ACL Festival Day 3

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Devendra Banhart and the Grogs

Opening and closing with hits from his break-out album, 2005's Cripple Crow, Devendra Banhart's set was everything I expected, and then some. A pioneer revivalist of both freak folk and sunny California pop, without whom fellow ACL acts Local Natives, Yeasayer, and Beach House might not be playing their major time slots, Banhart and his group the Grogs entertained with few of the singer's earlier antics.

Don't get me wrong, Banhart may sport a slightly less hirsute and more normal style, but he still bounces around on pipe-cleaner legs and howls, coos, and shudders in a pop vocal aproximation of a free jazz player's wanderings. This time his freak-outs are anchored by the Grogs, his rocking backing band consisting of two guitars, bass, and drums. While he's recently been panned for directionless and messy albums, the songs Banhart and the Grogs played were coherent, bearing surf rock hallmarks and psychedelic roots.

A charismatic showman, even while channeling character voices (we heard today from someone's New Yorker mother), Banhart traipsed the length of the stage, and leaped onto the front barrier for "I Want to be Your Lover." In the middle of his set, he suddenly asked "Who has a song they've always wanted to play live, but they haven't yet?" he then invited one lucky guy up to the stage to play what turned out to be a really bizarre murder ballad, as Banhart and co graciously ceded the stage.

Banhart closed with my, and apparently many other people's, favorite song of his, "I Feel Just Like a Child." Even though he's closing in on 30, after his pixie-ish performance, I still believe the line "From my cradle to my grave, I guess I'll always be a child."

The Constellations

Due to a "misplaced" bus and gear (we heard rumors of theft), hotly anticipated Midwestern collective Gayngs had to cancel. Based on name alone, we decided against seeing last-minute (the bus drove off around 4 am Sunday morning according to our source) replacement Lance Herbstrong. Instead, based on meeting them earlier in the day, we decided to see the Constellations, who played roughly the same time-slot.

Good decision: The many-membered group's party-hearty southern anthems woke us right up. Their obvious delight to simply be playing onstage at the festival made up for lead singer Elijah Jones occasionally resembling a bongo-beating, hackey-sacking Kid Rock. But his enthusiasm, along with his seven bandmates' inventive instrumentation kept heads nodding instead of shaking.

YeaSayer

I'm pretty sure before they started playing, the members of Yeasayer placed what looked like a pile of ponchos and a weird organic sculpture resembling a gigantic uncooked turkey onstage. The visual cue served to say "hey, in case you couldn't tell, we are really fucking weird, like really fucking weird." And it worked! Yeasayer is a super weird group. Not in a noisy, scary, experimental way, or a psychotic, introverted way, but in a synthesizing, harmonizing way. You just don't hear that kind of shared, high-pitched vocals, layered synthesizers and tribal beats in one song anywhere else. Also, how is it they always sound so life-affirming, even when singing lyrics like "life is easier when one of us is dead?"

Even though Yeasayer might secretly want to kill the entire audience (maybe that's what that gigantic turkey deal was ... maybe it shoots lasers from its multiple eyes?) their dreamy world pop will at least lull us into a blissful slumber first.

Flaming Lips

It's called a space bubble. I was wondering how to phrase the contraption that Wayne Coyne often walks around in during shows to fulfill his sizable messiah complex. I came up with "giant hamster ball," as that's what the man-sized, inflatable orb that Coyne climbs into and walks over the audience's outstretched arms in resembled most to me. Anyway, Coyne came right out before any music and warned the audience that he would in fact be stepping out in the "space bubble," and to please not crush each other in a mad rush to touch Coyne as he practically levitated above the crowd.

If only Jesus Christ had such tricks up his sleeve, I'd surely frequent the church more often. But alas, I've never seen a preacher with a bullhorn spewing pink fog, a confetti gun, or a bunch of groupies dressed in neon orange. OK, in all actuality, if I did see a church engaging in any of these practices, I might run far, far away instead of getting the urge to crowd surf. Especially if the preacher and his choir entered the stage via a giant psychedelic vagina. But maybe if they played epic late '70s rock, it would go down better?

The Lips' set was heavy on material from their latest album, Embryonic, which returned to their earliest, most noisy, and most experimental selves. Notable exceptions were the throwback "She Don't Use Jelly," played, I think, just to remind people of the group's pre-2000 existence. They also closed with a strangely subdued version of "Do You Realize," a beautiful, yet uncharacteristically quiet way to end the Flaming Lips section of the evening.

The National

In stark contrast to the above bands, the National came across as straight forward adult rock, in the best possible way. Against a subtle violet backdrop, a nod to their most recent album High Violet, singer Matt Berninger led his large band, including a trumpet player, trombone player, and violinist in addition to the original five members. The group managed to breeze through a dozen songs in just over an hour, and even played an encore, with bassist/guitarist Bryce Dessner joking "I saw Glen Frey in the shower earlier today and he said we could have five more minutes," as the Eagles started playing their headliner slot at the other end of the park.

Opening with "Anyone's Ghost," the National played mainly High Violet songs, leaning on Berninger's rich vocals and the full band's lush, orchestral sound. Occasional, well-chosen deviations from the Violet path included "the Slow Show" (most romantic line ever? "You know I dreamed about you for 29 years before I saw you"), and "Apartment Story" from Boxer and "Mr. November" from Alligator. After introducing songs with lines like "this song is about marriage and canibalism," or "this song is about brothers that kill each other," Dessner joked, "we keep trying to escape the dark label of our music and Matt keeps writing songs like this."

Final Thoughts

Top Three Performances Sound and Fury Saw:

1) LCD Soundsystem

2) The National

3) Beach House

Top Three Performances Sound and Fury Missed:

1) Gayngs

2) Monsters of Folk

3) Grace Potter

Top Three Musical Trends:

1) Maracas

2) Psychedelia

3) Positive thinking

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