Across Fair Park at Untapped festival, the pristine weather conditions were being talked about as much as the barrel-aged stouts. That isn't a small note, given that just a week ago, rain dampened some outdoor festival vibes and that in the past couple of years, Untapped events in other cities have weathered harrowing scenarios thanks to the unpredictable nature of the non-summer Texas climate.
While a crisp, clear fall evening helps a festival get off on the right foot, the music still needs to deliver — and it did in a big way.
Thanks to immaculate, energetic sets from Lee Fields and the Expressions, Bishop Briggs, Kaleo, Gogol Bordello, and TV on the Radio, the night's musical atmosphere was more enjoyable than the postcard-worthy weather.
Shortly before the sun went down, Lee Fields and the Expressions injected the fest with a jubilant sense of togetherness. The Brooklyn-based soul man exuded the kind of assured confidence that comes from performing for over four decades. With a shimmering red and silver blazer, the tuxedoed Fields knew what the participatory crowd in front of him needed, especially given the nationally divisive events of the past week.
Directing the crowd in a sing-along version of his unity anthem, "Make a World," Fields preached, "We can make the world better if we come together." Perhaps it's a bit simplistic, but it was a nice bit of good time salve from the twirling showman.
As the sun dropped and the crowd thickened, British-raised, Los Angeles-based Bishop Briggs immediately showed the chops of an artist that will undoubtedly headline these types of festivals within the next couple of years. Featuring a Bjork-meets-Run DMC fashion sense, songs such as the rhythmic "Wild Horses" showed-off the same sort of soul and synth combination that's won Hozier millions of fans in the past couple of years. There wasn't a ton of variety in her set, but overall, it felt pleasingly cohesive rather than monotonous.
Though Kaleo wasn't the night's top-billed headliner, it's not difficult to suggest no other band from Saturday night is as buzzed-about right now. In the past couple of years, the band has relocated to Austin, canvased the late-night television landscape, had songs race up the rock charts and appear on seemingly every primetime TV show and commercial there is.
The Icelandic four-piece, led by JJ Julius Son, Kaleo opened with the dramatic, crawling "I Can't Go on Without You," where lonesome whistling eventually led into a southern-inspired, blues-inflected epic. In "All the Pretty Girls," the lead singer's pretty falsetto was reminiscent of early Bon Iver, and he was in full control of taking his voice from high to low when the moment called for it. The group's pop-centered approach to American roots music is admirable if a bit over-polished at times, but it's a style the band executes with great precision and substance.
If the sets from Bishop Briggs and Kaleo offered chill doses of electricity, the following two performances dashed any sense of atmospheric mellowness with unimpeachable fury. They may not be the biggest names to ever headline an Untapped fest — the Flaming Lips, which played in 2015, likely take that title — but neither Gogol Bordello nor TV on the Radio required confetti cannons or an army of furry mascots to send thousands of beer sample cups sloshing to the ground.
There may not be a band more suited for a multi-genre festival than New York City's self-described "gypsy punk band" Gogol Bordello. And the frenzy with which the collective performed, we can just take the "gypsy" off that title and simply acknowledge the intensely punk-rock nature of a band that can make an accordion and violin feel as punk as Joey Ramone's black leather jacket.
With Captain Jack Sparrow-style hair, Eugene Hutz served as a manic carnival barker as much as he did lead singer. Bouncing around the stage as he violently thrashed at his acoustic guitar, Hutz directed a global mix of percussion, dance and shouting with a rebellious glee many ardent fans packed near the stage reciprocated full-throat.
The triumphant nature of Gogol Bordello's set made it understandable, if not completely logical, to brace for a letdown as the fest dwindled to its final hour. But there's a reason Brooklyn's TV on the Radio were booked to close it all down. Led by singer Tude Adebimpe and multi-instrumentalist Kyp Malone, the set-opening "Young Liars" from the band's 2003 EP of the same name was a glorious cacophony of electric guitar and trombone. And "Lazzeray" from the group's stellar 2014 Seeds record whirled with the urgency of a buzz saw's edge. With a knit cap covering his eyes, Malone's shredding revealed its own lucid vision from the stage under the bright green Cotton Bowl sign.
As much as any lead-singer and guitarist combo, Adebimpe and Malone fit together in a singular way, not unlike Radiohead's Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood or the Rolling Stone's Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. Similar to Radiohead or Arcade Fire, TV on the Radio offer an accessible experimentalism on record and in concert, which gives even an hour-long festival-set a engaging sense of drama.
Add on a few tasty beers and a temperate night sky, and a more perfect recipe for a festival likely can't be found.