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More cowbell: Eagles of Death Metal’s sexy, un-PC boogie moves ACL Fest fans

Eric Pulsifer

The weekend two–only ACL Fest act Eagles of Death Metal played short, sweaty songs jammed pack with cowbell, danceable rockabilly, rock-n-roll sleaze and toe-tapping blues, the kind of music perfect for a sunny Friday afternoon at ACL Fest 2017.

Frontman and founder Jesse Hughes — sporting a massive, red mustache, ruby-colored shades, white suspenders and a Voodoo Doughnut T-shirt — is the regular constant in a revolving live line-up that (in the studio and rare live appearances) can include Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme. (Today, it did not.) No matter. The band is far more than an excuse for celebrity gawking and Instagramming.

Eagles of Death Metal are impossible to write about without the oft-cited disclaimer that they “sound neither like the Eagles nor death metal.” What theyreally sound like is closer in line with the early, often politically incorrect raucous tunes of the Rolling Stones, whose unseemly (by today’s standards) lyrical content seems subtle compared to the masculine manifestos of, say, Eagles of Death Metal’s “[Expletive]hoppin” and it’s “[expletive, expletive] I’m a man, I’m a man!” (That may read like a redacted CIA document, but you hopefully still get the gist without the full monty.)

Good and bad, Eagles of Death Metal brought the best of bar-band rock and head-banging boogie, and the crowd at the fest’s new Barton Springs Stage was moving.

The band’s hedonistic rock is the raunchy, rump-shaking stuff of cold tallboys and short jean shorts, but that carefree celebration, unfortunately, collided with sobering reality back in 2015. (The group was performing at the Bataclan in Paris when a terrorist attack broke out that resulted in the death of 90, a heart-breaking bullet point in the band’s bio.) Today, Hughes called out a fan, presumably from the Bataclan, in attendance: a “sister from Paris.” “You’re a survivor. A badass. Never let the bad guys win. We love you, baby,” Hughes said.

Playing as a five-piece, Eagles of Death Metal took to the stage to Pilot’s (whoa, oh-oh it’s) “Magic,” before launching into dynamite debut album number “Only Want You” with it’s two-to-three fake-out endings. What followed was a swaggering set that showcased arguably the biggest and best collection of guitarsand Halloween decorations at the festival. (The band closed with two wacky, waving inflatable waving-arm tube men as backup dancers, a pirate and a skeleton.)  

Between tossing out an inordinate amount of guitar picks to fans (and an entire out-of-tune guitar to a side-stage guitar tech), dancing, working the crowd and striking power poses, Hughes’ playful and unpredictable banter rang out like an evangelical preacher’s, complete with calls of, “Can I get an amen?”

Highlight quotes included, “I can tell you rock ‘n’ roll cannibals are hungry because you’ve been standing in the sun for rock ‘n’ roll all day long.” And: “We are so loaded right now it’s impossible to determine.” And also: “My grandmother said the secret to life is to stay [expletive] and don’t let the bad guys win.”

As the sun began to dwindle and fans showing up early for Solange began scratching their heads about what they were witnessing, Hughes said, “The greatest honor of my life is entertaining you. Even if it kills me, I will not stop rocking and rolling.” I’d tend to believe him. By the Eagles of Death Metal’s set’s end, Hughes was drenched in sweat with a maniacal smile on his face. His unironic dedication to rock may make you laugh (or take offense), but it definitely made ACL Fest fans move their feet.