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ACL Fest 2017: Methyl Ethel, a Tamer Impala and one to watch

Eric Pulsifer

Australian four-piece Methyl Ethel played opposite the searing Austin sun Friday just after noon to a sparse crowd of early ACL Fest-faring fans—some camping out rail-side for a guaranteed good view of the evening’s main event, Jay-Z. As a tank-topped and tattooed man twirled and security dumped cold water inside cowboy hats and caps, the band kicked off the ACL festivities for the day at the supersized American Express Stage at the eastern edge of the park.

It was a big spotlight ( Why is the sun so sunny?) for an up-and-coming act, who were here in Austin for South by Southwest 2016. Initial reaction to the band seemed lukewarm ( Is it really only 80 degrees?) as the crowd half-heartedly rocked back and forth and roasted. ( So. Much. Sweat…) But the band quickly found a crowd-winning formula ( Oh, this is actually cool!) in their spiraling, hazy grooves.

The weekend-one exclusive act is a potential Tame Impala in the making, with enough hooks to sell their catchy dream-pop to the masses. (Like their mind-melting brethren, Methyl Ethel have a penchant for toe-tappable, approachable psych and hail from Perth, Australia.) While their sound lacks some of the urgent, gnarly bite of Tame Impala, what Methyl Ethel lacks in punch, they make up for in pop sensibilities. Even if you’d never heard these songs before today, you’d quickly feel like you had.

While tunes edged toward Unknown Mortal Orchestra levels of grooving at times, things never devolved into self-indulgent jam band gibberish, as dreamy and dreary guitars glistened over feedback loops and driving, gripping The Police-caliber drums and bass kept things moving forward.

In a slacker-chic over-sized tee and short pants, frontman Jake Webb stayed just north of whiny with his androgynous upper-register crooning.

After a couple of sadly inaudible saxophone solo pop-ups, the levels panned out for sax-tastic penultimate song, “Drink Wine.” The band closed with the dead-simple drums and the chug of bass over Webb’s sassiest stuttering na-na-na-na-na-na’s on most-recent LP single (and strongest track to date) “Ubu.”