As Blood Orange opened his 5:30 p.m. Austin City Limits Music Festival set on Saturday, “Family” played over the speakers. It's one of the poignant spoken word pieces from writer, director and activist Janet Mock and is featured on his new album “Negro Swan.”
As visuals of street scenes cut with performance clips flashed behind him, the artist also known as Devonte Hynes segued into a slowed down version of the quiet love song “Saint.” The new album is an intensely personal exploration of otherness, and the intention was likely to rally the misfits in the crowd to embrace their friend tribes, but easing into the set in that way might not have been the best way to engage a Saturday crowd at happy hour.
His vibe splits the difference between Prince and Solange, and the crowd was more hungry for the former than the latter. One of the biggest responses from a somewhat distracted audience came when he wailed on the guitar on “Nappy Wonder.” Likewise, the slap bass and funky guitar licks of “You’re Not Good Enough,” was a big hit.
Overall, Hynes, a composer and multi-instrumentalist, was most effective when he joined his six-piece ensemble on guitar or sitting at the baby grand piano as he did on “Best To You.”
Vocally, the standout moment came from one of his two backup singers who took us to church on “Holy Will.”
“Negro Swan” is the kind of album you use to unwind, but sunset at ACL Fest is a time to turn up. He took the set out with a spirited rendition of his 2016 track “E.V.P.” and the crowd moved and grooved as day gave way to night.