Austin City Music Festival 2018 just ended, and we're already feeling nostalgic. Here, some members of Team Austin360 share highlights from six days of good vibes and great music.
DEBORAH SENGUPTA STITH
Janelle Monae: In a flawlessly executed hourlong spectacle that included expert dance routines, soaring vocals and upward of a half-dozen costume changes, Monae “spoke truth to power in the darkest hour.” Surrounded by her crew, predominantly female and black, she preached a love revolution with such jubilant verve it was easy to get swept up in the magic. She's a powerful visionary who inspired us to believe once more in the American dream, to embrace the idea that black people, white people, brown people, queer people, immigrants, we're all equal. It's “Prime Time” for us to love each other, to help each other rise.
Paul McCartney: True confession: I was kind of indifferent about Sir Paul going into the fest, but about 45 minutes into his Friday night closing set I was converted to a Paul enthusiast. The closing suite, which took us from an epic rendition of “Live and Let Die” with fireworks for days into “Hey Jude,” the greatest singalong in Zilker Park history, was nothing short of glorious.
St. Vincent: I spent the entire weekend railing against encores. If you have an hourlong festival set, pack it with your strongest material and leave the audience satisfied. Don’t waste our time pretending you're not going to play your biggest hit until the crowd cheers loud enough. But on Sunday, after logging the second of two stunning sets, guitar heroine St. Vincent closed with her hit “New York” and the crowd would not let her leave. A group in the front cheered riotously until she returned. “I've been trying to think of a song to play that matches how exuberant and hopeful I feel right now, but my whole catalog is so depressing,” she said, before playing a subdued acoustic take on “Severed Crossed Fingers” that was utterly sublime.
Paul McCartney: ACL Fest 2018 was the story of two events: There was McCartney playing Zilker Park, and there was everything else. The two Friday nights that the Beatles legend took the American Express stage felt more akin to the Rolling Stones’ non-fest one-off in the park in 2006 than it did like anything else happening as part of ACL this year. Was it the last time Austin will see a McCartney show? I hope not. But if so, what a way to go out, with what felt like (as Sir Paul himself put it) “the whole world singing.”
David Byrne: This wasn’t no party, this wasn’t no disco, but it’s hard to describe exactly what Byrne pulled off with his three Austin performances across eight days, except to say that everyone was raving about it. Part dramatic theater, part marching-band performance, leavened with a lot of Talking Heads hits everybody knew and loved, Byrne wowed crowds on both Friday afternoons at the fest and treated a bunch more fans to an even longer official ACL Fest Late Night Show at Bass Concert Hall.
Brandi Carlile: Having taped the “Austin City Limits” TV show earlier this year for the second time, Carlile has hit a career peak with the dynamite shows she’s been playing in support of her 2018 top-five album “By the Way, I Forgive You.” Her Saturday afternoon sets on the big-time Honda Stage drew huge crowds both weekends, but it was her emotional weekend-one reference to “what we’ve done today to the Supreme Court” and her impassioned defense of the rights of all Americans that reverberated well beyond the bounds of the festival grounds.
Janelle Monae: The "Rhythm Nation"-inspired stage show was breathless with its unrelenting choreography and elaborate outfits. Monae likewise brought to life a beloved, meaty catalog. She won the festival not just because David Byrne covered her protest song, but by channeling political turmoil into catharsis for all.
Metallica: It was McCartney's ACL, but Metallica performed the best headlining set. All killer, no filler, the metal giants condensed 35 years of records into the pivotal moments while ignoring the less-beloved and inessential stuff of the late '90s. (They ditched "Fuel" for weekend two, thankfully.) When "One" rolled into "Master of Puppets," the ground shook.
Natalie Prass: On Friday, the New York singer-songwriter played juiced, layered, sorrowful and gorgeously crafted rock very early on the big stage. The McCartney campers loved it, and it set an optimistic, celebratory tone for both weekends.
Shame: The South London punk band tore it up during a midday set on weekend one. The young lads put on an incredible show that looked backward at punk history while also pushing it forward.
Janelle Monae, both weekends, absolutely ruled the fest. She should have been a headliner, period.
David Byrne: Seeing Byrne and his joyful band of weirdos and art freaks collaborating and having fun onstage during weekend two made me cry from happiness. It was an inspiring testament to how art is often at its best when it is communal.
Chvrches: Still the band I’ve seen the most live, the Scottish synth band has evolved past leaning on their light show and transformed into festival furies coursing with ice, fire and glittery anger.
Yungblud: In my day-to-day life, I don’t think I’ll be listening to this British hellraiser much. A little too “middle fingers up, tongue out” for me. But I’ll not soon forget his mind-blowing, wheelchair-using, neon pink powder keg of a weekend two set.
Paul McCartney: I don’t cry much. I wasn’t allowed to listen to the Beatles growing up. But Sir McCartney made me tear up five times. I’m gonna try to let a few things be, on his advice.
Japanese Breakfast: We all have those under-the-radar bands that we hold dear to our hearts, like little secrets we delight in telling others about. It’s been a delight to watch Michelle Zauner explode over the past couple of years, and her weekend one ACL set felt satisfyingly major.
Brockhampton: Any rap crew that gets a Texas crowd to scream “I’m gay” at the top of their lungs is a keeper in my book.
Moses Sumney: Falsetto from another planet that did the soul good.