While I was prepared for the heat (Saturday was hotter then Friday; less cloudy and breezy), I was not prepared for what some have called the "ACL Mud Booger Plague." If the sun doesn't kill you, then the dust of Zilker Park will definitely make breathing difficult for about a week. I feel like a coal miner. Until yesterday, I never knew what someone meant when they told me to "eat dirt." You know what? It's not fun.
Saturday wasn't as exciting as Friday band-wise, but like Day One, there were a few surprises. Like CSS.
You have probably heard CSS before, believe it or not. Their song "Music is My Hot Hot Sex" was featured in an iPod Touch commercial. I missed the Brazilian group (CSS is short for Cansei de Ser Sexy â?? or "tired of being sexy") at Lollapalooza, so I was determined to catch them at ACL after seeing photos from their stage show in Chicago. They didn't disappoint, either â?? lead singer Lovefoxxx and her crew didn't mind the heat, and even tried turning it up a notch with their fun brand of electro-pop (and costumes!).
The crowd loved CSS, and CSS loved them right back. Lovefoxxx didn't neglect the dust-covered photogs in the pit, either, jumping off the stage and right into our faces! (That first shot was taken as she grinded her crotch into my lens. My zoom's not that powerful.) Great show to kick off the day.
Erykah Badu looked like she just woke up. Dressed in sweat pants and a plain T-shirt (covering a pregnant stomach) I didn't know what to expect when she came onstage a few minutes late. But once her incredibly tight backing band started playing, I was hooked. This was a true hip-hop band, digging a groove about a mile deep. And when Badu stepped up the mic and launched into her first number â?? complete with pregnant dance moves! â?? I was %100 sold.
Badu is a true artist, though, in every sense of the word. The so-called "analog girl in a digital world" didn't disappoint with her mix of old-school R&B and cutting-edge hip-hop, spinning out tracks from her newest album New Amerykah, Part One: 4th World War. She did kinda lose some people about three-quarters into her set when she started getting political, but in such a political year (I've seen almost as many Obama T-shirts as I have Ray-Ban Wayfarers) it's already on everybody's mind anyway. Regardless, she won them back with a creative use of tuning forks. A+.
I almost couldn't get into the photo pit for MGMT. Not because security was being jerky, but because there were so many people there! It seemed like the most crowded stage at ACL thus far. It was a total mess. Adding to my confusion was the fact that I'm not really a big MGMT fan. I'm not really into their psychedelic jam-rock, and am curious as to what it does for other people â?? because I had no idea they were this big. There's a good chance that the fault is mine, here â?? but are they on a movie soundtrack or something? Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist?
CONOR OBERST AND THE MYSTIC VALLEY BAND
Conor Oberst came onstage dressed like funeral director, which fit his downtrodden, gloomy sound. Or so I thought, until he and his Mystic Valley Band launched into some pretty convincing alt-country rock with lyrics like "there's nothing the road cannot heal."
While technically accomplished (Oberst sounds like he finally grew into his voice), I have to admit to being a little indifferent to the proceedings. Not being a huge Bright Eyes fan (although "First Day of My Life" is incredibly beautiful), Oberst provided little stage excitement, unless you found his mere presence exciting (like the front row of mostly teenage girls). If I sound too down on Oberst, it's only because this was the middle of a long, dusty stretch before Beck, who was one of the only performers I was really into seeing on Day 2. And did I mention the dust?
THE BLACK KEYS
The Black Keys, from Akron, Ohio, was up next â?? and for two guys they made a lot of noise (earplugs definitely helped on this one). I feel bad because whenever someone mentions The Black Keys, I can't help but compare them to The White Stripes (two-person guitar-drums lineup, blues and garage influences, similar names), but after Day 2 I sort of feel that, while the comparison is apt, The Black Keys are much less self-consciously arty and more focused on rocking your face off.
And then, the main event: Beck Hansen on the AT&T stage. The crowd was amped up for Beck, and he threw down the gauntlet from the first note with "Loser." As Beck and his band* ran through their set, I was amazed at the sheer number of really good songs in the Beck catalogue. Even the older stuff, like "Devil's Haircut," sounded just as fresh as "Modern Guilt." An inspired take on "Mixed Bizness" led into a drop-dead awesome, completely sampled electronic version of "Hell Yes" from 2005's Guero. Then he was able to convincingly switch gears to the acoustic "Golden Age" from Sea Change with incredible ease. Beck truly is a chameleon.
Check back tonight for full coverage of ACL 2008 Day 3 at sacurrent.com!
*Every guy I talked to post-Day 2 agreed with me that Beck's guitarist Jessica Dobson (yes, I Googled her. No, it's not weird, it's journalistic research) was distractingly beautiful and an immensely talented guitarist. Beck: She's a keeper.