The thing is, I was really looking forward to rage-screaming about heartbreak over the first weekend of Austin City Limits. The festival’s headliner lineup seemed stacked for brokenhearted catharsis and top-of-your-lungs excoriations of former lovers. One headliner would deliver on that hope, but the other disappointed in her idiosyncratic, still-entertaining way.
On Friday night, the Chicks opened their set with lively, barn-burning anthems from their latest album, Gaslighter, about Natalie Maines’s lying, cheating husband and his tights-wearing mistress. Later, they roused the crowd and closed out their performance with “Goodbye Earl,” a song about literally killing an abusive man. There’s the type of music one might expect from the recently heartbroken, the kinds of songs that can be belted at high volume with the full force of acute pain behind them. Heck, even P!nk tumbled through the air shrugging off her divorce on Saturday.
Then there’s Kacey Musgraves, the Texan artist whose 2021 so-called divorce album, Star-crossed, remains near and dear to my own heartbreak. Her piercing songs about the dissolution of her marriage to singer-songwriter Ruston Kelly seemed especially promising for losing my voice and some tears.
But unfortunately for me and my fellow lonely hearts, I underestimated how laid-back and chill Musgraves would be. (So chill, in fact, that she would, at one point, clip her nails mid-set in order to better strum her guitar.) Yes, her lyrics cut cold, but Musgraves, wearing a floral jumpsuit, a squash-blossom necklace, and a seventies-style wig—a disco-country-fused look that matched her sound—was as mellow as her ubiquitous joint-smoking references suggested. She had the confident self-possession of a seasoned performer, keeping the crowd entertained at her own, often laid-back pace—a relaxed set that was entertaining enough, but not the brand of high-energy heartbreak hooting I came for.
It was still a great performance. Musgraves opened the show (a tad late) with a giant, flaming heart sculpture and Star-crossed’s title track, followed by a few more songs from the album: “Good Wife,” “Cherry Blossom” (the crowd and I could’ve skipped it), and “Simple Times.” Then came what is probably the album’s most searing song, the pop-y and danceable, but not quite beltable, “Breadwinner,” about a man who just can’t handle all that success, honey. She followed that up with “Golden Hour,” the title track of her 2018 album, which was about falling in love with Kelly.
That quick transition—“Breadwinner” to “Golden Hour,” from clear-eyed to moony-eyed—was a one-two gut punch, but it was indicative of Musgraves’s brand of breakup album, and general vibe, as she performed it Sunday. She’s not bitter; she’s chilling. She’ll “keep lookin’ up,” as she later sang, and keep evolving personally and musically. She thanked the fans who have followed her from her straight-country origins to her current pop sound.
Musgraves’s biggest show of emotion was anger directed not at former lovers but at political figures. In the middle of “High Horse,” a bouncy jam about a try-hard wannabe who always “kills the buzz,” she name-checked Ted Cruz, who inspired her “Cruzin’ for a Bruisin’ ” T-shirts after the Texas senator fled the state during the deadly 2021 freeze. But Musgraves couldn’t stay angry. After saying her most choice words of the night—“F— the Supreme Court”—she quickly launched into “There is a Light,” an optimistic, hopeful song.
In the back half of the performance, Musgraves largely set aside tracks from Star-crossed for fan favorites such as “Space Cowboy” and “Merry Go ’Round.” Still, even she gets the appeal of singing along to a really great heartbreak track. Mid-set, she launched into a cover of “Dreams,” from the ur–Breakup Album, Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours. Helpfully, she put the lyrics to the song on the big screen, so we could belt them out together.