This weekend’s Austin City Limits – the second iteration, a week after its first — marked the end of the major festival season. Sure, there’s still Voodoo in New Orleans later this month, and Fun Fun Fun back in Austin in early November, but of the big guns, ACL’s second weekend closed out a busier than usual half-year clogged with marquee acts that included Drake, Foo Fighters, and Florence + the Machine.
Part of what makes ACL consistently special is its well-curated bottoms of the lineups — acts that hit the stage before the sun goes down — that show off a breadth of talent and eccentricities beyond just the basic pomp and circumstance of the two main stages. Lucky for fans who showed up early, a good number of the acts scrawled in smaller print on the festival’s posters and bills stood out as worthy potential headliners come 2020.
When SPIN caught the 24-year-old’s first major live concert almost a year ago, it was obvious that the performer was still growing into her own skin. Doling out strong vocals and a keen understanding of crowd control, Weaver nonetheless paled in comparison to the stage-owning powerhouse she’s since become. Adding a bit of welcome, bouncing choreography to her mid-day set on Saturday, the singer proved why she’s been one of 2015’s most-discussed names. When her voice wavered gently in the final acoustic moments of her The Fool cut “Traveling Song” — a song she wrote after her grandfather died earlier this year — a reverent hush fell over the audience, the kind only a seasoned performer with actual heart can command. Ryn Weaver’s a major pop star in the making — five years from now, she’ll be closing out the entire damn weekend.
Run the Jewels
There’s no shortage of accolades thrown Run the Jewels’ way this year, and the in-demand group (who dashed off to III Points in Miami right after their Austin set) is deserving of each one. Though El-P and Killer Mike have already been touring Run the Jewels 2 for almost a year, each song pops with a fresh sense of vitality like it’s something completely new, and the pair’s stage banter remains unmatched. “Aw, why’s Obama so sad?” El-P said, spotting a cutout of the president’s morose-looking face in the crowd as the sun soaked the afternoon throngs. “‘Cause he’s president!” Mike shouted back before jumping into a Trump-bashing “Lie, Cheat, Steal.” Booked on the Miller Lite stage — a smaller alcove meant for newer acts like Daughter and Sylvan Esso — Run the Jewels noted that attendance numbers meant fans were stuffed into every line of vision possible. Give these two a lengthy 10 p.m. headlining position and watch them crush.
Jillian Harvey is lightning incarnate. Her curls hit the stage before she does by a mile, the strength of her visceral, visual performance with producer Lucas Goodman enhancing every second of Lion Babe’s potency. Emerging late into Disclosure’s set on Saturday night for their collaborative new Caracal single, “Hourglass,” Harvey did high-kicks and vocal runs most 20-somethings only dream of achieving. With a full album on the way in 2016, it’s obvious that the New York City duo mean business, and it’ll pay off with bigger stages and crowds.
“I am Børns, we are Børns, you are Børns,” the young singer — whose debut Dopamine is out this Friday — crooned softly after his first song early on Sunday. Carefully doling out his Candy EP tracks among new offerings — as well as a fan-favorite cover of Elton John’s “Benny and the Jets” — Børns showed off a breezy ease and comfort that both treated his admirers with respect while also welcoming in those who’d simply stumbled upon his set on their way into Zilker Park. He’s already able to stretch out his set to nearly an hour — surely with another album or two under his belt, he’d be a welcome late-night staple, an alternative to the throbbing EDM stages (looking at you, Bassnectar, whose Home Away Stage set bled over every performance during the same time slot) that litter modern-day festivals.
Along with Drake — who headlined ACL one day later — Future is America’s most important rapper working right now. His diction’s consistently mesmerizing, buoyed by a voice so sandpapered and at this point so naturally warbled and warped that he sounds like the closest thing we’ve got to a hip-hop automaton. With Dirty Sprite 2 and What A Time To Be Alive under his belt, Future’s surprisingly early set arrived with a beat-slamming earthquake of devotion. Though Drake brought out J. Cole later that weekend for a mini-set, by far the flashiest, most memorable rapper was — deservedly so — the charismatic, career-high Future.
Shouting out his barber in the crowd, signaling for (and garnering) applause and support, and showing his mother love — Leon Bridges was both consummately professional and totally approachable with his crisp neo-soul. Folks slept on the Fort Worth native’s Coming Home earlier this year, but that makes sense hearing those songs develop new depth in a live setting. What often come off as simple replicas on paper turn into field-filling retro anthems in concert, and Bridges — shuffling and sweating in a neatly ironed dress shirt — couldn’t have been any more jovial of a host to their sounds. With a little palate expansion in the coming years, he’ll be eliciting screams and shouts on far bigger stages.
Yes, Abel Tesfaye actually did headline this year, but what a completely engrossing, “A Star Is Born” kind of performance it was. Running through mixtape cuts, interspersed with Beauty Behind the Madness tracks. “Can’t Feel My Face” came surprisingly early in the set, which was accompanied by tens of thousands of people throwing themselves into the air as the Weeknd shimmied across the stage with a full live band supporting him. Each Beauty song — especially “The Hills,” “Aquainted,” and “Prisoner” — unfurled in wonderfully full fashion thanks to the band, too, giving them a deeper sense of urgency and utility. If the Weeknd keeps things even half as close to the levels of brilliance he delivered to close the festival, he’ll be booked time and time and time again, and we’ll be there for them all.