Machine Gun Kelly at ACL Fest was the pop-punk party you’ve been expecting

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“I will serenade you for the next few hours’ until I decide to leave the stage,” Machine Gun Kelly said just before lighting up a cigarette and pursuing one of the highest performances, the attitude and (we’re ‘I’ll say it) top Austin City Limits Music Festival ensembles that I remember.

The peanut gallery loves to attack the singer-rapper-but especially singer, accused of inauthenticity and immature posture, all the more since his stylistic pivot from the enfant terrible hip-hop to the tribute to the Warped Tour, with the ‘Tickets to My Downfall’ album.

READ: Megan Thee Stallion fans form the crowd hours before the Houston rapper takes the ACL Fest stage

But have you heard of rock & roll? Keep your pearl of authenticity in a capitalist music industry, man. Machine Gun Kelly is pop-punk pop-art.

You can see it from the opening salvo of the 4pm set, when My Chemical Romance’s emo opus “Welcome to the Black Parade” played in full. You can absolutely understand Colson Baker’s knowledge of the rules of the playing field, every time he stuck an index finger on his temple and screamed, nasal passages fully engaged, the words “out of my head”. And brothers and sisters of the Holy Hot Topic Order, when your man embarks on a cover of Paramore’s forbidden revenge hymn “Misery Business”, it’s a ball game.

(Interestingly, the heads of Paramore know the band don’t play the song much anymore, with singer Hayley Williams calling out the high school misogynistic taunts of a song she wrote as a teenager.)

A giant pink pill bottle rolled to the front of the Honda stage, and Baker emerged from the top on an elevator.

Here is what the first day of the ACL Fest looks like in photos

The title track of “Tickets to My Downfall” brought in the kind of pop-punk chords that elicit a Pavlovian response from some of us. (Hello.)

He implored the crowd to “(swear) (swear) up”. (Sometimes it’s hard to write these reviews for a family journal.)

Long, gangly, lethargically quick – sorry to tell haters, but the man is a rock star. (Have you ever tried to happily soak up the energy of a crowd while trying to pretend you don’t necessarily want to be there? It’s an art.)

Upbeat and contagious songs like “Kiss Kiss” and “Drunk Face” sent power through the circuit of a sweaty young crowd – and I have to say it, maskless -. They all waited so long for the live music and then the ACL Fest Friday door time was delayed by three hours so there was even more waiting. Baker jumped on pink shoes, did a quick job of a loose cardigan sweater lost to Austin’s heat. Can anyone look like a little nephew and a bad uncle at the same time?

Baker scaled a massive light platform, chanting “(Expletive) You, Goodbye” from above. His white tank top became a ghost of himself, through which all of his many tattoos could be seen. “MGK” on his back, “OUCH” on his armpit, “Est. 1990” on his chest. He took a shallow whiff of a bottle of liquor. It’s theater, baby. You wouldn’t be arrogant if Lady Macbeth rubs her hands, would you?

He’s fueled favorites like “Jawbreaker” and “Forget Me Too,” agonizing over any imaginary lover likely sick of his bull. (Real girlfriend Megan Fox didn’t make an appearance, but the crowd chanted her name.)

He confessed that he dreams of a headliner at sunset. Baker asked if ACL had any love for Machine Gun Kelly. ACL confirmed.

“Bold move,” he replied. “You know the internet will tell you otherwise.” Baker warned us about cool people. His set was for people who know what they like.

Do you think it’s not rock & roll to settle down a bit? Machine Gun Kelly, and a euphoric music fan crush, had a certain hand gesture to offer in response.


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