I am privileged to bring you part one of the San Antonio Current's 2008 Austin City Limits Festival coverage. This is my third ACL (unless my one-day 2007 pilgrimage to see Arcade Fire doesn't count), and, considering myself a festival pro (I was at this year's Lollapalooza, also), I thought I knew what to expect. I also wasn't completely floored by this year's lineup like previous years. However, what I originally thought was a lackluster schedule has proven so far to be surprisingly good, if not a little Friday-heavy. Another surprise: The weather was beautiful. Hot, but not humid â?? with plenty of breezes and occasional cloud cover. I still drank about 2 liters of water (and a few vodka-Red Bulls to keep my energy up) but like I said to the poor girl who threw up on her shoes waiting for Radiohead at Lollapalooza: In Texas, the heat will kill you. We don't mess with the sun.
And now, my report from the front:
Yeasayer was the first band I shot in the photo pit, and it almost didn't happen. I suspect that part of the fun of working security at a music festival is abusing the authority your royal blue T-shirt bestows upon you, and my suspicions were proven right on at least three separate occasions. Trying to access a photo pit is like guessing the outcome of a coin toss. (If you try to enter left, they tell you to go around to the right, if you go to the right, they tell you to enter from the left!) At Yeasayer, I tried to enter through the right only to be told that I needed to enter from behind the stage somewhere. OK, fair enough. But as ACL security kept guiding me I realized I was just going further and further away from the stage. Spying two other photogs on their way to shoot Yeasayer, I followed them right into the photo pit through the same entrance I was turned away from. This sort of thing happened again with David Byrne and The Mars Volta, incredibly. The adage is true: Absolute power makes people act like jerks for no reason.
Yeasayer is from Brooklyn, but they have little in common with the so-called "New York sound" that was getting so much buzz at the turn of the century. These guys sound much warmer, earthier, and ultimately, kinda jammy. I'm not really big on jam bands, and all of Yeasayer's lyrics about mothers, sisters, and brothers were all a little too "I'd like to buy the world a Coke" for me. But the crowd seemed into it, I'll have to check them out on record to make a better call.
Oh, Vampire Weekend. I've defended them from a few indie-snobs who say that your collegiate afro-pop is simply whitewashing a musical genre, stealing from Paul Simon (who was accused of the same thing), or being nothing more than an ironic wink. I don't think it's any of those things â?? at the end of the day, their self-titled debut album is still fun to listen to. Playing live, though, is another matter. While their straight-up rock songs, "A-Punk" and "Walcott," sounded great, the more afro-pop tunes were sluggish and lead-footed. "M79" in particular suffered from some major time issues, and it didn't help that the Tosca String Quartet was all but drowned out by the drums and bass. However, the did debut some new stuff that featured keyboardist Rostam Batmanglij (is that an anagram?) on guitar that sounded pretty good.
DEL THA FUNKY HOMOSAPIEN
I have to admit to not being too familiar with Del Tha Funky Homosapien outside of his work with Gorillaz (he's the rapper on "Clint Eastwood" and "Rock the House") but he and his crew put on an awesome show, launching into freestyle rapping and getting the mosty-white crowd pumped up.
M. Ward is the "Him" of She & Him, his musical partnership with actress Zooey Deschanel. But he's first and foremost an accomplished singer-songwriter in his own right, and the WaMu stage was absolutely jam-packed with fans of all ages. His album, Post-War, is a superb mix of alt-country, folk, and rock.
He and his band were really tight, and among the backstage admirers was none other than Jenny Lewis, who'd be playing the WaMu stage following Ward's set. I resisted the urge to propose to her and instead offered a very professional greeting. She's as nice and down-to-earth as she seems, and very, very pretty in person. Unfortunately, I had to choose another set over hers: Hot Chip.
Hot Chip was amazing live. Just incredible. Their robot-rock sounded big and spacious, and was recreated with live instruments (complete with assorted percussion) as well as digital sampling. The played all the hits, like "Boy From School" and "Over and Over" from The Warning, and they killed with tracks like "Shake a Fist" and "Ready For the Floor" from their newest, Made in the Dark. Everybody was dancing and singing along, and Hot Chip themselves were having a blast. After the low-key affair that was M. Ward, Hot Chip hit Zilker like an atom bomb. Even David Byrne liked it.
Speaking of David Byrne (and continuing the dressing in all-white theme), his set at the AT&T stage was odd, majestic, and very impressive. I had the option to either shoot N*E*R*D or Byrne, and out of my love of Talking Heads I had to side with Byrne. He and his large ensemble didn't disappoint, either, although the possible appearance by Brian Eno didn't happen.
THE MARS VOLTA
Finally, the closer â?? The Mars Volta took the stage at 8:15, and it wasn't soon enough for the people who'd waited all day at the AMD stage to see them (funniest thing I heard from the crowd: "Hurry up! We had to see Patti Smith to get this spot!"). Mars Volta took the stage with a fury, acting like superheroes. Lead singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala flailed around, wailingly in an unnaturally high pitch (I'm blaming the skinny jeans) while Omar Rodriguez-Lopez shredded his axe. It was also the loudest show of the day: my clothes were vibrating from the soundwaves coming off the monitors. As for the music, Mars Volta hasn't really been my thing, but there is no doubting the virtuosity, energy and conviction that Mars Volta pours into each of their 28-minute songs.
Stay tuned for tomorrow's rundown of Saturday's events, right here at sacurrent.com!