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Imelda May is the patron saint of sin at ACL Fest

Eric Webb

In a low tone through crimson lips, Imelda May speaks of a place of sin back in Ireland. A woman under the Zilker stage tent lets out a hallelujah. Imelda May turns with a smile.

“This is like church gone wrong!”

How could an Imelda May show be anything but? The Irish rockabilly revivalist was introduced Sunday afternoon at ACL Fest by a small, derby-wearing older gentleman who rhymed of Jerry Lee, Muddy Waters and the Jackson 5, who compared Elvis Presley to God Himself in a turn of verse. Yes, this would be place where lip snarls were hallowed and pelvic gyration was sacred.

“It was a sinful place!” May continued. “There were … women! There was drinking! There was gambling!” A pause, and a mutter. “And there was a little bit of Satanic worship.”

The motto of this mysterious den of sin pours out of Imelda May in Gaelic. Translated: “Do whatever you want.” This place, she says, was called the Hellfire Club.

A true femme fatale, the singer and her band held court over a packed audience on the festival’s smallest stage. The tent setting nudged the sacred sin metaphor further, in the direction of old time revivals and faith healings. Or the opposite of an exorcism, perhaps.

Imelda May strutted to the stage in a dress fit for Beetlejuice, cinched with a blood red belt to match her blood red lips. A trademark shock of creamy blonde swooped and tucked at the mast of her well-sculpted dark hair, trailed by glinting silver hoops in her ears.

As the trumpet player coaxed sneers and whines out his instrument with a mute, the upright bass man plunked out a soundtrack for tales of ill repute. Imelda May curled her hands in sorcerous ecstasy to the brassy tones.

As she slid into one of her first songs, the singer looked at the trumpet under eaves of narrowed mascara, her lips rounded into a rose. She released them in a flash of ivory as the trumpet whined a pained whine. Hips to the side. Hips to the other side. The final note.

Imelda May mentions this second weekend ACL set is her last gig in the States for a while.

“So please, feel free to go wild.”