ACL Day 2 Recap: Gaslight Anthem, Local Natives, Kinky, Muse

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Photos by Marco Torres

For more images from ACL Saturday, see our slideshow here.

Complaining about crowds at an event like ACL is like complaining about the smell of livestock at the Houston Rodeo, but it does take some getting used to. And for the folks who think that Saturday was too hot - keep in mind that past years have featured the mad stew of doo-doo mud (2009) and dust-bowl days of yore (2005). In short, we'll take it.

Still, it's the music that matters, and though your faithful critic did not get a smashing early start (we were passing out of Houston's city limits at 10:12 a.m. Saturday, having missed Friday's openers), the warm afternoon made for a swell embrace. Agreed are we with Craig Hlavaty that Gaslight Anthem front man Brian Fallon owes plenty to Sinatra - and it's not just because of the dope porkpie he was sporting on Saturday.

"American Slang," the title track off their new album, is a great, catchy single, and we were happy to hear the boys' earnest rage ring out. TGA really belong in a sweaty basement bar, but they had no problem making stadium-worthy noise on "Bring It On" and "Backseat."

The Local Natives, who played the House of Blues in H-Town on Thursday, elevated their live game on the Austin Ventures stage, where we caught a bit of the charming Detroit soul man Mayer Hawthorne as well. As with their recent Houston shows, the Natives continue to draw exclusively from their debut Gorilla Manor, but unwound a bit with throbbing drums and echoing harmonies on "Shapeshifter" and "Airplanes." The sound mix benefited the band on the ecstatic "Sun Hands." If they can deliver a follow-up to the current stable of singles, Local Natives should get a lot better-known.

A familiar fest quirk, the Guess-That-Cover game, was in full effect on Day 2 as well. The Natives hid behind their outstanding "Warning Sign," a Talking Heads number that allegedly was not even intended to be released on Gorilla Manor, but which is one of the keystones of the album.

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Mayer Hawthorne tipped his hand to the influence of distinctly blue-eyed soul with his un-self-conscious version of the Doobie Brothers' "What A Fool Believes." The accordion-driven Mexican funk outfit Kinky - playing in the virtual shadow of The xx across the way - ran through Wall of Voodoo's seminal "Mexican Radio," tongue firmly in cheek. By the time Muse broke out "House of the Rising Sun" late in their headlining set Saturday night, the clever-cover trope almost seemed used up.

Those who could not tear themselves away from Muse - touted by Gaslight singer Fallon, among others - missed a searing display from M.I.A. at the other end of Zilker Park, which was cooling off while the music heated up. The Sri Lankan-born, London-raised banger came on stage in thigh-high stockings and proceeded to rip the roof off the mothersucker.

With graphic, bold projections and blood-spattered animations, MIA's performance included by a team of covered female dancers and at least one dude (out of four) who seemed intent on getting nasty with the monitor. Her mix included simulated gunshots, tiger growls, new songs and popular tracks off Kala such as "Bamboo Banga" and "Boys."

We will leave it to others to debate the single-day strength of Saturday, which may have been one of the strongest front-to-back lineups ACL has ever seen. But we will vouch for those who say they cannot remember nicer weather.

It looks like a sunny Sunday, too.

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