Volume: Austin City Limits Festival – Zilker Park, Austin, TX – 10/8-10/2010
“My Grandma gave me this guitar” exclaimed Manchester Orchestra guitarist Robert McDowell midway through their Saturday afternoon set. “And now I’m playing it over the internet, so she can see me… Hi Grandma!” In a weekend full of massive crowds, longish lines, and a few not necessarily polite run-ins with concert goers, this was a refreshingly nice image.
So yet another Austin City Limits Festival has come and gone. It always seems so much longer during an early Friday slot, like there is so much to take in before Sunday commences. Monday morning and the drive back always seems to be a bit of a shock, as in where did the entire weekend go… remember Friday morning when it all seemed so fresh and three days seemed like so much time? Before I knew it, we were finishing up the last strains of Don Henley’s “Dirty Laundry” and heading to the car.
Supposedly this year, ACL sold 10,000 more tickets to the festival than in the past few (I believe ’04 was the last time they sold that number). And you could certainly tell. Everything was much more crowded than in years past, and the patrons seemed less tolerable of one another. I have yet to see anything really go down, but almost saw a fight between a smaller, very drunk belligerent Austinite and a larger, would have killed him guy waiting for the porta-potties. The smaller dude was WAY in the wrong, by the way. Polite is seemingly going out the window, and I beg the powers that be at ACL, for the love of us who have been multiple years and continue to support your festival, please return the maximum to 65,000. Not only would that cut down on the amount of frustration within the crowd, it would make the enormous crowds much more tolerable and manageable (just like the past few years had been!).
But, that was just my experience and opinions of some of the people and the crowd. Regardless, it’s really about the music, so let’s get to it.
Arrived just in time to see The Soft Pack’s last 2 songs and wrap up their set. Wish I could have caught more, as they were pretty energetic, and kicked my festival weekend off just right. From there I moved on to catch a few minutes of Blues Traveler and peruse the merchandise area before moving on to The Mountain Goats last 3-4 songs. This was my first time catching them since I was introduced to them 12 years ago, and would love to catch an entire set at some point. This is really how most festival acts go for me. Catch some of this band before heading over to the next, just trying to take in as many bands over the weekend as possible.
From The Mountain Goats, I got a bit of a rest, traipsing across Zilker back and forth can be a bit exhausting after a while (yeah, I know it was only the beginning of the three days) so we grabbed a bite and got ready for The Black Keys. This was really the first set of the weekend where you could feel the enormity and difference in the crowd and overall feeling of the festival goers and their attitudes. We were positioned in a spot where my girlfriend could see the band. She’s a bit shorter so finding that particular angle is always a challenge. A couple of songs into their show, she leaned over to take a picture. As she did, a couple from behind us muttered “She moved, go!” and they shoved her out
of the way. The guy, who was a foot taller than she is, stood 1 inch in front of her and when asked “Seriously?” he said they were trying to get us to move and to, well, (putting it nicely) go do things to ourselves. Knowing we had an “in” for the Stubbs aftershow the next night, we packed it up and got out of that crowd, which took at least 10 minutes of weaving in and out of chairs and pockets of people. This worked out fine for us so we could then kick back and get a nice spot for Austin’s The Sword.
Although rumors were already floating that they were canceling their European tour, no one really knew why. We now know that drummer Trivett Wingo would be leaving the band, and this would be his last performance with them. This was one of very few sets I caught in its entirety. This is a great little metal band out of a town not necessarily known for its metal output, and one of the heavier if not heaviest acts I have seen on an ACL stage. I even saw my first ACL mosh pit during their all too short hour on stage. I hope they get back into commission soon.
Sonic Youth was next up, and probably had my favorite set of the weekend. As a dubious member of The Big Eight, I wasn’t missing a second of them, especially after skipping their headline Dallas show last year in lieu of seeing them at ACL, which they unfortunately canceled due to Lee Ranaldo’s wrist injury. Adding Pavement bassist Mark Ibold to the lineup frees Kim Gordon to prowl when she needs to and play frontwoman when she wants and at times, the dueling basses on stage filled out the already thick output of one of America’s foremost indie/experimental/punk/alternative stalwarts.
With a set centering around the majority of last year’s fantastic The Eternal, the mighty Sonic Youth dipped into the back catalog as far back as 1987’s Sister (“Stereo Sanctity”), and 1990’s Goo (“Mote”) before closing with a pair of tracks from 1988’s Library of Congress inducted Daydream Nation (“ Sprawl” and “Cross The Breeze”) bringing to an end the most perfect and beautiful set of the day if not the entire weekend (at least for me).
Which brings us to Friday’s headliners, Phish. This is one of the reasons I love ACL. I get to see acts I would never go out of my way for. I have wanted to see Phish for years, but they had broken up already and touring through Dallas… well, that’s probably not going to happen again. So I took my chance and caught a few songs, which were absolutely fantastic. I wish I hadn’t been so tired by that point, for I would have loved to have watched at least an hour of their show, but alas it wasn’t to be. Caught about 7 minutes of the insanely packed set by The Strokes and headed to Shady Grove. Day One: Over.
It seems like getting to the park early is a difficult task. Really wanted to see Balmorhea, but it just didn’t happen, which ended up being fine. At 12:30 Grace Potter and the Nocturnals hit the stage for a rousingly asinine set of granola/blues/soul/rock. Centering mainly around their self-titled latest album, Potter and her band tore through several selections, including “Tiny Lights”, “Ooh La La” “Only Love” and “Medicine”, and a very true to the original cover of Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit”. “Oh sh*t, I didn’t realize how tall this stage is. I hope you don’t see my panties”. Sorry Grace, but we certainly did. A couple of times.
I took a little break after Grace Potter’s set, eventually meandering over to The Gaslight Anthem. This is a pretty good little Jersey punkish rock act, who owe a lot to Bruce Springsteen for sure. They were exactly how I had expected them to be live – good, but nothing to really grab a hold of you and command your attention. They did begin my marathon hour and a half from one end of the park to the other, to the other again run, though. Caught a couple of songs from the garage-y The Black Lips, who were pretty solid. From there I caught my surprise act of the festival, Manchester Orchestra. Not having been a fan of the recorded materials (I just wasn’t grabbed) my outlook certainly changed. Giant,
sonic guitars, commanding stage presence and just a great set, the four or so songs I saw of theirs really turned my head and was probably one of the more enjoyable periods I had all weekend. I will absolutely go see these guys again. Broken Bells were next at the insanely packed AMD stage. The little bit I saw of their show was enough to wish I could have seen more, but in a different environment. From here I moseyed towards Local Natives, but couldn’t wash Manchester Orchestra out of my head to really care too much. Time for another across the park trek to see Silversun Pickups.
I had caught them during ACL ’08, and their set was so poorly marred by sound problems I walked off. It was really bad. Saw them earlier this year opening for Muse indoors and had a more positive reaction for sure, and catching the end of their Saturday set was a pleasant surprise, as it was the best I had seen them yet. Unfortunately, it’s the last show of their tour. Maybe they’ll get back out on the road with a new record soon. They were really good.
There were two goals for the weekend. Sonic Youth for me, and to make sure my girlfriend saw My Morning Jacket’s Jim James in the flesh. After a little rest, we met the second goal. Monsters of Folk had already launched into their two hour set when we arrived, and the stage they were on was packed. After some careful weaving and following by our friends we walked over there with, they started up the My Morning Jacket song “Golden”. Payoff. Trading off songs between James, M. Ward and Conner Oberst made me wish drummer Will Johnson (Centro-Matic, South San Gabriel) could join them up front to swap some songs as well.
After a bit of the song swapping, we ventured to see some Gogol Bordello, who had been a highlight of ACL ’08 for sure. Their gypsy folk rock is always entertaining, and Saturday evening wasn’t any different. We then took a complete turn to catch a little Deadmau5, who had some early equipment difficulties, and at one point had taken his trademark mouse helmet off and donned a baseball cap. Mystique gone, and so were we. Off to see Muse to close out Day Two. Although they are festival veterans, I really like this band more when confined. Their volume and stage show just
seem to work better in an indoor environment. Regardless, they are larger than life and can pull off the outdoors and massive stages as well, and were absolutely great. It would still be hours before sleep, as we needed to make up the Black Keys fiasco from the day before, so we headed to Stubbs where they more than made up for what we had missed. Day Two: Over.
Seriously, just cannot get to the park early enough. Missed Shearwater who I had really hoped to catch on a nice Sunday morning, but alas it was not in the cards. We caught some White Rabbits prior to heading to see Foals. I really like their 2 albums, especially the latest. I do wish they could pull off the production atmosphere live, but were fantastic nonetheless. After a bit of downtime, where festival goers were subjected to JD and The Straight Shot (horrible doesn’t cover it), on the pretty poorly booked BMI Stage (I rarely ever care to see anyone over there) I was to see some of Dawes, who are a great live band. I wish their album conveyed that, though. Unfortunately next on the list, Gayngs, had canceled, leaving me with a big lull while waiting for The Henry Clay People. Surprisingly, a good booking on the BMI stage, their energy and straight forward alternative rock woke us up for the remainder of the day, closing with a spirited rendition of the Boss’ “Born To Run”.
Seemed that everyone was heading over to see Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes, so I thought I would at least see what was the big deal here before the final marathon of the weekend. Only saw a song or two, and it was okay. From here it was a whirlwind to finish off the festival.
At one end, we were given the showman antics of Wayne Coyne and The Flaming Lips. Their entrances are always big fun, and The Flaming Lips know how to entertain a crowd, confetti, streamers, bubble rides, bear costumes, huge video projections… the works. And they just don’t disappoint. After 25 minutes or so, we headed to the other end of the park for a little Band Of Horses. After catching a nice little run of familiar tunes (“Is There A Ghost”, “Northwest Apartment”, and a few others from Infinite Arms) we headed back the opposite direction for The National, and were able to watch the end of The Flaming Lips show with “Do You Realize”. The National are fantastic live, and cannot wait to see them again on their own. Just fantastic. At the halfway point we moved on to see Norah Jones, who was tremendous and made me kick myself for missing her in Dallas earlier this year.
The crowd was blending between Ms. Jones and festival headliners, The Eagles, so we did our best to position ourselves in a spot where we could just turn our chairs and face The Eagles. It was a little trickier than expected, but eventually pulled it off. With a little bleedover between the sets, Jones and Company wrapped up by “harmonizing better” than the punctual headliners for a humorous part of the weekend, and things start to wind down.
It seemed that The Eagles were one of the more polarizing headliners the festival history. So much so, that it appeared the crowd would dissipate as soon as they hit. Not so much. Concert-goers of all ages stuck around and were overly appreciative of the hits heavy set (what else would one expect?) from the legendary California band. At least 50,000 stuck around, and was the largest headliner crowd I have witnessed in the years I have gone to this festival. “Does Austin like their country-rock?!” Glenn Frey asked as they made their way through “Hotel California”, “Take It Easy”, “Lyin’ Eyes”, “Witchy Woman”, “Peaceful Easy Feeling” and all of the usual suspects, as well as some of my favorite solo work, Don Henley’s “Boys Of Summer” and “Dirty Laundry”, and one of my all time favorite rock songs ever, Joe Walsh’s “Life’s Been Good”. Walking out of Zilker Park to the strains of “Life In The Fast Lane”, the festival for us was done. Day Three: Over.
How had three days gone by already? As I reminisced on the hike back to the car, I got another little chuckle from Saturday.
“Robert’s been drinking Grandma…” Manchester Orchestra frontman Andy Hull would smirkingly chime in, telling Robert’s very nice grandmother on him through the PA and over the internet. “No I haven’t” sheepishly claimed McDowell (in that “Duuuuude shut up!” kinda way). You got the feeling she might take his guitar away from him if he was.
Don’t worry Grandma, Robert appeared to be a perfect gentleman.
I didn’t see him touch a drop.