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Bleachers’ Jack Antonoff leads massive pop army to ACL victory

Eric Webb
ewebb@statesman.com

Unless there was a roadie in the audience, it seems Jack Antonoff gave a fan his guitar at the end of Bleachers’ set. Guess that “We Are Young” money runs deep.

Antonoff, who moonlights as one-third of pop-rockers Fun., did absolutely nothing to lower the stakes at any point of his band’s 3:15 p.m. Miller Lite stage set. His right arm was in a constant upswing, seeming to pull the crowd’s energy higher and higher manually. (Often, the arm would stay aloft with a fist. Fight the power.) He crouched on his knees and cradled the mic stand with his best James Brown aplomb. He dropped F-bombs like they were going out of style. At times, with a two drum kits behind him, he looked like a general leading the troops to war.

And then, after working a tight mob into a adrenaline-fueled frenzy on “I Want to Get Better,” he pointed to someone in the crowd, unplugged his guitar, and passed the instrument into the sea of hands.

Now, anyone who manages to score a pick from another band is going to feel pretty let down.

That kind of gleeful excess applied to Bleachers’ entire set, which brought a massive wall of sound to Zilker Park. (An unexpected sonic phenomenon if you’ve listened to the band’s mega-pop debut, “Strange Desire.”) The subwoofer got a workout, and there was a sense of scope that made the band a surprisingly perfect festival act.

Aside from the cult-like experience that was “I Wanna Get Better,” two highlights stood out in an emotionally heightened set. On “You’re Still a Mystery,” the current pop trend toward sax solos asserted itself to wild crowd delight. On a cover of The Cranberries’ “Dreams,” Antonoff threw the ’90s babies a bone: “I was born in 1984, but the ’90s are the first thing I remember.”

It would be easy to write off Bleachers as pop panderers. But at ACL Fest, they were a crowdpleasing Howitzer tank.