The tent was just a formality, in the end. There’s always an act or two at ACL Fest that grows out of its stage or time slot between booking and the big show. This year, outrageous New York duo Sofi Tukker — Sophie Hawley-Weld and Tucker Halpern, and now you get it — unleashed magic madness and jungle vines on the Tito’s Handmade Vodka tent stage.
Impossibly tall Halpern at the control panel in an asymmetrical, neon orange shirt, Nintendo leggings and checkerboard basketball shorts, his hip thrusting like his pelvis was one good strike away from hitting Texas tea. Guitar-wielding Hawley-Weld in a flowly white robe, tank top and the kind of pants Meryl Streep would proudly rock in a Nancy Meyers movie, a benevolent spirit gliding around the stage like the Mary Poppins of Ibiza. Basically, they're Sylvan Esso on a sugar rush.
I mean, they opened with a song called "Energia." Sofi Tukker knows the score.
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A lot of times, EDM bookings feel impenetrable to critical thought. An ACL Fest dance set serves its purpose if you're on the ground, just out for a good time. Not everything can be a multi-hour retrospective from a Beatle. If you're paying this much money, you need to get loose. But what to make of it?
Sofi Tukker, though, has swung Tarzan-like into a sweet spot of pop sensibility and maximum sweat gland activity. There's the commercial-perfect "Best Friend," if you need a good example. There was also "(Expletive) They," an anti-hater anthem which Halpern and Hawley-Weld performed live like a "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" for the 2010s.
The pair's teamwork ticked like a Timex, prone to synchronized jumps, synchronized "Can you believe this?" glances and synchronized drum stick throws. Halpern roars low-and-rumbly spoken-word chants into the mic, and Hawley-Weld floats above the bass in a crystalline lilt, and then they toss the whole thing in a tropical fruit salad of slinky guitar, thudding dance floor beats and a winking sense of humor.
PHOTOS: Day 2 of ACL Fest 2018
You can tell the pair is generous to each other, and each half of the band got their showpiece moment. Hawley-Weld put the vocals first on "Benadryl," leaving you hungry for a ballad out of the disco ball's shine. Halpern, hamming it up enough to earn a spot on an Easter dinner table, took lessons at the Right Said Fred School of Sexy for "Bat****," his butt out, eyes lowered and drone monotone.
Putting an act like Sofi Tukker on the ACL tent stage is kind of like throwing a Roman candle out on a dance floor and thinking it'll stay in one place. Too much power to be contained. And that's what it felt like to watch Sofi Tukker live on Saturday: fireworks in the city limits. Bright, flashy, perhaps technically illegal.