ACL Review, Photos: Theophilus London, Friday, Bud Light
Each day of ACL Fest, the earliest slots inevitably end up going to the artists least likely to draw big crowds. Or maybe ACL has a new scheduler. As the venerable Asleep at the Wheel did its annual opening day set of Western Swing before a typically modest but adoring morning crowd, all the way on the other side of Zilker Park, Theophilus London drew an audience the size of those usually found later in the afternoon. The Brooklyn-based, Trinidad-born alt-hip-hopster almost missed his set, arriving at Austin’s airport a mere hour before talking the stage at 12:30 Friday afternoon –minus two guitar players. No worries there: the wiry London, in gangster wide-brimmed black hat, black jeans, and mirrored shades, stalked the massive Bud Light stage with playful dance moves, larger than life charm and infectious songs that came across as equal parts Michael Jackson, Jay Z, Will Smith and Marvin Gaye… and, maybe, a little Smiths thrown in for atmospherics. London’s as much ‘rap’ as ‘indie rock’, but what’s sticks in the ear is a stammering, swaggering neo-soul which seems both retro and completely innovative. Mother Nature, as if to acknowledge the triumph, began to cry near the end of London’s set. As this miracle (known as “rain” in some parts of the world) began to soak the crowd, London stopped the music—hands both on and off stage flying into the air in celebration. “I’ve got the perfect song for rain!”, London proclaimed for the edge of speaker stack, leaping into his wild screwed-up remake of Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” (aka ‘Always Love You’). All in all, one of the most refreshing ACL openers in recent memory, by an artist who seems likely to transcend mere ‘buzz’. Hey Theo– thanks for the rain dance. We won’t forget it anytime soon.
- David Brown