I rolled into Zilker Park late (well, early Saturday), missing some of ACL's main spectacles, like Santigold and Mr. Ego himself, Kanye West. Sure, Saturday had its heavy hitters (Stevie Wonder!). But for the most part, it was a pretty weak schedule, with a few choice exceptions.
Hands down, one of the most interesting performances I caught happened bright and early Saturday before the crowds even hit Zilker when Stevie Wonder and his band sound-checked and rehearsed for their Saturday-night set, running through changes on tunes like “Keep on Running.” After a small crowd gathered, security scrambled and pushed everyone back to watch from a distance – even bands setting up on nearby stages dropped everything and walked over for a listen. Though brief, it was a fascinating peek behind the curtain, a chance to watch a band stacked with incredibly talented musicians hone their skills.
It was much later in the day before the swarming crowds of festival-goers even bothered to show up. One of Saturday's better sets that many probably missed was Twin Shadow, the poppy Brooklyn-based new-wave act. Twin Shadow isn't the only band running back to the lush 80s-era new-wave sound, but they're doing it better than almost anyone else out there. They played an incredibly tight set – maybe inspired by the surprise early-morning Stevie Wonder set – ending with their most notable track, “Castles in the Snow.”
Bizarre scheduling put two of Saturday afternoon's main draws - musical polar opposites - back-to-back in one corner of the park. On one hand, Alison Krauss and Union Station set up and burned through solos with precision. Whatever your feelings for bluegrass, it's well worth the experience just watching these guys play, especially Dobro master Jerry Douglas
. But immediately following the set, crowds swarmed to Skrillex (a lanky, white DJ formerly of From First to Last...for anyone who remembers that) for dancing and, of course, indulging in a fair amount of recreational drug use. It's hard to overstate the sonic whiplash that comes with bouncing from Union Station to Skrillex. Squeals, sampling, button-pushing, mixing, dubstep, whatever you want to call it – Skrillex was monstrously loud and sharp enough to make your teeth hurt.
Moving on to Sunday, there was a lot of competition for attention, with acts like Fleet Foxes, the Walkmen, Broken Social Scene, and, of course, Arcade Fire. One that largely went overlooked, judging by the crowd, was noise-rock duo Death From Above 1979. Even after five years apart, Sebastien Grainger and Jesse Keeler nailed almost everything off their insanely-good 2004 album You're a Woman, I'm a Machine
with frenetic drumming and growling bass. Though a smaller crowd than other acts, DFA put on one the most energetic sets of the entire fest. At one point, during "Romantic Rights," Grainger jumped down off the stage, writhing overtop the crowd and muttering incoherently.
For those crowding the TV tent up on the nearby hill, transfixed on the Dallas Cowboys game, it must have sounded like two punk kids throwing a very, very noisy tantrum. -- Michael Barajas