Rina Sawayama’s Headliner-Worthy Set, The Walkmen’s Professionalism, And More Standouts From ACL Fest 2023

For the first time in months this weekend, the weather in Austin, Texas, wasn’t unbearable. It was downright pleasant. The timing couldn’t have been better: this past Friday to Sunday was the first weekend of the Austin City Limits (ACL) Music Festival. Here are some of the best performances we saw (I intentionally left out the large-font headliners because do you really need me to tell you to see the Foo Fighters or Kendrick Lamar?).

Rina Sawayama

Every year, there’s at least one mid-afternoon artist or band that gives a headliner-worthy performance. This year, that was pop iconoclast Rina Sawayama. There were costume changes, backup dancers, audience participation, and props (anyone who says print media is dead doesn’t subscribe to the Mother Times). There were even funny bits, including one where Sawayama pretended to read instant reactions to her set on a phone. She’s a theater kid with punk energy (and a scene-stealing role in John Wick: Chapter 4).

“Hold the Girl” soared, “Frankenstein” should be on all future Halloween playlists, “STFU!” angrily transitioned into “Break Stuff” by Limp Bizkit (god yes), and “This Hell” left the crowd dancing — and yeehawing.

It was the best set I saw all weekend.

Alanis Morissette

The year is 1996. I’m in my living room in upstate New York playing the Toy Story video game on Sega Genesis while drinking Pepsi and listening to Jagged Little Pill by Alanis Morissette on my Discman. Life is good.

The year is 2023. I’m at Zilker Park in central Texas still thinking about the NFL’s Toy Story broadcast while drinking Miller Lite and listening to Alanis Morissette play songs from Jagged Little Pill. Life is, well, “good” is a strong word, but I’m happy at this moment.

Of the 12 songs Morissette played during her set, eight were from her 1995 juggernaut, one of the 20 biggest-selling albums of all-time. “All I Really Want” segued into “Hand In My Pocket,” which was followed by “Right Through You” and “You Learn,” all while Morisette — with one hand in her pocket, and another wrapped around a harmonica — stalked the stage like a lion in a cage.

The Olivia Rodrigo-inspiring songs, especially “You Oughta Know,” were as punchy as ever, but there was a moment of sweet reflection at the end. After ending her set with “Thank U” (the only showing from underrated Jagged Little Pill follow-up Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie), Morisette clapped in appreciation along with the vast crowd and said, “I love you so much. Take care of each other.” Thank u.

Yves Tumor

Yves Tumor
Dusana Risovic

I didn’t plan on seeing Yves Tumor. It’s not because I didn’t want to; Praise A Lord Who Chews But Which Does Not Consume; (Or Simply, Hot Between Worlds) is one of my favorite albums of the year so far. They were an unfortunate victim of a busy schedule. But while taking the long walk from where Niall Horan was playing (a pleasant set with a sing-along cover of One Direction’s “Story Of My Life”) to get a good spot for Yeah Yeah Yeahs, I was drawn in by the music coming from the tented Tito’s Handmade Vodka stage. I couldn’t tell who was playing at first, but as I got closer and heard a monstrous guitar solo, thick reverb, and soulful vocals, I knew it could only be Yves Tumor. It was the perfect music festival moment: a performance so good — and thrillingly unpredictable — that I stopped in my tracks to listen to it.

I plan on hearing the whole set next weekend.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Pooneh Ghana

There are two kinds of Yeah Yeah Yeahs fans: those who think “Maps” is their defining song, and those who believe it’s “Heads Will Roll.” As someone who remembers when the group’s self-titled EP came out in the early 2000s, I belong to the former camp. But for my 20-year-old half-brother, who was in attendance at ACL this year, it’s the latter. Both camps were content when Yeah Yeah Yeahs played both songs back to back to close their satisfying set.

The art punk-turned-electro pop band, led by the magnetic Karen O in an Elvis-looking outfit, also dusted off “Pin” and “Y Control” (the best YYYs song imo) from 2003’s Fever to Tell. Nick Zinner’s buzzing guitar was a standout on fan favorite “Cheated Hearts,” while drummer Brian Chase (whose family was in attendance) theatrically spun his drumsticks above his head.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs have nothing to prove. But as the men and girls and everyone in between cried out to “Heads Will Roll,” you could feel the same energy that made them legends in a legendary scene.

The Walkmen

In The Walkmen standout “Angela Surf City,” vocalist Hamilton Leithauser sings, “Back to school / Back to work / Can this go on forever?”

It couldn’t: The Walkmen needed a 10-year break between tours. They’re back to work now, though, and still sound great.

I saw The Walkmen during their initial run and remember thinking, how is Hamilton’s full-throated singing voice not shredded after every show and every anthemic performance of “The Rat,” in particular. I still have that question. I also want to know how the other members of The Walkmen — guitarist Paul Maroon, bassist Walter Martin, multi-instrumentalist Peter Matthew Bauer, and beast-mode drummer Matt Barrick — sound so crisp. The Walkmen always struck me as one of the most professional rock bands of their era, and that’s still true on the reunion tour circuit.