It’s a style of heady rock music, a pretty successful comedy series, and an approximately ’90s-originated expression to mean “just kidding,” usually in a somewhat mean-spirited way. It was also the operative word that defined Day 1 of Austin City Limits weekend 1 on Friday. That word:
That’s because after more than a week of rain hype surrounding ACL, with a waterlogged weekend appearing certain … Day 1 featured, for all practical purposes, no rain. None. That is, unless you count the impressive blast in the earliest hours of Friday morning, which put Zilker Park (apparently) in bad enough shape that early sets were cancelled or rescheduled and (allegedly) gates weren’t open until 3 pm — although word has it some people got in before that. You wouldn’t know it from the east entrance of Zilker at about 3:30, where the lines were convergent and immovable, ACL staffers unsuccessfully shouted commands to cajole efficiency, and plenty of fans missed or shortened their dates with late-afternoon acts like Machine Gun Kelly, Skip Marley and Backseat Lovers.
Once you got through — for me, it was 4:36 pm — it was atmospherically a typical ACL day. It was hot in line, and it was hot in the park. Prior to entering, I did foolish things such as buy an umbrella, put on jeans, and wear boots that have seen no action since a certain infamous February. I won’t make these mistakes again, and I don’t care if Saturday or Sunday brings a monsoon.
But, despite being worn out by the wait, I did finally see Black Pumas perform a full set for the first time. And that would’ve made Day 1 a success on its own.
There’s truly something special about seeing a homegrown, in-their-prime act occupy a prominent evening slot at ACL, and that appreciation was a two-way street for Eric Burton, Adrian Quesada and their talented backing musicians (including backup singers Lauren Cervantes and Angela Miller, the best-supporting-actress stars of Day 1 for the seasoning and soulful zing they added to the Pumas’ numbers).
Burton, famously a former busker, repeatedly noted how monumental it was for the band to come home and play ACL. Part of his appeal — aside from his limber, made-for-the-turntable voice — is that he wraps the competing auras of “rock star” and “regular guy” together into one package, and does so as well as any frontman around right now. He’s a supremely talented vocalist and strong showman who still manages to seem of this Earth, and happens to be a grownass, Grammy-nominated rock star sporting braces on his teeth. Can’t not love that, really.
Quesada showed why he’s a veteran local fixture, contributed stinging, kickass guitar solos on the likes of “Stay Gold.” And the crowd engagement on big-time hit “Colors,” the Pumas’ next-to-last number, produced perhaps the loudest ACL reaction I’ve heard. “Colors” is made for that, of course, being a feel-good singalong that’s already making its way into, oh, about every third commercial you’re seeing. As an anthem, it’s crowd-pleasing but deserving; I suppose I say that because I have faith that it will never seem as irreparably basic as “Don’t Stop Believing” or “Sweet Caroline.” Same goes for the Pumas, whose performance Friday was the latest ebb in an extremely impressive wave.
Miley holds court
This just in: Miley Cyrus means a lot to a lot to people. I suppose I sort of knew that, but after having multiple millennials tell me on Friday how they’d grown up with her since her Hannah days, and Miley herself reference growing up with portions of the crowd during her headlining set, that fact was reinforced.
It was also reinforced, of course, watching Cyrus and band stomp through just about all of her hits for about 80 minutes and drive thousands of people (yes, mostly women under 30) crazy. Even for someone (ahem) with minimal interest in her music, Cyrus today is an undeniably full-fledged pop queen, a gifted vocalist and a seasoned court-holder. And has she ever synthesized the sound and aura of so many pop stars who came before her, her sound on Friday invoking seemingly all of them at various times: her enjoyable cover of “Heart of Glass,” the unmistakable Stevie Nicks influence that permeates her own “Midnight Sky.”
Only a couple of glaring drawbacks to her set: First, there were a couple of asides that could have been shorter, including a metaphor about moths and their/our place in the ecosystem and world that … had a point, but not enough of one to take up as much of an involved explanation as it did. Second, for closer “Party in the USA,” Miley actually sang a comfortable minority of the song, leaving the heavy lifting to her fans and backing singers. That’s always a major annoyance — fans don’t pay to karaoke. But, to say I wasn’t impressed with the overall package of Miley’s performance — singing, presence, provocative visuals — would be a lie.