Saturday at Austin City Limits began with an unexpected treat as, after a late start, we caught Chilean pop star Mon Laferte. Backed by a large, horn driven band her music was perfect Spanish pop, the kind you can enjoy without speaking the language as long as you know the words “Amor” and “Danza” and like to dance.
Next up, we watched from a distance as the Wombats offered up some straight-up nineties power-pop on the American Express stage. In front of a fairly large crowd given the scorching 94 in October temperatures, the band powered through a too-short set that included such tracks like “Let’s Dance to Joy Division,” “Lemon to a Knife Fight” and “Tokyo (Vampires and Wolves).”
From there, it was off to see The Breeders in front of a large and very young crowd, most of whom were there three hours beforehand in anticipation of Lil Wayne’s 7 PM set. No matter, they were treated to a raucous set of aggressive noisy pop including “Saints,” “Skinhead #2,” and, of course, “Cannonball,” demonstrating that the Breeders remain a potent force live.
Afterwards, Japanese Breakfast put on my favorite show of the day. Japanese Breakfast is the nom de plume of Philadelphian solo artist Michelle Zauner, who has released two excellent albums. Here backed by a tight, rocking four-piece band, she performed the majority of her catalog of excellent lo-fi pop as almost every song wound up in long, feedback laden distorted jam.
After a brief stop for refreshment, during which we caught a couple songs of St. Louis rapper Smino’s excellent set, it was back to the Honda Stage for Brandi Carlile. Flanked as always by onstage foils the Hanseroth Twins on bass and guitar, Carlile was all over the stage, jumping and dancing and delivering song after song of earnest, heart worn rock…it’s the closest thing to Springsteen currently touring. In between, the crowd, which seemed to be a sea of Beto t-shirts, cheered approvingly at her exhortations to vote. Opening with “The Joke,” “Raise Hell,” and “the Mother” and closing with a cover of “Babe. I’m Gonna Leave You” and the national anthem, Carlile once again showed that she is one of the most assured, consistent acts on the festival scene.
Trampled by Turtles were next up performing on the BMI stage. As one of the smallest stages at the festival, it was predictably overwhelmed as TbT delivered their typical set of hard-driving bluegrass and country.
After TbT, it was back to the massive American Express stage for Disturbed. The multi-platinum hard rockers started the show with a hype video reminiscent of those that precede NBA games. Personally, I’m of the opinion that a great band doesn’t need to give the crowd an instructional video beforehand, but the crowd seemed to enjoy and there were, indeed, 10,000 fists in the air as they began. Making full use of the massive ramps that extended out into the crowd for Metallica, Disturbed were all over the stage, pumping fists, exhorting the crowd, and striking rock-star poses as the plowed through “Are You Ready,” “The Vengeful One” and “Stupify” to begin. Of course, their blistering cover of “Sounds of Silence” made the cut and they closed with a savage version of “Down with the Sickness.”
From there, it was a long, hot trek back to the Honda stage for Chvrches. Backed by a touring drummer, the Glaswegian trio mostly stuck to their most recent record, “Love is Dead.” Lead singer Lauren Mayberry twirled and swayed like an electro-pop Stevie Nicks as the band provided propulsive beats behind her. Chvrches has been steadily growing for years, but this strong set in front of an amazing crowd felt like a true breakthrough into the upper echelons of the festival circuit.
From Chvrches, one had merely to turn around to catch the start of Sylvan Esso. Sylvan Esso consists of husband and wife Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn of Durham, NC. On stage they are a captivating presence as Sanborn grimaces and contorts himself over a keyboard and Ableton setup, the band’s sole instrumentation, while the heavily backlit, and usually bedecked in fringes, Meath sways and dances.
Finally, at the end of a long day, and another long trek in the opposite direction, we made it back to watch Metallica from the back of the crowd. Backed by a huge array of video screens and the aforementioned ramps that extended into the sizable crowd, the band was tight and active, particularly bass player Bob Trujillo. Opening with “Hardwired,” “Creeping Death” and “Seek & Destroy,” the band were exactly what one would expect. No real surprises, but “Master of Puppets’ is still a set closer that gets the job done. Encores included “Nothing Else matters” and “Enter Sandman.”