Austin City Limits | 09.26 - 09.28 | Texas

Words by: Sarah Hagerman | Images by: Dániel Perlaky & Jacqueline Fernandez

Austin City Limits Music Festival :: 09.26.08 – 09.28.08 :: Zilker Park :: Austin, TX

This past weekend I found myself at Austin City Limits Music Festival, with a dizzying amount of music to choose from - "130 bands, eight stages, 3 days," the sign bragged.

ACL 2008 by Perlaky
Honestly, I prefer smaller festivals, where you can stick to a concept, as well as keeping the WaMu sweatbands and other assorted corporate shwag out (although I was tempted to get a sweatband and write "Chase'd!" on it). ACL does make an effort on certain fronts to keep things local. The food, which compared to the ouch-my-butt-hurts prices and portions of behemoths like Bonnaroo, was comparatively a bit cheaper and a better value, and all done by Austin vendors. The beer, however, was not so local. The bill reflected several Austin acts, although I heard some grumbles that it wasn't Austin-stacked enough this year. But compared to SXSW, this felt way more homegrown. From my experience, the staff was very relaxed and friendly, ready to give directions and suggestions for out-of-towners. They also did an impressive job of keeping Zilker Park clean, so major props for that. I should also admit I live about a ten minute walk away and trying to cover something of this scale knowing that a shower and bed, not to mention breakfast and Bloody Marys fixed in my own kitchen, could be reached in less time than it took me to walk halfway to my tent at Bonnaroo was a massive plus.

My biggest gripe would probably be with the sound and scheduling – more than a few times during this weekend, the sound bleed between stages made total absorption in the acts challenging - especially at the WaMu Stage. This was a shame because this stage had some of the more grassroots music of the weekend, but suffered from the noise, being a bit too close to a row of port-a-potties and suffocating dust. But overall, ACL was a friendly, laid-back atmosphere that, despite its size and corporate intrusions, didn't feel overwhelming or frantic. The crowds sometimes meant getting close to certain stages was tough, but the laid-back Austinites willing to share a blanket and a smoke in the precious patches of shade more than made up for it. And if you ever wondered why in god's name you were putting up with this heat and dust in late September, you just had to look up at the beautiful skyline of Austin for the answer.

Friday, September 26

Rodney Crowell – AT&T Stage – 12:30-1:30

Yeasayer :: ACL 2008 by Fernandez
Flanked by the fantastic Jenny Scheinman on violin and mandolin and Will Kimbrough on guitar, this trio highlighted Crowell's devilishly clever songwriting. But what struck me most was the clarity of the lyrical content. Crowell has skill at turning anger into pin sharp insights, funneling it all through his earthbound growl, never seeming overly earnest even when making some well-placed jabs. "If I'm not mistaken it was Darwin's position/ The hole in the levy was caused by intelligent design," he sang in "The Rise and Fall of Intelligent Design," while "Sex and Gasoline" opened with, "So much beauty abs and tush/ Swoop down on you like a burnin' bush." Words you can chew on. Scheinman and Kimbrough brought a level of musicianship to the stage that made for a fuller sound than a poet with a guitar approach. Scheinman especially made that fiddle soar from lonesome peaks to barely a whisper drawn across the strings. But when Crowell turned the mic over to her to sing one of her compositions, the full range of her talents was truly exposed. A lengthy ballad about growing up in a cow town, and the risk of exposing those roots to a city lover lest he see you as an awkward child again, it had a couple older cowgirls in the crowd yelling, "Amen!" and had me biting my lip. "And supposedly the rednecks hate the hippies/ But after thirty years it's hard to tell who's who," she sang. Looking around at the crowd, one saw that line hit Austin right on the head. I made sure to write that one down.

Yeasayer – Dell Stage – 1:30-2:30

Del Tha Funky Homosapien :: ACL 2008 by Fernandez
Yet another of the Brooklyn school (I could have told you that with one look at them), I went to see Yeasayer based on their steadily growing reputation. The set had its peaks for sure, when the band stewed some scattershot Liars-style percussive work with brooding disco befitting of Joy Division, or threw in an unexpectedly delightful Caribbean drumbeat or flamenco-style guitar. Chris Keating (vocals, keyboards) had some sweaty, Thom Yorke-esque shakin' moves and a falsetto wail not to be trifled with. Obviously they draw on an impressive arsenal of influences, but I wanted them to take it over that proverbial edge - put it all together in a bus fully wired to blow and push it over a cliff, letting the burning shrapnel fall where it may. Instead, they seemed to be holding back, not exactly playing it safe, but teetering on the dizzying precipice, hesitant to push off. I do feel this set was poorly scheduled – it would have been better served later in the day, with a crowd ready to move and not sit in lawn chairs. Keating even asked at one point, "Did anyone else have trouble getting up early?" I'm not sure if he was referring to his own energy or the crowd's.

Jamie Lidell – Dell Stage – 3:30-4:30

M. Ward :: ACL 2008 by Fernandez
Energy was not a problem during Lidell's set. I was sort of approaching this one with caution, and in retrospect I'm not sure why. I'm not above admitting that perhaps I was bringing too many assumptions to the table, and on paper I just couldn't see it working (i.e. a white Brit couldn't pull off genuinely moving and funky soul music that wouldn't turn into something embarrassingly cornball). But, I got a lot of folks whose opinions I trust backing this one up, so I went for it. I was also trying to make the difficult choice of whether to see him or Del Tha Funky Homosapien (who apparently had some of the Hieroglyphics crew with him, a fact that they failed to mention in the ACL programs and website). My original plan was to split the difference, but I got completely sucked into Lidell's set. He's simply a bundle of hot sunshine with a golden voice who can perform bright and bouncy soul numbers ("Another Day"), slide into something a little more sexy and comfortable ("Green Light") and then create an entire sweaty disco out of layering his own improv beatboxing. He also has a hell of a backing band with him, particularly sax juggler Andre Vida, who was wearing some kind of white choir robe/dashiki dress. I used to play tenor sax in high school and I was always secretly envious of those bari sax players who got to make those bad ass bass-y moans. It's not a sexy looking instrument but it makes your heart throb. Although I may have been a bit behind the folks who have climbed on Lidell's soul train already, I was impressed at how quickly and thoroughly he won me over. I'm all aboard on this one.

M. Ward – WaMu Stage – 4:30-5:15

Because I stayed for all of Lidell's set, I was unable to push my way into the tent at the WaMu Stage for M. Ward. I got close, but not quite inside, and this set was frustrating to review, because of the sound bleed from Gogol Bordello on the AT&T Stage. It was sort of like an M. Ward remix at times. Ward is a compelling songwriter, and it was interesting for me, having seen Crowell earlier in the day, to draw a lineage in the hard truths department. Ward comes from a considerably more impressionistic school, but he can paint some striking imagery. Which is a shame because many of those images were lost to those of us who had to fight our way in, practically pushed back to the port-a-potties. I finally got close enough to appreciate the final third of his set, including a bluesy "Rollercoaster" – "You're like a roller coaster/ You've got heavy metal wings/ You could make a dead man scream." Damn, that's fucking eerie but I like it. There was a hazy, brooding, alt-country feel to the music, with tinny low E string heavy strums and Ward's bottleneck sort of slinking in the back door. Ending on always-rousing "To Go Home," I tried to let go of my annoyance and let the song lift my spirits, but I sort of felt like I had been invited to a house party and then spent most of it smoking cigarettes on the back porch, staring through the windows to the dirty glasses piled up in the kitchen.

Hot Chip – AT&T Blue Room Stage – 5:30-6:30

Hot Chip :: ACL 2008 by Perlaky
If the nerdy dudes who work in your IT department made techno, it would probably sound like Hot Chip. From where I was standing, all I could see were flailing limbs and jumping bodies, in a rave-up under the still warm evening sun. It got especially heavy, like a big old flesh anemone, when the band went into "Over and Over," which was a big hit when I was living in the U.K. Alexis Taylor has vocals that can sound oh-so-uninterested at times, at other times he takes on a falsetto dance floor appeal earnestness. Turns minimalist and studied make way for turns that are downright pervy in their catalogue. Hot Chip will sometimes hit a level of pure electronic strangeness, which makes me think this will appeal to Bisco kids. I had memories of treading dance floors with robotic clatter and whistling keyboards filling my headspace. I still can't get myself back into electronic music thanks to burning out on it for awhile, but I appreciate the aesthetic Hot Chip brings, and who knows, under the right circumstances, their crooked fingers might coax me back onto to that particular dance floor.

David Byrne – AT&T Stage – 6:30-7:30

David Byrne :: ACL 2008 by Fernandez
He and his band, all dressed in white - a trend I noticed with many bands over the weekend, probably owing as much to the heat as any sort of fashion statement – Byrne emanated pure coolness from the stage. His band was tight, with passionate backing vocals and quick hand percussion, but I can't quite say the same for his backing dancers, who seemed out of place on the huge stage. I'm not sure if they were supposed to look slightly under-rehearsed and bored, but they were more of a distraction for me. When the whole band and Byrne were moving and grooving together though, it worked, especially at the end of "Life is Long," where the male dancer slid across the stage on his office chair – that was a truly inspired moment. Musically, Byrne's career is made up of drawing out inspiring, human moments that cut through the glaze of sterile modern existence. He picked wisely from a staggering catalogue for this set, drawn heavily from his Talking Heads days, with certified classics like "Crosseyed and Painless" and "Houses in Motion," as well as the Eno collaborative material. "Life During Wartime" got folks up from their blankets to shout along, "This ain't no party!/ This ain't no disco!" as the sun sank, drawing us into the magic hour in a sunset luster.

Alejandro Escovedo – Austin Ventures Stage – 7:45-8:45

I find with festivals, I can plan as much as I want, but if I just relax and stop worrying about packing too much in, I can usually end up at the right place for me. I love those happy accidents. I almost overlooked Escovedo on the packed schedule, but found myself at the Ventures Stage to catch a few songs before having to rush off to the Volta. At ACL, he was a fine ambassador for the city. "Welcome to Austin!" he cried from the stage. Punk sandpaper and true grit rubbed together with stirring melodies, it's music that speaks deep from the heart of survival. Escovedo's band, particularly violinist Susan Voelz, another badass bow wielding woman ala Scheinman, brought a screaming joie-de-vivre to the stage that matched Escovedo's own.

The Mars Volta – The AMD Stage – 8:15-9:30

Bixler-Zavala - The Mars Volta :: ACL 2008 by Perlaky
I had another difficult decision between The Mars Volta or Manu Chao. I heard from several folks that Chao ruled the stage with his consistently wonderful and life affirming revolution, but I was drawn into the Mexican trumpet intro blasting from the AMD Stage, signaling that the Volta were about to tear my cerebrum a new one.

Bixler-Zavala did some exhausting looking gymnastics onstage, and made some rather suggestive poses with the mic stand, while Rodriguez-Lopez thrashed his guitar around at points like it was strangling him during opener "Goliath." Cut to an hour and fifteen, they were forced to keep the show wound tightly together for maximum impact. Although this is the two leaders' show, their current band's incarnation is incredibly impressive. Drummer Thomas Pridgen is absolutely vicious, and Adrián Terrazas-González, who switched between multiple wind instruments, will make you think twice that you ever doubted the flute's ability to rock scarily hard.

I'm sure someone has made this comparison before, but Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and Cedric Bixler-Zavala are the closest thing we have going to Page and Plant. The level of musical communication between the Zep pair has been fairly unrivaled in rock, but Omar and Cedric come pretty damn close. Similar to Plant, Cedric likes to riff on sexually aggressive phrasing with his falsetto wail. "I want to give you my fever!" he shrieked at one point, and Omar similarly responded with an ungodly wail from his guitar, something fervid and wonderfully sick clawing its way out from the underground. They have a symbiosis that's hypnotic and a bit frightening to watch. But unlike Zeppelin, which would court you with sometimes downright gorgeous melodies, the Volta is pure assault, mental violation of the highest order. In other words, Zeppelin would take you out to dinner, first, maybe buy you some flowers. The Volta call you up at two in the morning, knowing you've had enough drinks in you to make resistance to their evil ways futile. By the time those stabbing opening notes of "Cygnus... Vismund Cygnus" hit my brain, after a long day of music, I was feeling that fever.

Continue reading for Saturday coverage...

Saturday, September 27

Mugison – AT&T Blue Room Stage – 11:45-12:30

Robin Pecknold - Fleet Foxes by Perlaky
Apparently this cat is "Iceland's answer to Beck." I caught the last few songs of his set, skipping out on what sounded like a great time had by those at Langhorne Slim. I thought I would see something new, since I've seen Slim before, and although he's always excellent, who knows how often Mugison will return to Austin. It was a gamble, but he certainly cut quite a character, with stripped down guitar and vocals, at times literally screaming his blues away. It was quite the juxtaposition when he yelped and growled his way through a song, and then politely and softly thanked the audience. I found it arrestingly odd. He left us, saying sweetly, "If you have an extra ten dollars spend it on my new album. Otherwise, spend it on beer." There's some genuine passion and strangeness there, and I'm intrigued enough to investigate further.

Fleet Foxes – AMD Stage - 12:30-1:30

I have no idea how Robin Pecknold could justify wearing that blue plaid shirt in the scorching heat, but it didn't seem to bother him. Then again, life has been good to the Fleet Foxes this year so a little warm weather shouldn't bug them. I couldn't think of a more exceedingly pleasant way to ease into my Saturday. Sheltered in the only bit of shade we could find, still in a bit of recovery mode from the night before, we basked in the warmth of the Foxes' rich harmonies. They are a band that sounds incredibly delicate, yet powerful at the same time. Even when Pecknold took on a solo cover of Judee Sill's "Crayon Angels" followed by "Oliver James" it was a moment of understated thunder. That they have gained so much popularity this year speaks to their musical soul food. Their stage banter about the financial crisis was droll but necessary levity, as they made jokes about finding comfort in how banks can be as shitty at handling their money as their customers. Hey, if we didn't laugh, we'd curl up in the fetal position and cry. These are turbulent times, and we all need something this warm and inviting to snuggle up to.

Drive-By Truckers – AT&T Stage – 2:30-3:30

P. Hood - Drive-By Truckers by Perlaky
I had a distinct moment of déjà vu waiting for the Truckers to take the stage. The flashback wasn't some sort of Volta residual, it was because at Bonnaroo they had a similar slot and it was also hot as hellfire – set wise and temperature wise. Opener "That Man I Shot" had an antagonistic outro that set the tone for this showing: a bit of welcome meandering, especially the drum and keyboard kicker during "Hell No, I Ain't Happy," and a lot of up-yours soul. Belligerent and proud of it, DBT were full of plenty of righteous fire and swampy swagger. But what makes the Truckers stand out is their writing. They stimulate your imagination as well as your rock & roller parts. Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley embody the characters they create, and I'm glad Shonna Tucker has started singing as well, because she adds open hearted Southern gal grit to the equation. Between them, they can humanize even the most lowdown and mean of the lot.

Speaking of stories, Hood once again pulled out the story of Chester's illness and miraculous recovery – the one that made us all misty-eyed at Bonnaroo - to introduce "18 Wheels of Love." He announced this was the last time he planned on telling the story, but the emotional impact of it was still fresh for me. It also signaled the last few months coming full circle. "Mama ran off with a trucker" and the Truckers ran off with my summer, peeling out of the dust with my heart in the cab of that semi.

Man Man – Dell Stage - 3:30-4:30

If there is a band that can get away with wearing face paint, it's Man Man. Normally that kind of thing would come off as irritatingly pretentious but in Man Man's case it makes perfect sense. This band is primal, and not in a cuddly, back to the woods way. They've described themselves as "Viking rock," and this is indeed an ax to the face. The stage looked like someone let mental patients loose at a party store - kazoos and a mannequin head, metal bowls and what I think was once an oxygen tank were littered across their set-up, which was painted in DayGlo. But you couldn't get away with all this craziness if you didn't baptize yourself in it completely, with a healthy dose of humor, and that's what makes Man Man so awe inspiring. They, at times literally, throw themselves off the edge, kicking, screaming and chanting, "Fee Fi Fo Fum" (which they actually do in one song). Lead singer Honus Honus banged on the piano and huffed and puffed like a western saloon ivory clanger from hell, at one point running down into the pit to bang on the barrier and poke members of the audience with drum sticks. Trumpets, trombones, xylophones and whatever they could get their hands on were thrown into the mix, along with assorted noisemakers, and they were incredibly exciting to watch. I'd been hearing about their kinetic live shows for a while, and I am a confirmed believer now. One of my absolute favorite sets I saw at ACL.

Erykah Badu – AT&T Stage – 4:30-5:30

Erykah Badu by Perlaky
Erykah Badu, self-described "analog girl in a digital world," is a true original. She carries herself with a sense of regal class and worldly wise grace that indeed grows rarer with every cookie cutter R&B singer ready to take it off for their first MTV video. Plus, she can pull off some massive hairdos that most of us wouldn't dare. Backed by a band who pulled out some deep groovin' live hip-hop drums, syncopated beat pads, trilling flutes and tightly coordinated backup singing, it was a full-on show. Badu's voice has a timeless Billy Holiday quality, and she had the crowd in the palm of her hand with her zeal, from material off her latest release, New Amerykah Part One: 4Th World War, to classic cuts such as "On and On," "Appletree" and, of course, "Tyrone." At one point, she even joined her band for a drum circle style beat making session. Although she couldn't avoid getting into the politics during her stage banter, it was a feisty reminder that well-behaved women rarely make history. She's a refreshing example of misbehavior.

Spiritualized – Dell Stage – 5:30-6:30

For an English band, Spiritualized certainly delve into American gospel with skill, as proved by their inspired backing singers and lyrical concerns about "Walkin' with Jesus," a cut from Jason Pierce's previous band, Spaceman 3. Pierce and his crew proved a fitting soundtrack as dusk began to draw its arms around us. Touches of Americana kept the hypnotic drones and lovely rolling melodies anchored, and the set drifted by, dreamlike at times, at other times overwhelming with sheer noise. Whoever was doing sound at the Dell Stage was overly in love with turning up the bass, as evidenced by the number of times the ground shook under our dusty feet. But during Spiritualized it was easy to imagine the ground shaking by some divine hand, instead. Either way, free foot massages for all.

Mason Jennings – Austin Ventures Stage – 6:30-7:15

Jeff Austin - YMSB by Perlaky
I didn't have much luck catching Mason Jennings at Bonnaroo, so I was determined to rectify the situation here. He's another under the radar talent, with an open arms attitude and lyrics that take cues from Shel Silverstein quirkiness and Neil Young cut-to-the-meat observations. Take this awesome little nugget from "Never Knew Your Name":

If this house is on fire
You gonna run for the door
If the door is on fire
You gonna kneel on the floor
You get down low enough
You learn to love the flame

He delivers these lines in a laid-back dry manner that almost recalls Stephen Malkmus. He had folks moving to "I Love You And Buddha Too," which in the wrong hands might turn into a cheese-fest, but he makes it work by taking away the earnestness and making it seem oh-so matter of fact. And it is after all. To paraphrase Vonnegut, damn it, you've got to be kind. The Ventures Stage felt like a campfire, but I had to pull myself away from the glow to get in place at the WaMu Stage.

Yonder Mountain String Band - WaMu Stage – 7:15-8:15

After learning my lesson at M. Ward, I left myself more than enough time to fight my way close to the front for Yonder. After a slightly delayed start, they came roaring out of the gate with an appropriate, should-have-called-it opener of "Hill Country Girl." There were some props to Bad Livers to introduce "Deathtrip," which took some wonderfully weird turns that would have made Danny Barnes proud, and a set closing "Boatman" that got the stage kicking up so much dust that for the rest of the night I was suffering from what I dubbed "Yonder Lung" – the condition of breathing in dust caused by the riotous string band-related dancing. Hey, there's much worse ways to go, and I'll happily get that ailment anytime. The boys were all instrumentally in top form tonight, with guitarist Adam Aijala especially teasing out some freaky jazz overtones. Whatever hiccups may have plagued that stage, they kicked it all aside and played it fast, loud and proud. When the set was over, we chanted for "one more song," but an ACL official came out and shook her head at us. Since there was no one else on the stage after them, I am not sure why. Still, an hour-ish of Yonder is always better than no Yonder at all. They rose to the occasion with spitfire and vigor, and those of us under the tent were lucky people.

Roky Erickson – Austin Ventures Stage - 7:45-8:45

Beck :: ACL 2008 by Perlaky
Another Austin legend, and that's not a word to be used lightly. I only caught a bit of his set, but it was worth a mention. The audience hung on to the grinding rock catharsis, where every word felt like a testament and every chord felt painstakingly vital. That could be the weight of Erickson's personal history though. A founder of 13th Floor Elevators and a father of psychedelic rock, Erickson's long battles with mental illness are well documented, but he's currently back in health and on the road. As I turned to one side to see the audience awaiting Beck's arrival and another watching Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, I thought that this was where some essential beating heart was, hanging out under the ledge. I hung on, entranced, even as I heard the opening notes of "Loser" in the distance.

Beck – AT&T Stage – 8:30-10:00

Constantly in flux, Beck's music is fantastically unruly, sometimes coming from a dense funky cumulus cloud, sometimes crawling up from the cosmic gutter or just kicking the door down from any point in between. Tonight's set was heavy on the dance, as he declared, "Let's see how Austin can move!" This wasn't Beck at his deliciously freakiest, but it was a solidly enjoyable set that flowed quickly from one song to the next. After my Yonder buzz and Roky ache, I was ready to move through the refreshing night air and boogie down what was left of Saturday night.

This was a journey through Beck's ever evolving psyche, from opening with his ubiquitous hit to a garage take on "Two Turntables and a Microphone" to a sweaty "Nicotine and Gravy." But it was a pared down portion with cuts from the darker work on Sea Changes and a cover of Dylan's "Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat" that brought things full circle, nodding to Beck's pre-fame days as a busker. Overall, it was a well-harvested collection of the popular and more obscure, of his front and back pages, and he looked a bit like a wise, singing vagabond in his hat and suit, although his blond hair hanging in strings gave him that eternally youthful appearance. Sometimes it's easy to forget he's been at this for over twenty years.

At about 9:45, Beck left the stage, to roiling applause. Figuring he was about to come out for an encore, a move I was sort of annoyed by considering the already abbreviated set times at ACL, we hung around. When the house lights and music came on, there were audible grumbles and disappointment from the audience. It was a bit of a letdown. Beck's party may have been over for the night, but we were still going strong.

Continue reading for Sunday coverage...

Sunday, September 28

Abigail Washburn and Sparrow Quartet featuring Bela Fleck – AT&T Stage - 12:30-1:30

Fleck & Washburn - Sparrow Quartet :: ACL 2008 by Perlaky
I always love me some banjoes for breakfast, and the Sparrow Quartet has the feel of a black tie brunch. They project an air that they would be equally at ease in a concert hall as they would on a festival stage. They are truly building some solid bridges, and not just between American traditions. Washburn's knowledge of traditional Chinese music exposes links across the globe. The first time I caught this group, another repeat of mine from Bonnaroo, I was simply lost in the transcendent translation. This time around, I could appreciate Washburn's global vision. This was most evident in closing number "Great Big Wall in China," which Washburn described as being inspired by Woody Guthrie's songwriting and her own travel experiences as a foreigner there. It moved between swelling verses sung in Chinese to a more traditional sounding chorus in English with the fluidity of a symphony. This was a stunning end cap to a set that had already served us well with some stellar Fleck soloing and a haunting "Eleanor Rigby" cover. This project just continues to grow more compelling.

Octopus Project – Dell Stage – 1:30-2:30

Wandering over towards the Dell Stage, I was greeted by the site of several people running in place, with various brass instruments. Not knowing much about Octopus Project, I thought, "Holy shit, they are a noise rock electronic marching band." It turns out that the Austin High School band was guesting for a song, with staggeringly loud results, to shake us out of our Sunday hangovers. Even after they left, Octopus Project kept up the momentum, with drones, scattering beats and an obvious fascination with sonic patterns that reminded me of Holy Fuck in parts and Oneida's latest work on Preteen Weaponry in others. The deafening bass on that stage that was acceptable during Spiritualized drowned out some of the complexity here though. Still, the video game blips and bloops shot through, as well as a keyboard crash that sounded like a piano being thrown out the window. But after awhile, the bass was too much for my ears (not the band's fault) and I had to move on to calmer waters.

Gillian Welch – AMD Stage – 2:30-3:30

Octopus Project :: ACL 2008 by Perlaky
Even though they were all the way on the other side of Zilker, metal band Flyleaf were loud enough to be audible for all of Gillian Welch's set. Accompanied by long-time musical partner-in-crime David Rawlings, it was easy to get absorbed in the set enough to ignore the noise-bleed after awhile. The cavernous stage was a bit of an odd choice for the intimate feeling, but Welch spins her American primitive from strong fabric and it was testament to she and Rawlings' abilities that they drew the audience in close. "Look at Miss Ohio" and "Revelator" never fail to get me where it hurts, and "Knuckleball Catcher" was a fitting reminder that October is around the corner. Rawlings' guitar picking is a winding road, at times speeding along, at times leisurely, looking out the window and drawing out its landscapes with care. Alison Krauss even came out for a surprise "Didn't Leave Nobody But the Baby," with Rawlings taking over Emmylou Harris' part. At the end of the rollicking, maybe even slightly raunchy, number "Sweetooth," Welch and Rawlings hunched over their guitars and fingers flying away, they were as shocked as the crowd that the set was over afterwards, flying by in its rustic beauty.

Joe Bonamassa – Austin Ventures – 4:00-4:45

With chops like Stevie Ray and a voice like Warren Haynes, Bonamassa has been tapped as being one of the best guitarists of this generation. That's a hefty title but he carries it with ease. A mean performer, his adventurous fretwork travels between the blues, metal and straight-up rock 'n' roll abandon. He coaxes it all out like lava meandering down a blown mountainside. I would have liked to see more of his set, but unfortunately I couldn't keep myself away from the didgeridoo driven action I knew was going down on the WaMu Stage.

Xavier Rudd – WaMu Stage – 4:00-5:00

Stars :: ACL 2008 by Perlaky
Another highlight of ACL for me was Xavier Rudd. A worldly folk soul and a troubadour from Mother Nature's belly, Rudd explores darker organic psychedelics along with plenty of spiritually uplifting hope. Similar to M. Ward, I couldn't get in the packed tent, but the sound was more powerful during this set, so I could at least be absorbed in the music, even if I was craning to see. The didgeridoo conjures up the ancient, and combined with Rudd's deep sense of reverence, it feels like tapping into some deep pulse from the core. Providing complimentary drumbeats and thrashes, Dave Tolley held his own with Rudd, with the latter even getting up at one point to dance to the rhythm and wildly play the bongos alongside him. Rudd uses his own voice as an instrument as well, sometimes making it echo as if he's singing in a canyon. By the time the set wound down with a roaring cover of "Rockin' in the Free World," I was swept up in that timeless wave. Rudd is perhaps making the best music of his career to date.

Shooter Jennings – WaMu Stage – 5:30-6:30

Having seen Blues Traveler before, I thought I would take another gamble and check out Shooter Jennings. My only familiarity with him was a sweet cover of Dire Straits' "Walk of Life" I once caught on CMT (I swear I was just flipping through channels). But don't let those country associations put you off. If you dig the Truckers, North Mississippi Allstars or The Black Crowes, you would probably dig Shooter Jennings. The son of Waylon Jennings, he comes from true serious stock. His music draws from Skynyrd and Sabbath, drenched with swamp drippings swept up from the dirty side of the honky tonk bar. Shooter is quite the rock star, too. Towards the very end of the set, he sat down at the keyboard to play a song. After a few seconds of playing, he stopped and literally threw it to the side. "Change of plans!" he announced, laughing, before launching into a beer swigging, drink-along called "The Last Time I Let You Down."

Gnarls Barkley – AT&T Stage – 6:30-7:30

Ben Bridwell - Band of Horses by Perlaky
My energy was winding down, and as I trekked towards the AT&T Stage, the crowd was becoming more impassable. Unfortunately, the sound that was booming earlier in the day seemed considerably muted, so most folks in the back seemed to be hunkered down in chairs or tossing Frisbees around. Fighting our way further forward, Cee-Lo's otherworldly vocals shone through loud and clear, but not much else was discernable. Stubbornly riggling out of any easy classification, I think Gnarls Barkley need an indoor setting with a captive audience to help one truly absorb their sense of mixing it up. Wardrobe wise, since everyone needs to know, tuxes and bowties were the order of the day, although the jackets didn't last long in the heat. As Danger Mouse played cool musical chemist behind him, Cee-Lo gyrated and got his tambourine on. I lost patience with the sound situation though, and headed back towards the Dell Stage to try and get a decent spot for Band of Horses, lest the same sound problems happen there.

Band of Horses – Dell Stage – 7:30-8:30

Band of Horses drew one of the most attentive and enthusiastic crowds of the weekend. Maybe it was because the festival was winding down and only the folks that truly wanted to be there were still standing. Wide-eyed when he took off his shades, Benjamin Bridwell yelled from the stage, "I love you! Look at you all, my god! You're beautiful!" before soaking us in another dose of dense, atmospheric rock build-ups that seemed to rain down from the sky.

BoH have a finely tuned sense of melody that's movie soundtrack ready, with its crescendos and delicately chiseled points of shimmer. They just flat out write some beautiful numbers. This gig proved to me that they have really found their feet live - extending their songs, letting them breathe and drawing out the roller coaster ride – to create a sweeping vastness. I never realized how thrilling this band could be, from the quickening pace of "Ghost in My House" to the chomp of "Ode to LRC."

Bridwell has grown into a confident frontman, at least compared to when I saw them last year, that commands the stage, switching between guitars and jumping into the pit with the mic to rile up the front row. There's a decided rawness in his vocal delivery, which manages to sound simultaneously booming yet vulnerable. I used to write this band off as a My Morning Jacket rip off, and yes there's a passing resemblance to Jim James in Bridwell's voice, although I honestly hear more Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips. It always sounds like Bridwell is close to a breaking point of either deeply felt joy or pain. There's a definite sense of renewal here, and a brain cleanse would have been a perfect way to leave ACL. But I had one more band to review, admittedly rather begrudgingly.

Foo Fighters – AT&T Stage – 8:30-10:00

Dave Grohl - Foo Fighters by Perlaky
The first Foo Fighters album rocked, at least I thought so back in the day. Subsequent efforts seem to rock less, relying more on big, radio friendly numbers that follow predictable patterns. I just haven't been able to ever get that excited about this band, but I have to say they impressed me live. And I do have to give them props for seeming more psyched to be at ACL than Beck. They were incredibly engaging with the audience, whipping them into a screaming froth, with Grohl yelling, "Can't we just play for four hours?!?" to rabid cheers. I think my thought at that point was, "Please god, no," mostly because for every number I did like, say power punk pop "Monkey Wrench" or the heartfelt cover of The Who's "Young Man Blues," there were some that I just can't stand like "My Hero" or "Learn To Fly." But they kept things moving at a quick pace, even gracious to a guy who managed to wiggle past security onto the stage, and I have to say even those songs I don't care for were played with conviction.

Nirvana and Pearl Jam were the first bands that meant something to me. Enough to plaster my wall with posters and spend my allowance on a bunch of crappy magazines telling me useless facts about Eddie Vedder and Kurt Cobain. Grohl's outfit sometimes captures Nirvana's absolute scream, but instead of coming from some deep seated well of agony it seems to be done purely for arena rock showmanship. There's nothing wrong with that, on principle, and Grohl wouldn't be very genuine if he simply tried to cast himself as a successor to Cobain, but it was interesting for me to reflect on the different routes two of the last big Seattle scene survivors – Grohl and Vedder – have taken with their outfits. Pearl Jam has managed to grow into something resembling thunderous rock art at times, while Grohl's band has grown into sinfully catchy arena rock, not above busting out clichéd poses and obligatory drum solos by Taylor Hawkins. They seem to have a genuinely good time doing it, all smiles, so you can't fault them. Foo Fighters are apparently about to go on hiatus, so this may be the last we see of them for a while. Grohl's still a powerful drummer, as his work with Queens of the Stone Age proved, so I may keep my eye on this development lest he get back to some dirty roots. But the overwhelming feeling I had leaving Foo Fighters was that of being at a sanitized rock show.

On my way out of the festival grounds, I saw a group of kids banging on all manner of tubs and drums, their friend accompanying them on trombone, as onlookers cheered them on. It may have been outside the gates, but it was comforting to know that "weirdness," the kind Austin prides itself on, is not quite an endangered species.

Continue reading for more images from ACL...

Friday, September 26

ACL 2008 by Fernandez
ACL 2008 by Perlaky
Yeasayer :: ACL 2008 by Fernandez
The Strange Boys :: ACL 2008 by Fernandez
Gogol Bordello :: ACL 2008 by Perlaky
Gogol Bordello :: ACL 2008 by Perlaky
Hot Chip :: ACL 2008 by Perlaky
David Byrne :: ACL 2008 by Perlaky
Del Tha Funky Homosapien :: ACL 2008 by Perlaky
Vampire Weekend :: ACL 2008 by Perlaky
The Mars Volta :: ACL 2008 by Perlaky
The Mars Volta :: ACL 2008 by Perlaky

Continue reading for more images from ACL...

Saturday, September 27

ACL 2008 by Fernandez
Man Man :: ACL 2008 by Perlaky
Man Man :: ACL 2008 by Perlaky
Spiritualized :: ACL 2008 by Perlaky
Fleet Foxes :: ACL 2008 by Perlaky
Black Joe :: ACL 2008 by Perlaky
Drive-By Truckers :: ACL 2008 by Perlaky
Mason Jennings :: ACL 2008 by Perlaky
ACL 2008 by Perlaky
Lee Boys :: ACL 2008 by Perlaky
ACL 2008 by Fernandez
Erykah Badu :: ACL 2008 by Perlaky
Beck :: ACL 2008 by Perlaky

Continue reading for more images from ACL...

Sunday, September 28

ACL 2008 by Perlaky
Abigail Washburn :: ACL 2008 by Perlaky
Octopus Project :: ACL 2008 by Perlaky
Heartless Bastards :: ACL 2008 by Fernandez
White Denim :: ACL 2008 by Perlaky
Stars :: ACL 2008 by Perlaky
Silversun Pickups :: ACL 2008 by Fernandez
Okkervil River :: ACL 2008 by Perlaky
The Kills :: ACL 2008 by Fernandez
Gnarls Barkley :: ACL 2008 by Fernandez
Band of Horses :: ACL 2008 by Perlaky
Foo Fighters :: ACL 2008 by Perlaky
Foo Fighters :: ACL 2008 by Perlaky

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Treetophigh Tue 9/30/2008 05:55PM
+4 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


the wamu stage ha

phreak89 Tue 9/30/2008 05:58PM
+4 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


Too bad there wasn't an AIG stage, that irony would be even better.

jambander Tue 9/30/2008 06:17PM
+2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


while the lineup is unquestionably ridiculous, hour long sets? instead of doing one thing well, it seems like ACL does every genre mediocre...running from one stage to the next to see 45 minutes of a band?

Lightenupyourload starstarstarstar Tue 9/30/2008 06:42PM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


Not one pict. of Gillian, David and Alison?!! wtf Why are the reviewers and photogs always covering different things in these reviews?!!

NickBoeka starstarstarstarstar Tue 9/30/2008 07:33PM
+4 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


sarah - you're quickly becoming one of my favorite writers here at the 'base. compared to many of the festival write-ups this summer, I found yours the most captivating in presentation, and also in your artist choices. good work!

RothburyWithCheese starstarstarstarstar Tue 9/30/2008 08:39PM
0 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


Acl cemented it's self as the best festival in the country. Sure the lineup (overall) was at times questionable and Saturday night's horrific clusterfuck of bands made it a bit frustrating; it still didnt take away from the ass kicking time that the tens of thousands in a attendance had.

My schedule---Friday: Jamie Lidell, Jenny Lewis, Mars Volta. Missed: Frankenreiter. Saturday: Langhorne Slim, Jose Gonzalez, Drive By Truckers, Erykah Badu, Mason Jennings, Yonder Mountain, and Beck. Missed: Black Keys, Roky Erickson, Iron & Wine. Sunday: Xavier Rudd amd Gnarls Barkley. Missed: Raconteurs. Friday and Sunday were light days. If I had my way I would scrunch Friday and Sunday's bands into one day. Making a really good 3 day fest into a magnificent 2 day affair. Camping fests are fun but nothing beats leaving a festival and stopping at Wendy's or Taco Cabana before getting home for a nice hot shower and a nice bed. See y'all next year!!

lemak91 Tue 9/30/2008 10:27PM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


so yonder fucking threw down some amazing bluegrass on saturday. best act by far..

fishbone1 starstarstarstarstar Wed 10/1/2008 12:54AM
+2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


dead, you missed black keys and raconteurs? i've seen em a couple times each at least and they rock house. as for the short set times, this is run by the lollapalooza people, and they don't know shit about making a schedule.

mreezal Wed 10/1/2008 02:17AM
0 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


cool. but phish is back

Conjugal Burning starstarstarstarstar Wed 10/1/2008 07:29AM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Conjugal Burning

^^ if only phish could touch the epic Volta jams! sorry ive got the fever as well.... nice writing, this looked fun as hell with a killer lineup.

ferrin starstarstarstar Wed 10/1/2008 10:45AM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Check out backstage interviews with tons of the ACL performers:

djdaddyp starstarstarstarstar Wed 10/1/2008 11:44AM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


Spiritualized blew me away. Beck was solid. MGMT sounded better live than usual if you could get near them. Racontuers certainly rocked. Missed a lot as it tends to go but I hear Stars rocked.

johnnygoff starstarstarstarstar Wed 10/1/2008 12:44PM
+2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


great review.

recently saw a sick viewing on Palladia (HD TV Concerts) of ACL w/ the Raconteurs rocking out. (last year, i presume)

also, thanks for the Joe Bonamassa mention. A Utica, NY product w/ some of the best hands in the world of guitar today.

Lastly, how good are the Fleet Foxes?

bubbarock starstarstar Wed 10/1/2008 12:54PM
-2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


Sarah-your write-up is a bit of a downer...sounds like you were too lazy to get around and check out the bands...or reposition yourself so you got away from the "stage bleeding"? What about Plant & Kraus, Backdoor Slam,Old 97's,MGMT,Fogerty,Conor Oberst,Sharon Jones,Raconteurs,Neko Case,and White name a few? And the Foo's...they freakin' rocked!! They were way psyched to be the closing band of ACL. That mellow version of "My Hero", (into "Monkey Wrench") with the crowded singing along was incredible. Taylor Hawkins is far from a "poser". And the aftershows? The Parish Room with James McMurtry and Band of Horses saturday night was phenomenol! You were probably asleep at your place "ten minutes away".

JingoBa Wed 10/1/2008 02:03PM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


Mars Volta was a journey through the mind of a schizo. I liked it!... also I don't see Backdoor slam mentioned. They opened with a cream cover and were really good live. My back hurts like hell but it was all worth it! see ya in 09

rdawson124 Wed 10/1/2008 10:02PM
-1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!



ladym292 Thu 10/2/2008 07:21AM
0 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Saw Daivid Byrne the first night of his tour...his dancers are supposed to be that way..the man is wicked smart...sorry if you didnt get it...and he plays one hell of a show...great to see him back on tour and playing old talking heads material...

jimvrountree star Thu 10/2/2008 11:50AM
-2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

wow, these two dumbasses managed to miss the three best shows of the weekend: MGMT, gogol bordello and the raconteurs. congrats.

johnnyblaze36 star Thu 10/2/2008 12:41PM
0 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

^^big hungry joe!! I stopped reading this review at the horrible assessment on page 1 of Hot Chip. They freakin' pwned Dallas last Thursday. The gloves are off!

2channelguy starstarstar Thu 10/2/2008 01:43PM
0 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

ACL has given up on the Jamband genre for whatever reason. Sure they had Yonder but that was about it. Bring on Panic or forget it guys.

jimvrountree Thu 10/2/2008 02:11PM
0 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

lol, i'm sure they're scrambling to get panic (who isn't even touring next year) or p groove so they can hit on the "2channelguy" demographic.

whatup, blaze? what's the haps?

irtimed starstarstarstar Sat 10/4/2008 11:55AM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


Cool review, but i wouldn't say Joe Bonnamassa has a Voice like Warren. but he's a great talent none the less.