Words by: Rick Barnes | Images by: Dave Vann
Austin City Limits Festival :: 10.08.10-10.10.10 :: Zilker Park :: Austin, TX
Extensive gallery of Vann-y goodness at bottom of this review!
Austin City Limits Music Festival celebrated its 9th birthday last weekend by once again assembling an eclectic array of artists representing nearly every facet of modern, popular music while executing a nearly flawless production with spot-on set times, the highest quality sound and light systems, and delicious local food and drink (with little or no lines).. Heck, even the weather was perfect this year with all three days seeing bright blue skies and endless sunshine with temperatures in the mid-to-high 80s. In fact, the weather was one of the bigger storylines this year after the rain and mud bath of last year's fest, the dust bowl of 2005, and the searing heat of the early years when the festival took place in mid-September.
|Miike Snow :: ACL '10 by Dave Vann|
ACL has established itself as one of the top festivals in the country since its inception 9 years ago. Tickets for this year's event were sold out months in advance with "early-bird" tickets selling out in a couple days, way before the artist lineup was even announced. There is a certain flare and character one finds and feels at ACL that seems to be missing from other festivals of similar size and scope. Whereas other festivals create their own temporary micro-culture for the short life of the fest, ACL is distinctly Austin. The local culture shines through constantly and makes ACL special. Austin is weird, hip and funky, yet also very warm, down-to-earth and unpretentious. There is an undeniable southern charm and hospitality present.
This year's festival saw 68,000 paid attendees pass through its gates with an additional 5,000 volunteers, vendors, media and sponsors. The festival producers, C3 Presents, recently negotiated a new attendance limit with the city of Austin raising the limit from 65,000 to 75,000. Locals and festival regulars stated they immediately noticed a difference in crowd size. Although still manageable, ease of movement around the festival grounds was an issue at times. This writer's personal pet peeve regarding this issue was the amount of chairs that festivalgoers bring to ACL. Bringing a chair to an all-day fest to rest one's feet and body is fine, however, I found at any given time over 50-percent of said chairs where sitting empty, unattended and simply clogging foot traffic. Oh well, if this is one of few criticisms that can be made of a festival this large, things are not too bad at all.
As anyone who has ever attended a festival of this size knows, there are always inevitable conflicts when it comes to the scheduling of bands. Not only do bands that you want to see play at the same time they are also typically playing a considerable distance apart. One would ideally have a doppelganger in order to experience twice the music and twice the fun. Unfortunately, our current reality does not allow for revelry with your evil twin. What follows is a snapshot of the daily highlights I was fortunate enough to experience. By no means is this an exhaustive list of everything magnificent that went down at ACL.
Friday, October 8
Miike Snow – Honda Stage - 3:00–4:00 PM
This high energy, electro-pop outfit from Sweden kicked ACL into high gear for the first time this weekend during their Friday afternoon set. Just prior to taking the stage, you could feel the anticipation in the air as several thousand people packed the Honda Stage area. Wearing all black with shiny silver face masks, Miike Snow pounded rhythmic, heavy drum beats interlaced with electronic glitch that reminded me of The Blue Man Group in a way, only these performers were creating forward thinking, live electronic music. Driving "house" beats lifted the energy high and created an ACL dance party. It is generally considered poor etiquette to cover another band's song when that band is on the same bill the same evening, however, when the lead singer of the covered band actually comes onstage and sings the song himself the stamp of approval has been granted. Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend joined Miike Snow for a revved-up, electro version of "The Kids Don't Stand a Chance" to the delight of the surprised thousands lucky enough to witness this unexpected, unusual collaboration.. Miike Snow delivered a smart, energizing set that gave everyone the feeling that more great things are sure to come.
The Black Keys – AMD Stage - 4:00–5:00 PM
Trumping the anticipation level felt before Miike Snow, the buzz in the air prior to The Black Keys taking the stage was palpable. This dynamic duo exploded onto the stage creating the sound of seemingly twice as many musicians. The set began with guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney playing songs from their earlier catalogue, with Carney, face beat-red, looking like his head might explode. Midway through the set, a full band joined the core duo to play songs off the recent and critically acclaimed Brothers album. Although Auerbach and Carney can create songs packed with depth and power by themselves, the addition of more musicians took their sound to even higher levels. With a stage backdrop of two hands in black & red joined in a "soul-brother" shake, a feeling of solidarity and brotherhood was omnipresent.
The Sword – ZYNC Stage - 5:00–6:00 PM
|Trey Anastasio :: ACL '10 by Dave Vann|
Personally, this was one of the sets to which I was most looking forward. Although outside the typical "box" for ACL, The Sword blasted their classic metal sound in front of hometown Austin to the delight of many longing for a bit of crunch in their ACL diet. Flying V guitars, bell-bottoms and synchronized jamming made me feel like I was in a rock 'n' roll time warp at times. Sporting the only mosh pit of the weekend, this set of smart metal put a sense of frenzy in the air as the festival continued to unfold. Kudos to ACL for stretching the musical palette and scope of the fest to include a band such as The Sword.
Ryan Bingham and The Dead Horses – Austin Ventures Stage – 7:15–8:00 PM
Bingham is one of the newest, freshest faces in the alt-country scene these days. Country rock elements interplay well with a nice pop sensibility. Bingham's gravely voice is reminiscent of Dylan and his delivery reminds one of Steve Earle. Already a Golden Globe and Oscar winner for his contributions to the Crazy Heart soundtrack, Bingham is well on his way to being regarded as one of alt-country's finest contributors. He is certainly breathing fresh life into a genre that has had its fair share of bland imitators over the past few years.
Phish – Budweiser Stage – 8:00–10:00 PM
If Phish play a festival it is typically their own gathering and it's all about them. It was therefore a special treat to be able to enjoy a Phish set while experiencing the numerous other great bands playing at ACL. Although the set did not have the "melt-your-face-off" energy level some had longed for, the boys nonetheless delivered a spirited two-hour set of Phish standards.
Blind Pilot – Late Night Aftershow – Stubb's
Blind Pilot at the intimate, legendary Austin landmark Stubb's was a real treat. I must say this was the first time a band gave me the chills during the ACL weekend. Blind Pilot's warm, soothing melodies and lyrics make you feel like they are constantly giving you a big hug while reassuring you everything is going to be okay. Excellent song craft accented with brass, strings and vibraphone create rich, pleasant sounds that naturally appeal to a wide audience.
Saturday, October 9
Black Lips – ZYNC Stage - 3:30–4:30 PM
This high-octane garage rock band blew up the stage on a hot, sunny Saturday afternoon. I got a strong Stooges vibe from this band as all its members bounced around the stage with searing energy reminiscent of Iggy Pop. I thought drummer Joe Bradley's head was going to pop off at times as he constantly snapped and thrashed back and forth during each song. He even managed to sing lead on some songs. Black Lips deliver power rock anthems better than just about any band out there. Their boundless energy fed the crowed well and put ACL into overdrive going into Saturday evening.
Broken Bells - AMD Stage – 4:30–5:30 PM
The Broken Bells live performance was equally as impressive as their critically acclaimed studio album, considered by many to be one of the best of 2010. The brainchild of mega-producer and mult-instrumentalist Danger Mouse with Shins frontman James Mercer, Broken Bells creates forward thinking, cutting edge pop songs. I was most impressed with seeing Danger Mouse recreate his brilliant drum lines live on an acoustic drum kit. Broken Bells is a much more organic rock band live than on album. In Broken Bells, the producers of ACL once again perfectly juxtaposed progressive modern music within backdrop of American roots music.
Monsters of Folk – Austin Venture – 6:00–8:00 PM
|Muse :: ACL '10 by Dave Vann|
Dressed in sharp black suits and ties, this super group is quintessential ACL. MMJ's Jim James, Coner Oberst (Bright Eyes), M. Ward and Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes, Mystic Valley Band) put on a excellent set of music performing both MOF songs as well as material from their respective other projects. Simple, solid American roots music is what MOF is all about. Unfortunately, the acoustic nature of MOF was obstructed by noise bleed from other stages. Other stages were showcasing loud, Saturday night rock & roll that often interfered with the much more subtle nature of MOF. Jim James claimed he hired the other bands to play at the same time as MOF in order to make their set that much more challenging. Although an annoyance, the band and crowd took the noise interference in graceful stride.
LCD Soundsystem – Budweiser Stage – 6:30–7:30 PM
This was one of the "throw-down" sets of the entire weekend. A warm, bright orange sun set on the stage as LCD raised the festival energy level to new heights. It was a high-energy dance party and a perfect fit for Saturday night. Putting their own stamp on Donna Summer's "I Feel Love," LCD got thousands of people moving, shaking, feeling good and feeling the love.
Muse – Budweiser Stage – 8:30–10:00 PM
This was by far the surprise set of the weekend for me. I was blown away by the power and heaviness of their music. Deep, thunderous bass lines seemed to shake the ground I was standing on while lasers shot across the length Zilker Park for what seemed like miles. Muse has an incredible stage and light show that is backed with heavy-handed music containing elements of metal, prog, glam and Brit-rock. It seemed like a fusion of Tool and Radiohead with a dash of Queen. I now see why Muse has been selling out arenas all over the world for the past few years. I can't wait to see them again.
Beats Antique w/ Lance Herbstrong – Late Night – MoMo's
Lance Herbstrong got this late night party started right with their uber-fun set filled with big beats and a unique take on the Beastie Boys' "Sabatoge." Featuring Frank Orall of Poi Dog Pondering on drums, Herbstrong put on a carefree set that had everyone at MoMo's moving. Beats Antique then took over and hypnotized the crowd with their enchanting old-world gypsy meets electronica sound. The crowd was also treated to special guest appearances by John Popper and Karl Denson, both of whom nearly blew the roof off the joint with their respective lung power.
Sunday, October 10
Yeasayer – AMD Stage – 4:00–5:00 PM
|The Flaming Lips :: ACL '10 by Dave Vann|
This indie, psychedelic folk rock band out of New York hit the right spot as Day 3 ensued. Blue skies with cotton ball clouds perfectly accented Yeasayer's dreamy, electro-laced tunes. As lead singer Chris Keating began singing "give it, give it, give it 'til you just can't give no more " it seemed the theme was set for the day.
Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros – ZYNC Stage – 5:00–6:00 PM
Once again this weekend, one could feel the high anticipation in the air as another special band neared the stage. Edward Sharpe and the Zeros brought an ecstatic energy to ACL comparable to a Sunday southern revival. Immediately jumping off the stage and climbing onto the barricade separating the crowd from the stage, ringleader Alex Ebert hugged and high-fived everyone within arms reach. Appearing almost messiah-like at times, Ebert broadcast a feeling of redemption and renewal.
The Flaming Lips – AMD Stage – 6:00–7:00 PM
One can never go wrong go seeing Wayne Coyne and Co. at a festival, of which they play many. Always entertaining, the Lips seemingly create a birthday party on acid every time they perform. Streamers, balloons and random, fuzzy creatures adorn the Lips' stage while their music makes you glad you were born and fortunate enough to witness such brilliance.
The Eagles – Budweiser Stage – 8:00–10:00 PM
These classic rock heroes were a fitting end to ACL. Although sounding a bit tired at times, it was a special experience to witness the tens of thousands of ACL attendees singing along with the band to their countless hits. "Hotel California," "Seven Bridges Road", "Lyin' Eyes," "Witchy Woman," "Heartache Tonight," "In the City," "Peaceful Easy Feeling" and so many more became rock anthems once again.
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