I am wasted, but I'm ready
As promised, what follows is my second retroactive diary of the Austin City Limits Music Festival. Perhaps “posthumous” is a better word.
(8:00 AM) At home. There’s nothing like skipping work. Am I right. It gets to be 9:05 and I note during an appropriate silence, “we’re not at work today.” ACL or not, it’s all about not working. John G is on his way down supposedly. I seem to remember him saying this a couple years ago and he made us dreadfully late. Ash is coming over at 11:00 and the three of us, plus Kelly – an ACL virgin – will be headed to Zilker Park via bus in order to get there in time to see the Benevento Russo Duo who go on at 11:30.
Man, we are such dorks.
(11:30) Benevento Russo Duo. Ash recommended this one. It’s nice to have a Rhapsody fanatic to scout out the bands ahead of time. We gave Ash much grief for the Dandy Warhols debacle a few years ago. He’s definitely in the hole from that one but he digs himself out a bit with this show. It’s an instrumental duo who are somehow able to get a huge sound out of just two guys. There’s a drummer and a keyboarder, but it truly sounds like a five-person band. It’s a good, low key way to start the festival. B.
(12:30) Paolo Nutini. He’s apparently the Scottish version of Ryan Cabrera. He alternates toe-tapping hooks and ultra-sap ballads. It’s fun to be here and not at work. The show is going along fine until he breaks out a cover of Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy,” which breaks every rule in the cover book. A cover should
A) be at least 10 years old,
B) not have achieved full greatness by its originators,
C) not be played at the same festival as the originators, and
D) not be played on the same stage as the originators in a couple hours.
Nutini gets serious demerits for this atrocity. Ash thinks he sounds like Chris Martin. I think he sounds like Damien Marley. He’s got a Spanish name. He’s Scottish. We’re all very confused here. C-.
(1:30) Ted Leo and the Pharmacists. Ah, energy. Ted Leo offers his patented brand of power pop and excitement to the ACL early goers. “Me and Mia” is a song that was created to be played live. Even after that, “Biomusicology” and “Timorous Me” offer the highlights of the day. The last song is awkwardly unfulfilling though, as Ted Leo goes into a political rant, and then bashes himself in the head with the microphone until he bleeds. This will be a running theme throughout the festival. A-.
(2:30) Deadboy and the Elephantmen. John G is loathe to stay but he manages to stick around for a few songs. They have such chipper titles as “What the Stars Have Eaten” and “Stop, I’m Already Dead” and head bobbing lyrics such as, “I’ve got hell in my hand.” I can’t really say why I enjoy it. In fact, I’m not sure if I’m enjoying it or not. It’s dark, not very energetic, and after a couple songs, I’m by myself. I’ll see how John G’s doing at Guster. B-.
(3:00) Guster. The exact opposite of Deadboy offers bright and shiny hooks and lots of bare-tummied college girls. There’s not much to do with this music live though. C-.
(3:30) Wolf Parade. Interesting use of technology. Also interesting use of the mustache. C.
(4:00) Stars. We’re only there about two minutes before the lead singer goes into a rant about how we should all “smoke a spliff” the day George W. Bush is replaced. He then talks about how we should kill him by having sex with him or something like that. Then he messes up the beginning of the song. It’s pretty uncomfortable. Strong words coming from a Canadian. Stuff like that just sounds weak nowadays. We get out of there before it gets worse. D-.
(4:30) Gnarls Barkley. The great divide sends myself to Gnarls and the rest of my party to Nickel Creek. Gnarls and the band come out with lab coats and bow-ties and promptly informs us that Gnarls Barkley can’t be here but they’ll try to play a few of their songs. I must admit, they know their music. Not only do they cover “Gone Daddy Gone” on their album, they play a random Doors cover. There are so many people there it’s hard to move the first half of the concert but eventually I find room further forward. Once the infectious and Song-of-the-Year “Crazy” starts the whole place starts moving. And when it’s over the whole place starts clearing out. It’s a shame for them though, as the best song of the performance is probably the neo-soul “Smiley Faces.” This was the big act for me today at ACL and I walk away satisfied and wishing I could see them again at a smaller venue. B-.
(5:30) Gomez. One of the best shows of the weekend. Gomez delivers mega-energy considering it’s like 112 degrees and 160% humidity. The crowd is also very much into it. A.
(6:30) John G and I leave to catch a bus. We’re on our way to dinner and a Sufjan Stevens show at the Paramount. Dinner consists of a salad bar at Hickory Street Grill. I don’t tell him that it got a black mark from the health department a few years ago.
(9:00) My Brightest Diamond. OK, Jonathan and I are hot, dirty, and cranky, I realize. But this is just brutal. Opening acts should not play that many songs and we are both on the verge of falling asleep. The only thing that keeps us awake is this really awful song called “Freak Out” sung in the same way that a really loud rat would sound getting snapped in a rat trap. F.
(10:20) Sufjan Stevens. After what seems like an eternity, Sufjan comes on stage and it’s worth every minute, every dollar, every dreary song about sparrows from MBD. Sufjan and the band are wearing wings. His live performances echo his techniques from his album. Layer after layer of instrumentation until the song becomes a powerful wall of sound. Devotees will appreciate a “Dear Mr. Supercomputer” overture. It’s so good it hurts. It’s one of the only concerts where I felt like weeping because it’s so beautiful, like the crazy teen in American Beauty. He begins the set with the rousing, “Sister” and closes with the even more rousing “Chicago.” “Palisades” is my personal favorite thanks to the lush tapestry of the closing refrain. His encore performance consists of “John Wayne Gacy Jr.” and “That Dress Looks Nice.” It’s wonderful. A+.
(12:00 AM) John G and I are hoping and praying that the bus in fact comes this late. Thankfully it does. Later we find out that had we missed that bus, we would have been stranded downtown. That would not have been cool.
(12:30) Frederico Abuele. There’s nothing that I’m dying to see in the morning but Ash wants to see this Argentinian character. Again, it’s a nice way to start the morning, with some smooth South American rhythm. B-.
(1:50) I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness. It’s always strange to see a local band you’re not too familiar with at a festival. ILYBICD play around town all the time and I’ve never heard them until now. They produce a nice sound and have a couple really excellent anthems in their bag of tricks. C+.
(2:30) Ben Kweller. OK, so Kweller is late getting on because he says he had a pretty vicious nosebleed right before going on stage. So he starts off with “Wasted and Ready” and everyone’s happy. Halfway through his third song the nosebleed reappears with a vengeance. He has to stop in the middle of it because his face and clothes are covered in blood and it’s not stopping any time soon. He asks the audience for a tampon. Sure enough, he gets one and shoves it up his nose. He proceeds to play through an entire song with a tampon up his nose. He wraps up his set, just four and a half songs in, with “Falling” due to the massive bleeding occurring before our very eyes. We are all in shock. B for playing through the bleeding.
(4:00) TV on the Radio. This is one of the best performances I’ve seen. If anyone was searching for “the next Arcade Fire,” this would be my candidate. The combination of anger, excitement and creativity make for an awesome show. The entire band is animated and their song “Wolf Like Me” provides the highlight of the festival thus far. Check it out at their myspace page. You won't be sorry. A+.
(5:00) The Shins. Me texting Ash: “Where r u?” Ash texting me: “the shins im bored.” Me: “me 2.” C-.
(5:30) Calexico. Never fail to impress. Calexico is a band I could see live every month. A.
(6:30) The Raconteurs. I get dragged away from What Made Milwaukee Famous for this. I heard from a couple difference sources that WMMF was one of the better performances of the festival, but everyone wants to see Jack White. So we do. For three whole songs. Once they play “Steady As She Goes” we vacate. INC.
(7:15) Brazillian Girls. This is our first inside-the-tent performance of the festival. It’s brutally humid and sweaty in there, which fits perfectly for what can only be described as rave music. Kids are sweating dancing and having a great time. There’s mega-energy in the place. It’s just hard for me to get into this without my wife or some ecstasy. I’m not much good without either of those things. Somehow I get John G to leave with me. It should be mentioned the lead singer is wearing a cloth facemask. A, based on Ash’s review.
(8:45) Explosions in the Sky. There’s nothing quite like some good instrumental crescendo rock, particularly if it’s a local band. They do a good job of selling the music too, flinging and stomping on their instruments. At the end the crowd is begging for an encore, but EITS refuses. Here’s the weird part, they come out to tell us that they won’t be doing an encore. You simply cannot cock-tease a crowd like that. C.
(9:00) Willie Nelson. This is a nice way to end an exhausting day. John G and I pull up a blanket and sit for a while, humming along with such favorites as “Mama, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys” and “On the Road Again.” New highlight of the festival:
Random Three-Fourths Nude Seventeen Year Old: Hey, are you 21?
Greer: Um. Yeah.
RTFNSYO: Will you buy me a beer?
G: I have to go.
If only. B+ for the RTFNSYO, C- for John G, and C+ for Willie.
And this is where it ends. For you see, Sunday it was time for me to stay home with Addy while Steph got to enjoy the festival. It’s a shame too, because all reports are that the Flaming Lips and Matisyahu were excellent. But it does allow me a day of rest. On Monday I’m not in too bad shape. I can make cohearent thoughts and noises. I’m not totally burned to a crisp or hung over. I had an awesome time Friday and Saturday listening to live music and got to spend Sunday watching football and Addy. It’s not a bad way to get by.