Saturday, September 27
Mugison – AT&T Blue Room Stage – 11:45-12:30
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.
|Robin Pecknold - Fleet Foxes by Perlaky|
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
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.
|P. Hood - Drive-By Truckers by Perlaky|
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, 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.
|Erykah Badu by Perlaky|
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
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":
|Jeff Austin - YMSB by Perlaky|
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
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 :: ACL 2008 by Perlaky|
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...