Credit: Houston Wiltsey

Sad Boys Enjoying Themselves

There’s something about the festival setting that just brings out the best in musicians. Maybe (probably) it’s the fact that they get a huge paycheck for a shortened set or that a copious amount of free booze is available or that they’re surrounded by their friends and contemporaries. Even some of the most supposedly dour English musicians were buying into the festival vibes over the weekend. 

Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke, dressed entirely in black, arrived on stage with a goofy smirk on his face as he was greeted by a sizable crowd in front of the Miller Lite stage. When he wasn’t hunched over his synthesizer, Yorke thumped along on the bass to “Pink Section” and “Black Swan” and broke out the “Lotus Flower” shuffle that inspired a near-endless string of memes.

James Blake, while not quite the showman Yorke is, also played some of his livelier tunes, drawing heavily from his 2019 release Assume Form. Even without the presence of the collaborators Travis Scott and Rosalía, both “Mile High” and “Barefoot in the Park” kept the crowd rapt as the sun crept below the horizon line. 

Credit: Houston Wiltsey

Even the Cure’s Robert Smith was smiling throughout the band’s headlining set on Saturday. The classic one-two opener of “Plainsong” and “Pictures of You” from their landmark album Disintegration sounded as monolithic as ever, the former with massive washes of synthesizer crashing over the audience, the later featured Smith intertwining with Eden Gallup, the son of original bassist Simon Gallup who was missing due to personal reasons, on bass.

The Reading band ended with a hit-heavy back highlighted by “Just Like Heaven,” “A Forest,” “Friday I’m In Love,” and closing with “Boys Don’t Cry.” Smith capped the set with a “thank you” in his distinctive accent and before ambling off into the night.

Feel Good Hit of the Summer

Credit: Houston Wiltsey

It’s impossible to leave a Tierra Whack show not feeling good. I’ve done the research and it can’t be done. The Philadelphia MC makes one-minute sonic vignettes that touch on everything from murderous fantasies (“Unemployed”) to her insect allergy (“Bugs Life”) sound joyous, uplifting, and just plain fun. 

For her-mid afternoon set on Saturday, Whack ran through everything on her 2018 debut, Whack World, bouncing around the stage with uncontainable energy. It’s infectious. Not only was the crowd losing their minds, but the normally-reserved VIP section was also turning up. 

Throw in her three-piece denim getup — complete with boob flaps hiding bags of Frito-Lay snack packs — and her willingness to get the crowd involved — even going so far as to bring a fan up on stage to sing “Pet Cemetary” — and you’ve got the recipe for small-stage success.

Rock Still Isn’t Dead

When festival lineups are announced throughout the late winter and early spring, there are always writers that pontificate about the death of the rock and how the crowds at these shows are dwindling. As always, this is completely overblown. Rock artists, or the blues-driven ones that most of the writers are talking about, put on some of the weekend’s best sets in front of more-than-sizable crowds.

The Raconteurs, the Jack White “side project” that rose to prominence in the mid-2000s with the hit “Steady As She Goes,” put on blistering, early-eveing set featuring cuts from their new album Help Us Stranger.

Dressed in a Cramps t-shirt and sporting Wolverine-esque sideburns, White was as enthralling as ever. He incited the crowd at every opportunity, barking at everyone to cheer, sneering his way through solo after solo, and jumping off the drum platform like a man possessed. 

Credit: Houston Wiltsey

Alabama Shakes frontwoman Brittany Howard, who released her soulful solo record Jaime last month, brought a slightly different flavor compared to her main musical outlet, fusing soul and R&B with plenty of interesting guitar work. If it wasn’t clear who she was influenced by, Howard broke out a cover of Prince’s “The Breakdown” just to be sure.

While both of the sets had sizable crowds and warm receptions, they couldn’t hold a candle to Guns N’ Roses headlining set on Friday. With the band scheduled to make an appearance at the Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln tomorrow, I’m happy to report that the show is fantastic. 

Yes, Axl is a bit of a parody of himself, still rocking ripped jeans, leather jackets (my god, there were a lot of leather jackets), and tying flannels around his waist, but he sounds about 85 percent as good as he does on Appetite for Destruction, which is good because that’s the record the band draws from the most. In fact, the band played seven songs from their world-conquering debut album. 

Credit: Katrina Barber/C3 for Austin City Limits

The show kicked off with “It’s So Easy” leading into a slinky version of “Mr. Brownstone.” Just one song later, Slash cooly delivered the opening notes to “Welcome to the Jungle.” 

From there, the band ran through a chunk of Use Your Illusion cuts before busting out Wings “Live and Let Die” and Velvet Revolver’s “Slither.”

Axl, Izzy, and Slash, while not buddy-buddy, appear to be genuinely enjoying themselves running through their litany of hits, especially when it’s crowd-pleasers like “Sweet Child O’ Mine.”

To top off the evening, the band returned to play an instrumental version of the Doobie Brothers’ “Melissa” before Rose sat down at the piano to play “November Rain” — as close to touching as the band gets. 

Naturally, they turned the amps back up and ripped through a nasty version of “Paradise City” to cap off the evening. 

If rock was dead, it sure as hell didn’t seem like it by the end of the set.

Credit: Katrina Barber/C3 for Austin City Limits

Best Sendoff

If this really was it for Childish Gambino — Donald Glover’s soul-singing, fast-rapping alter ego — then what a finale it was. After canceling his performance last year due to a broken foot, Glover returned Saturday night to headline the American Express stage.

Even for those that aren’t a fan of the Community and Atlanta star’s music, you have to appreciate the showmanship. He sprinted through the middle of the crowd during “World Star” and danced high above the crowd on a lighted platform. When it came time for him to bust out his history-making “This Is America,” Glover shimmied alongside the school-uniform-clad dancers from his now-iconic video.

Naturally, Glover had to end the set with “Redbone,” which he poured every last drop of energy he had into, again venturing off of the stage to interact with the crowd and roll around in the grass. 

As he crawled back on stage, he looked exhausted, but everyone left smiling and bathing in the warm orangish glow of the lights. 

It may have been the start of fall but it sure felt like summer.

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