought a dance party to the Honda stage, showcasing their dynamic brand of synth-pop. The setlist leaned heavily on current album Love Is Dead, including opener “Get Out” and “Miracle.” Midway through the set, Martin Doherty climbed out from behind the synthesizers to sing lead on “Under the Tide.” CHVRCHES was at their best, though, with Lauren Mayberry on lead vocals and with music that slowly builded to thumping anthemic choruses — which would account for most of the set, most notably the intense “Gun” and “Bury It.”
Metal legends Metallica closed out the night with a strong dose of pulverizing riffs and rapid-fire rhythms. Beginning with two newer songs, “Hardwired” and “Atlas Rise,” it initially seemed like Metallica was going to focus on recent material. That was put to rest one song later, though, as the band tore through “Seek and Destroy” from their 1983 debut Kill ‘Em All, a frenzied performance that produced the first mosh pits of the weekend. Though Metallica is 37 years into their career, they showed no signs of age. James Hetfield showed he is still one of rock’s best rhythm guitarists, shredding through speed metal riffs on “Creeping Death” and iconic riffs like “Sad But True.” Meanwhile, Kirk Hammett showed he is one of rock’s greatest living lead guitarists, flying through blistering solos in virtually every song in the set.
After a powerful set that featured new songs and crowd favorites, Metallica ended the regular set with “One” and “Master of Puppets,” two of their most dynamic songs, featuring multiple tempo shifts, loud-soft dynamics, and fretboard mastery. The former also featured one of rock’s greatest guitar solos, with Hammett’s soaring lead licks matching Hetfield and drummer Lars Ulrich’s jackhammer rhythms. For the encore, Metallica stuck to three old fan favorites, beginning with the speed metal song “Battery.” They then followed that with the only soft song of the performance, a moving rendition of the ballad “Nothing Else Matters.” For the finale, the band blasted through an aggressive take on “Enter Sandman,” with Hetfield and Hammett’s iconic riffs whipping the crowd into frenzied moshing and headbanging.
All photos by Maggie Boyd.