Haim arrived to their set nearly 10 minutes late, but the sister band immediately made up for lost time by entering with loads of energy as they began by ripping through a rockin' rendition of "If I Could Change Your Mind." The girls' excitement for ACL was palpable, telling festivalgoers multiple times how "fucking excited" they were to be in Austin. Este Haim's famous bass face went particularly wild for the set, which was not lost on the camera people as the 30-year-old stunner earned as much time on the projection screen as her singing sister Danielle.
Nothing made us say "We love our lives" more than listening to the Nashville singer's raspy voice roar through the east side of the field as the Texas sun was setting behind us. Yes, Stapleton had one of the most powerful debut albums in country music to date with 2015's Traveller, but one couldn't help feeling a sense of calm satisfaction watching the 38-year-old belt it out to the super-reactive crowd.
The two young DJs only put out their first collaborative single last month—the exhilarating "Shelter"—but Porter Robinson and Madeon's set made a good case for any type of future they may pursue together. Looking almost as if they were dueling DJs, the producers sat on opposite ends of the stage with their gear as mind-blowing LED projections hovered around them as they blasted out some of the most intense EDM of the fest that had the turned-up crowd spraying bottles of water on each other every time the beat dropped.
The California outfit brought the West Coast vibes for a feel-good set that focused on love for Austin and spreading optimism about the upcoming election. "You can help push the decision forward and make a change in the world," Local Natives' Taylor Rice told the young crowd. The band's frontman kept his cool throughout the whole set...until he dived into the crowd for one of his signature crowdsurfing moments.
At this point Young the Giant are veteran festival players and their set time (7:00pm, just an hour before the headliners started) were credit enough to how seasoned they truly are. Playing cuts from their just-released Home of the Strange album, the band was led by their always-mesmerizing frontman Sameer Gadhia and created a show that felt more soulful than their past ones with Gadhia swaying a bit more in his hips and the band members delivering some simple, in-sync choreography. But when they finished with breakout hit "My Body," it was clear they're still the alt-rockers we know and love them to be with one of the most impassioned performances of ACL.
A large crowd gathered at the Miller Lite stage to hear the British duo's sweet harmonies. What they lacked in an extensive stage setup—it was just the duo at their keyboards—they made up for in a passionate audience that were eager to support the indie-pop outfit.
Kendrick Lamar's festival sets are centered around political imagery and empowering black figures—pictures of of Muhammad Ali, Prince, Michael Jordan, George W. Bush, Ronald Reagan and Bernie Madoff were shown on screen as were clips of police brutality. With the election so close, one wondered whether the rapper would use his platform to speak to the red state's crowd, but he instead let the images do the talking during his tight set. Schoolboy Q dropped in for a surprise cameo to perform the Black Hippy remix of "That Part," which seemed to inspire a lot of sentimental memories from Lamar. "Me and Schoolboy Q came out there a couple times," he told the Austin audience of early Texas shows that included just a few dozen people that were apparently in the crowd as OG fans. "Now it's massive, but I still see those 30-100 people dedicated."
Melanie Martinez took the prize for most intense stage set up so far as the "Pity Party" singer brought the childhood aesthetic of her Cry Baby album to life with a crib, toy blocks, two huge birthday cakes, an armoire, and a giant teddy bear. At one point, a man in a wolf mask appeared and terrorized the young singer, shoving her into the armoire until Mel escaped, pushed the big bad wolf over and doused him milk. Wild, indeed.
By far the most swoon-worthy set of Day 2, the soulful songbird lulled the crowd with soaring high notes and powerful growls that she belted into a handheld, vintage microphone. While the vocals were moving (in particular, her cover of Nina Simone's "Mississippi Goddam"), the Grammy nominee also wowed when she told the crowd "This is a conversation we’re having, let’s talk about learning lessons" and explained how she learned to not depend on outer beauty as she wiped her entire, pin-up girl-esque makeup off in front of the audience.
AlunaGeorge just dropped their sophomore album I Remember on Sept. 16 so there was loads of new, exciting material for the British outfit to premiere. Among the booming house and worldbeats, the band's vocalist/songwriter Aluna Francis led the festivalgoers through new cuts like "Jealous" and "In My Head," while also delivering new verses for singles "I'm in Control" and "Mean What I Mean" in place of where Popcaan and Dreezy would respectively rap.
It would have been impossible to chill at the veteran MC's set that had such powerful bass that it rattled throughout the entire east side of the festival grounds. At times, LL was tough to hear with some microphone issues plaguing the stage (Kendrick Lamar suffered from similar issues when speaking to the crowd), but instead the music did most of the talking as familiar, '90s beats hyped up the audience as did LL's memorable re-interpretation of "Sweet Home Alabama."
With her soulful productions and high-pitched vocals, one would think Nao would have been one of the chiller sets of Day 2. But the tiny London singer brought one of the most dynamic sets of the fest, with her powerful vocals, intense dance moves and hair whips enhanced by her spirited backing band. Even when she said she was going to "slow it down" to perform the cut "Girlfriend," Nao and her band filled the intimate Tito's Handmade Vodka stage with so much sound that it was a huge stretch to say they were doing anything close to "slow."
The Chainsmokersw are on top of the charts with "Closer" right now and the electronic duo were on top of the world at ACL with a massive performance that included surprise guest Desiigner performing "Panda" and the live premiere of their latest single "All We Know" where featured singer Phoebe Ryan came out to sing along.
Sure, M83 brought their pummeling parade of synthesizers and saxophones for their set. But when nighttime fell over Austin's Zilker Park, the sea of blue and purple lights coming from M83's stage was a gorgeous, pacifying sight that made even the rowdiest ACL-er take a moment to recognize its beauty.
The rapper-singer is gaining loads of attention for his smooth musical styles ("Luv" is poised to be a huge hit this fall), but the Ontario native turned it up at Austin City Limits Festival 2016 and essentially used the crowd as a stage. Lanez crowdsurfed and walked on audience members' hands until he wanted to actually be alongside said audience members. "I don't want to go to the stage," he yelled at one point. "I want to stay right here with the family!"
It's unclear whether or not this will be Die Antwoord's last ACL, but they can at least leave knowing they brought one of the craziest sets to Day 1 (and likely for the entire fest). The South African act were styled in ludicrous outfits (Yolandi Visser had her signature mullet, booty shorts and dilated pupils, while the group's DJ God wore a clown-like mask), but the wildest fashion moment came when Die Antwoord's backup dancers (dressed in head-to-toe, American-flag getups that made them look like colorful Ku Klux Klan members) stripped member Ninja down to his boxers that had "Fuk U" written on them.
St. Lucia brought one of the most passionate sets we saw at ACL and there was no denying that Jean-Philip Grobler's falsetto is one of the calming, strongest musical instruments we'll find at the festival. Those high notes still touched you even as Cold War Kids were rocking out across the festival's west field.
Thanks to going Top 40 with his single "Never Be Like You" and his star-studded Skin album, Flume is having his breakout year in 2016 and the Australian producer was sure to showcase all he could during his set. Things looked like they were veering more chill than wild when he opened with slower, ominous beats and trippy images of bodies bouncing around covered his background LED screen. But the music quickly turned into a delightfully spazzy mix featuring cuts like his remix of Lorde's "Tennis Court," the aggressive Vince Staples–featuring "Smoke & Retribution," and his breakout "Never Be Like You" coming right at the midway point where the DJ remixed the tune live, adding loads more wonky synths.
The Colombian band stayed true to the origins of their name (a "bomba estéreo" in Colombian refers to a badass party) with a set that felt half like a cumbia show and half like a punk show. Vocalist Liliana Saumet wailed on the microphone with it all climaxing with the closing number "Fiesta"—the Latin-pop jam already has huge crossover potential with its Major Lazer-like beat, but witnessing the audience's reaction to this in person reignited our belief that this song could become a huge smash for the trio.
2016 marks the 10-year anniversary of Corinne Bailey Rae's breakout hit "Put Your Records On" and while the British singer-songwriter has put out multiple albums and singles after—including the groovy The Heart Speaks in Whispers in May—everyone was particularly jazzed to hear this one. Rae nailed the soulful tune, earning roars from the crowd when they thought she was finished, but she kept the good vibes going with an a cappella sing-along to close out the performance. Impossible not to be smiling during this one.
"Frat party" would probably be the best way to describe Major Lazer's closing set for ACL Day 1. Diplo, Jillionaire and Walshy Fire were the cool guys on the ACL campus as they played a mix of Top 40, the act's dancehall-inspired bangers and classic jock jams. Plus, there were multiple moments where the guys got the crowd to partake in some typical frat-boy nonsense (at one point telling everyone in the crowd to take off their shirts and whip them into the air) and even recruited the University of Texas at Austin's bull mascot, Hook 'Em, to make a cameo on stage.
Watch Hook 'Em's appearance above and read more about Major Lazer's headlining set here.
Mumford & Sons were the perfect headliners to close ACL 2016, in large part thanks to their mix of song choices that ranged from high-energy rock anthems to gorgeous, heart-wrenching ballads making them both wild and chill. Plus, Marcus Mumford's stage presence and the fact that the British band served the fan-favorite hits, but also kept a keen focus on their new material all made for a blend that undoubtedly had all attendees leaving Austin's Zilker Park with smiles on their faces.
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