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ACL Fest: Meet the Middle Kids you can’t help but love

Eric Pulsifer

Middle Kids’ singer and guitarist Hannah Joy’s outfit—black leather combat boots and a bright turquoise skirt (featuring a subtle beer can print)—pretty well encapsulated the band’s sound: a little bit of country sweetness to spike a tall glass of alt-rock edge. The Australian rockers have only an EP to their name, but, if their Sunday afternoon ACL Fest 2017 set is any indication, we’ll be hearing more from them soon.

Joy’s versatile voice has the honey smoothness of Neko Case, with sweet and undulating pitch shifts that border on yodeling (in avery good way), especially notable on heavy-hooking single “Edge of Town.” At other times, like on slower songs, it slides into a smoky, fragile Fiona Apple vibrato (see: Joy’s solo take on “Doing It Right”) and then shifts back up to a feisty, breathy Karen O hushed falsetto on uptempo numbers.

The band has the energy of a classic Fender-fronted rock act, like fellow Aussie Courtney Barnett, but with folksy vocals and glimmering guitars that play with the shiny, sun-soaked warble of pedal steel.

Joy and her husband, Tim Fitz, who plays bass, have an undeniable chemistry and their playful back-and-forth banter kept the mood light though the sun was oh-so bright. “We’re musicians, not athletes,” Joy warned before Fitz attempted (and sort of succeeded) to slide all the way across the stage.

Things shifted down with an unexpectedly poignant, slow-burning cover of Blink 182’s “All The Small Things.” What could have felt like a low-hanging-fruit nostalgia play felt wonderful and raw in Joy and the band’s capable hands—more hauntingly Emmylou Harris than the usual by-the-numbers pop slowed down to be repurposed for a movie trailer. “Even though there are heaps of things going on in the world, it’s important to remember the little things that are precious,” Joy said introducing the song.

Middle Kids were a hit with the baking early afternoon crowd, even on a new, yet-to-be-released song called “Mistakes,” which drew the crowd into unprompted clapping.

Middle Kids play Antone’s Thursday, Oct. 12, and return for Weekend Two of ACL Fest.