There was something for everyone at Zilker Park last weekend for Austin City Limits, and I don’t just mean musically. It was it’s own small city. In addition to the seven stages of music, there was a massive Beer Hall with sports playing on big screens, a shopping area with booths selling everything from local art to wet wipes, a bocce ball court, a record store, a farmers market, a Plinko Parlor, a huge spread of food options, free-standing bars (too many), and free water filling stations (not enough). There was lots of space to throw down a blanket or a chair and watch shows from afar, and also chair-free zones in front of every stage to make sure those that wanted to push in front had a chance to do so. Basically if you weren’t having a good time, you were doing it wrong.
The music was diverse as well, with artists ranging from Sturgill Simpson to Nero to Vance Joy to Modest Mouse. The folks organizing the line up did well to take those diversities into consideration, not putting too many conflicting acts in the same time time slots and making it easy to curate your own experience without having to miss much. That is, if you were willing to hustle. And ladies and gents, I certainly was willing to hustle.
Arriving a tad late on Friday (I have a real job, too) my first full set was Billy Idol’s. He didn’t waste much time getting right to what everyone wanted to hear with “Dancing With Myself” coming second to “Postcards from the Past,” which was also pretty appropriate. I posted on Facebook a comment about Billy looking good for 95 (turns out he’s actually 59) but the open shirt look was brave, very brave. I actually preferred to watch the woman on the side platform signing the set for the hearing impaired. She was getting it. And props to ACL for having that accommodation.
Straight on over to the Miller Lite stage for Run the Jewels, who absolutely killed it, as one would expect. I swear they are a modern Beastie Boys… only better. It’s in the way they play off of each other; makes it an assault to the ears twice the intensity of what either one could do on their own, and I mean that in a good way.
Tame Impala’s set was on point as well. It’s always interesting to see psychedelic music recreated live; sounds that just don’t sound natural coming from the instruments you see on stage. I imagine Tame Impala as wizards with wands, not real people playing real instruments. It was a breezy and pleasant show and the songs literally sounded straight off the album. Not too much creativity or unexpectedness, but they executed well.
Flosstradamus, on the other hand, was obnoxious. Plain obnoxious. From the massive platform they were performing on to the crowd their music appealed to… just the music itself. I watched from the top of the hill and still got assaulted “with love” by some girl obviously on more drugs than she knew how to handle. Maybe trap music just isn’t for me, because people were certainly having a good time. But no thanks.
So thank god Disclosure happened immediately after, and of course put on amazing performance. I had hoped they would bring out Lion Babe considering she was set to perform on Sunday and is a featured vocalist on Caracal. They came through. No Lorde appearance, but “Magnets” got a stellar reaction. All their new material went over well, actually. Their visual set up was stunning and they displayed both class and talent on stage.
It was really an easy choice for me between this and Foo Fighters, who were performing at the same time on the other side of the park, but I did swing by on my way out and the crowd for Foo Fighters was difinitively larger. Lots of mistakes were made that night.
Day two began, for me, with Milo Greene. It was early in the day, hot, and on a big stage with no shade, so it was not the most pleasant show of the weekend, but they always sound good. Really good. Heck, I had to see them twice at SXSW this year. The group share vocal duties so there’s no real “lead singer” which creates a dynamic experience both on their record and in a live setting.
I took a break to chat with the boys from Beat Connection (interview to be posted soon) before heading back out to catch San Fermin and Ryn Weaver. As I tend to do at these things, when two (or three or four) acts that I want to see are playing at the same time I do my best to get there for some of each, and ACL’s stage set up made it fairly easy to do so, assuming you’re not lugging a bunch of crap, with a huge group of people, or absurdly out of shape.
San Fermin had driven through the night to get here and were rolling on just a couple hours of sleep but you would never have known it. This ensemble is always on point, and always bring the right amount of intensity, energy, and emotion. If you’re not familiar yet, this is a group you need to know. They make excellent chamber pop with two equally talented vocalists in Allen Tate and Charlene Kaye backed by live drums, horns, and strings, all composed by the ultra-talented Ellis Ludwig-Leone directing the unit from behind his keys.
Ryn Weaver was also out to impress, with a very healthy crowd for her early set at the Homeaway stage. The mood felt a bit somber as I was approaching, but “Promises” was the first full song I heard of her set and she nailed it. At one point she stopped to talk to the crowd about how festivals should about being there with people and not just on your phone, and asked everyone to turn around and introduce themselves to two people they didn’t come with. The group all obliged and it was a nice sentiment. She closed the set with her hit “OctaHate” followed by “New Constellations,” a song she described to be about never settling. It seems she had some messages to impart, and the people we eating them up.
Father John Misty wasted no time getting engaged with crowd on opening number “Honeybear”. I mean literally engaged; he got into the crowd. But I think it was the photographers in the pit that mauled him more than the sea of fans. Rude. He was dressed in all black and the sun was still out but he paid no mind, moving all over the stage up and down off of equipment and his knees and stepping to the front of the state to show off his dance moves. He turned what could quiet bedroom music into something festival-worthy and it was no less than impressive.
I caught a minute of MisterWives, who had a notably young crowd which appreciated their cover of “I Can’t Feel My Face” much more than Michael Jackson’s “Pretty Young Thing.” When they played “Reflections” I was at first really impressed at the amount of people singing along before I realized most of them didn’t really know the words, they were just making sounds to the tune of what she was singing. Then I left.
As the sun began to set on Zilker Park, Unknown Mortal Orchestra won my heart. Maybe part of it was being in the shaded area under the Austin Ventures stage, but I no longer felt the need to run off to another show after a few songs. At one point frontman Ruban Nielson climbed on top of the speaker stack and onto the scaffolding and one of the stage hands nearly had a heart attack trying to make sure nothing came crashing down. Totally felt for him, but it also kind of cracked me up.
I made up my mind to get close enough to actually see TV on the Radio amongst the sea of people in front of the Miller Lite stage and was thankful that I did. Their set started slowly but with a toss of his tambourine and a sudden spark of lights, Tunde Adebimpe had the crowd screaming. I stayed for most of this set but was somewhat curious to see what Bassnectar was like, so headed over to Homeaway, which was I think the most easily-crowded stages. It just couldn’t handle the same mass of people that Miller, Honda, and Samsung could, yet it seems a lot of the acts booked there pulled large enough crowds for the bigger stages. I digress. Going to Bassnectar was a mistake. Probably would have been good if I had been on drugs, but nope.
So as I’m walking back towards TV on the Radio, I am nearly run over by a man storming out of the crowd at the Austin Ventures stage. He’s followed by both a security guard and a cameraman and I assumed this was a fan getting ejected. There was still music playing so I walked towards the stage and asked someone what was going on. That guy that stormed past me? That was Boots. He had made quite an exit.
deadmau5 closed out the night displaying a brand new stage set up referred to as “The Dome” which he debuted earlier this year at Governors Ball. The press materials refer to it as “state-of-the-art, never-before-seen design encompassing future technology.” That just sounds like a bunch of words to me, but it was a good looking set up for sure. The set was strong, with classics like “Ghosts N Stuff” and “Some Chords” mixed in with newer material that this old lady wasn’t familiar with.
There was no Drake on my agenda that night, sorry not sorry.
The festival grounds were progressively more populated each day, and on Sunday the whole place was packed with blankets and chairs by 2pm. My worst conflict of the weekend was Beat Connection and Marian Hill playing at the exact same time on opposite ends of the park for that 2pm slot. I was able to catch some of both, but was VERY torn having to leave one to go to the other. More on both of these acts in our interviews forthcoming.
Daughter, all the way from the UK, played a beautiful set in the sweltering afternoon sun but I bet they were wishing for that London overcast sky. As with Father John Misty, you may think this music isn’t necessarily cut out for a festival atmosphere, but their sound was huge and inviting and pulled in quite the crowd of people entering the festival grounds. Hearing them play “Smother” was certainly my most introspective point of the weekend. Hell, that whole set had me all emotional.
I turned around to catch the beginning of BØRNS on the bordering Honda stage. As I was literally counting the minutes until they would begin and take my mind off the heat, a tiny cloud covered the sun and the crowd burst out into cheers. I thought that BØRNS had come on stage, but nope, they were cheering for the brief moment of shade.
A bit later, as I was approaching Sylvan Esso, I hear Amelia Meath say something about needing to move through the set quickly because they had lost a lot of time. I asked someone what had happened and the explanation that I got was “she was just telling jokes and stuff.” This seemed strange to me but it wasn’t until later that I found out Nick Sanborn’s laptop had overheated, which made much more sense. Regardless of any trouble, their set was amazing. Meath is so commanding on stage and Nick Sanborn is, as quoted by Meath, “a wizard” with his production. We were treated to some new material which absolutely RAGES and appeased with the hits “Hey Mami” and “Coffee.” Despite any technical difficulties, this set was flawless.
If I didn’t already love Tito’s Vodka (and I do), I would have been made a fan as I paid my first visit to their covered stage for Classixx. It was a smaller stage, hidden behind the market area, and maybe this is why it wasn’t too crowded. Or maybe everyone else was at The Decemberists or Ben Howard. Either way, I was able to stand close without fighting for breathing room. It felt more like a club show than any I’d seen so far and it was well appreciated. I didn’t get to hear some of my favorites of theirs, but they did cover/sample Yacht’s “Psychic City” which was pretty great.
The moment that I did catch of The Decemberists was Colin Meloy directing the crowd to sing back his “oh-ee-oh-ee-oh-ee-oh’s” first as a group, then as all the girls, then as all the guys, then as all the girls as guys, then as all the guys as girls, and so on. He ended the little sing along with a statement that “gender roles are just a social construct.” Thank you, Colin!
I had no choice but to watch Alt-J from the middle of a huge sea; I was literally engulfed. One moment I was standing in “safety” with plenty of space around me, well to the side and back and quite far from the stage. As the show went on it became more and more crowded and I was shuffled into the masses, sucked in. While I was annoyed and uncomfortable at first, it was actually a fitting experience for my last show of the weekend. I was able to see the performance without an agenda and enjoy it with the people around me. Some guy headbutted me and made up for it by offering me his blunt. Why not? Alt-J were engaging and simply stunning. They created a haunting visual experience and executed the songs perfectly. This was the opposite of a rager and it was perfect.
Being the square that I am, I left after this. Yeah… I skipped Florence and The Weeknd. Yes, I would have liked to see them. No, it was not worth fighting the crowds out of there. Again, sorry not sorry.[/tps_header]