Two weeks after going up against Austin’s own Shakey Graves in the Emerging Artist category at Nashville’s Americana Music Awards and coming out on the short end of the stick, Indiana band Houndmouth somehow got placed in the exact same time slot as him on Saturday at ACL Fest, and on an adjacent stage even.
But no need for rivalry. If the hometown crowd showed up big at the Miller Lite Stage, plenty of Houndmouth faithful also turned out at the Austin Ventures Stage for a set that proved to be one of the festival’s best so far. All four band members — guitarist Matt Myers, keyboardist Katie Toupin, bassist Zak Appleby and drummer Shane Cody — all sing well enough to front a band. They play up this versatility, at times passing the lead vocal from one member to the other in the course of the song, at other times all singing together.
Myers is at the center, and he’s a charistmatic frontman and a energetic instrumentalist. Toupin certainly rivals his presence at stage left, often harmonizing with him and adding rich organ fills to music that sounds deeply steeped in the South despite the band’s Midwestern origins. She stood out on a midset number on which she switched to guitar, prompting Appleby to fill her keyboard spot, with Myers eventually picking up the bass.
Elements of folk, rock, country and soul all get mixed into Houndmouth’s sound, but they come out sounding like a great pop band, plain and simple, if one that draws more from roots than indie or urban realms. A key connector was their closing cover of the ’50s rock ‘n’ roll chestnut “Runaround Sue,” which might have been ill-advised in most bands’ hands as an overly retro choice. But Houndmouth brought the song back to life and kicked it into overdrive, to the delight of the sunbaked dancers in the crowd.