There’s an eight-foot tall statue of Willie Nelson next to the Moody Theater in downtown Austin. This larger-than-life tribute to the “red headed stranger” commemorates his appearance on the 1974 pilot for ‘Austin City Limits’, a television show that would become famous across America. Performances like Tom Waits’ appearance in 1978 became the stuff of legend. The show also helped to gild Austin’s reputation as America’s capital of live music, so it was natural enough that in 2002 the show would spawn its own festival. Held with a repeated line-up over the next two weekends, the bill includes hip-hop heavyweights Outkast and Eminem alongside reformed punk heroes The Replacements. As with all the best festivals, some of the most interesting acts can be found lower down the bill. Here’s my picks:
Austin Ventures stage, 1:00-1:40pm
They released arguably the very best song of 2013 (the sublime ‘Is This How You Feel’) and their debut album ‘Blue Planet Eyes’ has just hit the top of the Australian Album Charts. With effortlessly cool new single ‘Somebody’s Talking’ now in their armoury, Isabella Manfredi and band will be ones to catch early on Friday.
Honda stage, 4:15-5:15pm
Like Preatures, here’s another band who understand that deliberate misspelling can aid your Google ranking. A year on from the release of ‘The Bones Of What You Believe’ the Scottish trio have established themselves as a live force to be reckoned with. While that record showcased what NME’s Barry Nicolson called their “post-rock melancholia”, their shows have a tendency to get more than a little bit ravey.
RetailMeNot stage, 5:15-6:15pm
Responsible for one of the year’s most startling live performances, when she joined the remaining members of Nirvana onstage for a scorch-the-earth version of ‘Lithium’, St Vincent has more than enough live chops to make this show just as memorable. Her self-titled fourth album, released back in February, will no doubt be oft-mentioned come End Of Year List time.
RetailMeNot stage, 3:30-4:30pm
One of the unsung highlights of this year’s Glastonbury, tUnE-yArDs’ Merrill Garbus brings her Technicolor live show to Austin to prove that it’s possible to combine chopped’n’screwed beats with lyrics that speak truth to power. On ‘Water Fountain’, from this year’s excellent record ‘Nikki Nack’, she raps about the “blood-soaked dollar” that “still works in the store” as she talked about inequality and the travails of Haiti.
Austin Ventures stage, 3:30-4:30pm
Unfortunately scheduled against tUnE-yArDs, but worth making a bee-line to catch if you can. With two remarkable albums under their belt in the last three years, 2012’s ‘Give You The Ghost’ and 2013’s ‘Shulamith’, Poliça combine delicate synthpop with frontwoman Channy Leanagh’s unabashed political reading of sexual politics to breathtaking effect.
Miller Lite stage, 5:30-6:30pm
The exuberant Swedish pop duo’s record ‘This Is…’ may have been a minor disappointment – dismissed by NME’s David Renshaw as partly “formulaic trash” – but their live show is as ecstatic as they come. And – who are we kidding? – the moment when ‘I Love It’ kicks off is going to be one of the biggest of the festival.
Lana Del Rey
Samsung Galaxy stage, 6:30-7:30pm
Lana Del Rey has always been an artist who splits audiences, and her performance at Glastonbury earlier this year was a case in point. Many critics simply didn’t get it, while in the other corner NME’s Lucy Jones described it as “the most dramatic, on-edge set of the weekend.” The only sensible reaction is to check Lana out for yourself – one thing’s for sure, you won’t be short of things to talk about.
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Honda stage, 12:15-1:00pm
Karen Marie Ørsted, better known as Mø, may write flawless Scandivanian electro-pop but she’s also built her reputation through near constant touring, playing festivals across Europe including the Great Escape. That means she’s got the bolshy live presence which, combined with her expertly crafted songs, will undoubtedly make her an early highlight on Sunday afternoon.
Austin Ventures stage, 5:00-6:00pm
Lewis’ recent show at Islington Assembly Hall spurred NME’s Eve Barlow to correctly point out that the former Rilo Kiley singer has grown into “an influential singer-songwriter with a canon of intricate yet simple, self-critical anthems that should be the envy of any back catalogue.” Her recent video for ‘Just One Of The Guys’, starring the likes of Anne Hathaway and Kristen Stewart, caught her some deserved attention – and her performance on Sunday should gild her reputation further.
RetailMeNot stage, 7:00-8:00pm (Weekend 2 only)
Sadly the New Zealander can only make it for the second of ACL’s two weekends, but anybody in town on October 12th would be a fool to miss her. There’s a reason she’s the biggest young star in the word, fêted by everyone from Bowie to Nirvana, and new single ‘Yellow Flicker Beat’ is strong evidence that her world-conquering debut ‘Pure Heroine’ was no one-off. She’s not an easy artist to categorise – but then the Lorde always did move in mysterious ways.