With legendary rockers Keith Richards and Paul McCartney in their seventies and Eric Clapton not far behind, “ageless” is quickly becoming the most overused word in the world of music. But long after Macca, Slowhand and the Glimmer Twin have hung up their fretboards, Jimmy Cliff will be jumping and twirling like a music man possessed.
“Green” advocates would do well to use the lifelong herbalist’s Honda Stage rendition of “The Harder They Come” as a campaign video extolling the virtues of a little left-handed tobacco now and then…and then…and then. The 66-year-old reggae legend has been preaching “You Can Get It If You Really Want” since 1970 and his Friday sermon was every bit as relevant as it was almost five decades ago – not to mention the classic “Many Rivers To Cross” and his “ageless” cover of Cat Stevens’ “Wild World.”
There were probably a few curious festival-goers that showed up at the BMI Stage just to see if Catfish and the Bottlemen frontman Van McCann looked even remotely like a whiskered bottom feeder. But with an explosive set of tunes from their recently released full-length debut The Balcony – exceptional cuts “Kathleen” and “Cocoon” among them – the skyrocketing newcomers proved to the ACL fans that there’s nothing curious about their music.
As evidenced by the band’s blistering set, McCann and his musical charges – Bondy Bond (guitar), Benji Blakeway (bass) and Bob Hall (drums) – weren’t the least bit intimidated by the Zilker Park crowd. In fact, given McCann’s recent comments that, “No one knows us and that really excites me,” in a press release announcing their current tour, he and his bandmates no doubt considered their relative anonymity as nothing more than a meddlesome detail.
The Lone Star State capital’s unofficial “mission statement” as of late has been to “keep Austin weird.” And while St. Vincent’s baroque pop set didn’t necessarily evoke the spirits of Björk, her memorably quirky stage show was a welcome step in that direction. At some point during the Retail Me Not Stage excitement of two crowd pleasing tunes – “Rattlesnake” and “Digital Witness” – from her recent self-titled album, the blue-coiffed singer-songwriter even took the time to “help” out one of the photographers by “borrowing” an enormous camera set-up to play “I spy” with the delirious crowd. A little “lens envy” perhaps?
Only an exceptional talent can make thousands of people happy by giving them a serious case of the blues – someone along the lines of whisky-voiced crooner Paolo Nutini. Drawing mostly from his outstanding new studio effort, Caustic Love, the Scottish singer-songwriter managed to string together a pretty good song or two on the Honda Stage – and Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel work was a fair to middlin’ oil painting.
While the soulful singer is already a legend in his native U.K. – Caustic Love debuted at No. 1 on the U.K. Albums Chart upon its April 2014 release – for some mystical reason Nutini isn’t quite a household name in the U.S. yet – at least outside of Austin’s city limits. Because fans that witnessed his mind-numbing performances of “Scream (Funk My Life Up),” “Iron Sky” and “Pencil Full of Lead” will be invoking Nutini’s name as one of the highlights of ACL 2014 for years.
After thrilling fans earlier this year with the release of his first album in six years, Morning Phase, and an excruciatingly long-anticipated tour, Beck Hansen could have probably earned rave reviews by playing electrified nursery rhymes for the Samsung Stage crowd. But the alt-rocker and his bandmates opted for a brilliant guitar-heavy set of tunes from among his 12 studio albums nonetheless, throwing in a pair of crowd-pleasing snippets of Donna Summer (“Think I’m in Love/I Feel Love”) and Michael Jackson (“Sissyneck/Billie Jean”) for good measure.
Though he is the axeman – and they are the axemen – the set’s most memorable tunes were two stripped down gems, the acoustically hypnotic “Blue Moon” (the surprisingly lone tune from Morning Phase) and “One Foot in the Grave” (Stereopathetic Soulmanure) featuring Beck, his affecting blues harmonica and nothing more. And truth be told, after the first full compelling day of music with 37 remarkable acts on seven stages, we would have expected nothing less than closing the house down with the exceptional musician. On to Day 2.