Festival Scouting Report: Austin City Limits

Your complementary guide to the best performances at Austin City Limits 2017.

ACL Zilker Park Enterance
Source: Mason Cheng

It`s hard to decide who you would want to see live, especially at music festivals. Luckily, TPM sent me to the weekend two of Austin City Limits this year, in order to guide you through those decisions. Here is my day-by-day scouting report.

Day One

Ron Gallo at ACL 2017
Source: Mason Cheng
Ron Gallo: 

This is my surprise sleeper pick for the festival. Before the festival, I’ve never heard of Ron Gallo, and I definitely regret that now. When I arrived at the festival, I had an open schedule until Eagles of Death Metal played at 5:15; so I decided to just walk around. I was at the HomeAway stage when I heard the loud screeching of a fuzzed out guitar coming from the American Express Stage. I made my way over to check it out, and he did not disappoint. His feedback-laden, guitar driven, psychedelic sound exploded across the festival grounds. Don’t make the same mistake that some festival goers made and go see Ron Gallo asap.

Jesse Hughes at ACL 2017
Source: Mason Cheng
Eagles of Death Metal:

Of all the day one-acts, this was my most anticipated coming into the festival; and whatever expectations I had coming in, they surpassed. The band is defined by their aggressively old-school rock & roll sound, which they matched equally with their rock & roll attitude. If you are a fan of that old-school rock sound with a front-man who would throw his guitar out of frustration, then this is a can’t miss band for you.

Foster The People at ACL 2017
Source: Mason Cheng
Foster the People: 

I didn’t expect them to be as amazing as they were. I am not a huge fan of their music, but I was very impressed with their live performance. I walked my way to their set at the American Express stage in order to get a good spot for Jay Z later that night, but I regret not being there sooner. Their sound sounded much bigger, more energetic, and much less bland live than on the record. If you don’t like Foster the People for their characteristically mainstream indie-pop sound, I would still recommend that you give them a chance live.

Jay Z at ACL 2017
Source: Mason Cheng
Jay Z: 

There is not much else to say about how other than he is nothing short of amazing live. If you have the opportunity to see him live, go for it.

Day Two

Source: Mason Cheng
Xavier Omar: 

People that don’t show up early to festivals end up missing some of the best acts. This is one such example. Being one of the first acts of day 2, Xavier Omar didn’t exactly draw the biggest crowds, but his performance sure felt like he did. He may not have the following as the biggest R&B acts do, but he has the chops to compete with the best of them. If you like R&B, I would highly recommend you check him out live, especially at a venue that can accommodate his band.

Striking Matches at ACL 2017
Source: Mason Cheng
Striking Matches: 

In the last 20 years, there has been a drastic increase in two-piece blues bands that follow the White Stripes model of drummer and guitarist. Other than a few standouts like The Black Keys and Black Pistol Fire, most of those bands sound relatively the same. Luckily Striking Matches divert from the cliche by having two guitarists. Whats surprising about them is that, despite not having a drummer, they have a very tight, loud sound and display great chemistry. Imagine a less pop and more blues influenced Larkin Poe. If you are looking for a great blues show, be sure to check them out.

Benjamin Booker at ACL 2017
Source: Mason Cheng
Benjamin Booker: 

I still vividly remember the first time I saw Benjamin Booker. It was Free Press Summer Fest in 2015. He played on the smallest stage of the festival, right in front of the medical tent to the side of one of the biggest stages. Unfortunately for the act playing on the bigger stage, most of the gathered crowd was there not to see them, but Benjamin Booker. It was definitely one of the most memorable shows I’ve been to, and 2 years later, I can confirm he still has it. His backing band may be different, his newer songs may have a more mellow feel, and he may play on bigger stages, but he still knows how to throw on a live performance. If you like more soul/gospel-influenced blues/garage rock, don’t pass on the opportunity to see him next time he’s in town.

Chance The Rapper, onstage in Los Angeles on August 31, 2014.
Source: Christopher Polk/Getty Images for Anheuser-Busch
Red Hot Chili Peppers T In The Park 2016
Source: Getty Images
Chance the Rapper and Red Hot Chili Peppers: 

Sometimes I hate it when festivals put both headliners I really want to see at the same time. Luckily for me, I’ve recently seen Red Hot Chili Peppers live, so I decided to see Chance. I would highly recommend catching both these acts if given the opportunity. Chance mostly played songs off of Coloring Book, but his live show is still incredible. He still tours with The Social Experiment as his live band, which contributes to his unbelievable live sound. The Red Hot Chili Peppers, on the other hand, still can’t be ignored. Previously, some fans have criticized Josh Klinghoffer for not seeming fully comfortable in the band; but those criticisms no longer apply. Their chemistry is as tight as before, and it feels as if Josh was part of the band from the beginning.

Day Three

Pell at ACL 2017
Source: Mason Cheng
Pell: 

I first discovered Pell when he first appeared on Kinda Neat on Youtube back in 2014. He had a very soulful singing style that can easily transition into a smooth rap flow, much like Chance the Rapper. They both also perform with a live band and a crowd-rousing energy most rappers lack, but that is where the similarities end. Being from New Orleans, Pell has much more jazz influence in his style than Chance does; his singing is less raspy, and he has much less gospel influence in his music. If you like jazzy hip-hop, don’t miss out on an opportunity to check him out live.

Middle Kids at ACL 2017
Source: Mason Cheng
Middle Kids:

Going into Austin City Limits, this was one of the bands I was most excited to finally see; and they met all expectations. This indie-pop rock band from Australia seemed to appear out of nowhere earlier this year and take the indie-rock scene by storm. While most indie bands have issues outside of small venues due to their issues of projecting their energy through bigger crowds due to their songs; Middle Kids don’t have that problem. Unfortunately, they ended their most recent tour to go back to the studio, but keep an eye out for them in 2018. You won’t be disappointed.

Danny Brown with Run The Jewels at ACL 2017
Source: Mason Cheng
Danny Brown: 

If there is a single word I can use to describe Danny Brown’s performance it would be: Hype. Even near the back of the crowd, I could feel the energy from his performance. His in-your-face style was reflected in the energy of the crowd, which resulted in multiple mosh pits breaking out. If you’re a fan of Danny Brown’s brand of aggressive alternative hip-hop, go check him out. If you prefer more laid back music, you should probably avoid this show.

Run The Jewels at ACL 2017
Source: Mason Cheng
Run The Jewels: 

This was my most anticipated act at Austin City Limits this year. I waited at the stage for 2 hours before the show was scheduled to start, and it was definitely worth the wait. They pulled out all the stops for this show, including bringing Danny Brown back on stage for his verse in “Hey Kids”. Their energy was insurmountable. This might not be the best show I’ll ever see in my life, but Killer Mike and El-P are hard to beat.

Portual the Man at ACL 2017
Source: Mason Cheng
Portugal. The Man: 

I’ve had 3 previous opportunities to see Portugal. The Man and I’ve somehow managed to miss all 3. Luckily, due to the good people at HomeAway, not only did I get to finally see them, but I got a backstage view of their performance. Having seen most of their live performances on Youtube, I’ve always thought that they were better live than on record. This performance confirmed that for me. In the studio, Portugal. The Man has a very refined and tame sound. They fully unleash their sound live. The feedback from their guitars was left unchecked, the drums were heavy, and the keys soared over the mix. This band should be a must-see for all indie-rock fans.

Mason Cheng

Music Intern

I like music. Sometimes I write about it.