“I’m a rambler,” Marie Ulven, aka girl in red, repeatedly acknowledged apologetically during her Saturday afternoon set. But the thing was — while rambling, banter, and philosophical musings can often be an onstage drawback (I just got done dinging Miley Cyrus a little for the latter) — it enhanced girl in red’s set. A set which, by the way, would’ve been a high-flying highlight of ACL day 2 based on musical merit alone.
Ulven, the budding indie bedroom-pop star who’s made one of the best albums of the year, let us into her world through her rambling. Dressed in nothing resembling red, but in a brown T-shirt, a Yankees hat and ripped jean shorts, the 22-year-old Norwegian’s jokes and asides were those of that one girl (or guy) at the party who keeps cracking everyone up just by standing there and being her, playing hockey inside her brain. She got personal about missing her current significant other, a girl she met in an Oslo club earlier this year (“We made out like crazy that night, which was really hot”), explained the origin of another song based on a cheating ex; said she felt water in a can was “innately wrong” as she drank some; audibly reveled in the pleasure from scratching her itchy neck with her guitar pick, then remarked that no one would want a pick with her dead skin.
“I love her,” someone standing behind me remarked early in the set after laughing at another of those rambling moments. It was hard to watch her up there and not feel similarly.
And the music … Ulven had a big crowd for a 2:20 pm set, and undoubtedly she won some new fans. Even acknowledging that most non-easy-listening acts are harder and louder in person than on record, the edge and guitar-driven impact generated by Ulven and the five dudes behind her was jarring. Songs like “bad idea!”, already uptempo and just fine on record, benefited from the additional crunch. “We’re gonna do one more song, then I’m gonna go pee,” Ulven said before the closer, “i wanna be your girlfriend.” Yep … girl in red was the girl at the party. In this case, one also fronting the band that’s getting paid for the evening in keg beer.
Dayglow: Right at home
On Friday, Black Pumas had the most triumphant hometown show imaginable. On Saturday, it was Sloan Struble, aka Dayglow, the 22-year-old former University of Texas student turned indie pop star, who enjoyed a large evening crowd in a plum time slot (7:20, in his case). While he didn’t best the Pumas overall, Struble topped their set in one category: Intimacy. There was a greater sense he was playing in front of friends, neighbors and acquaintances — because he was.
After introducing each member of his band early in the set, Struble told his crowd, “And I recognize a lot of you from things I do in town. My name is Sloan.” Not long after that, after guitarist Colin Crawford’s rousing solo during “Woah Man” — a chant of “Col-in! Col!-in!” kicked in from near the middle of the crowd. Crawford displayed some serious chops throughout the set, but the fact the sub-famous guitarist had his own cheering section made this feel like a large house party where 2/3 of the crowd knew the band personally. Between that and Ulven’s music and personality, these two sets took me back to college a little. Which is appropriate, as these are two of the most ascendant college rock/pop artists of the moment.
Top song performances I saw Saturday
1. Billie Eilish, “Happier Than Ever” — I’ll most likely have more to say about Eilish’s headlining set in my final recap of the whole weekend; it was good, not great. “Happier Than Ever,” however, was a spectacular finale — a rock power ballad with Billie’s building, chant-along anger and a guitar-clad Finneas coming down from his distant perch atop the ramped stage to blast away the final moments. The title cut on her excellent new album, it ably displaces “Bad Guy” or anything else you’d care to nominate as a closer.
2. girl in red, “dead girl in the pool.” — About five musical moments of Ulven’s set could’ve reasonably been great picks for this spot, but the jarring imagery of this “older” (2019) GIR offering made it a standout among all her heartbreak and relationship compositions.
3. Dayglow, “False Direction” — Struble exclaimed “Let’s rock” before this one, and though he’s not making his name on hammering beats and guitar beef, him and the band did exactly that. “False Direction” rocked awfully sharply on the back of Brady Knippa’s assertive drumming and a shredding solo by Crawford.
4. Gina Chavez, “La Que Manda” — The local Latin Grammy nominee had energy to spare during her set, not the least of which was expended during this title cut from the album that earned her that nomination. “La Que Manda” (the one in charge) was Latin pop at its most alive, with rumbling bongos providing some of hip-shaking foundation.
5. Billie Eilish, “Oxytocin” — Red laser lights and ’80s analog-y video activity helped make this wailing, electro-propelled standout from Happier Than Ever one of the standouts of Saturday.
6. Charley Crockett, “Welcome to Hard Times” — Crockett, the locally based trad-country star, had the best outfit I saw on the day — a purple Western ensemble earmarked for the Opry. “Welcome to Hard Times” was yet another example of how — contrary to what radio would have you believe — country doesn’t have to be bro-ish, obnoxiously twangy trash.