LCD Soundsystem, Reverend Horton Heat, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Muse, Wilco and Ghostland Observatory: Chris Gray Closes the Notebook on ACL
My face is returning to its usual sun-deprived hue, and my legs have finally begun to forgive me, meaning ACL is over for another year. Thank God. My review of What It All Means (Maybe) comes out in this week’s paper, but this is the fun stuff: random things I wrote down while trying not to pass out. Here we go…
A friend told me he heard Vangelis’ “Chariots of Fire” theme over the PA as he was walking to Zilker Park. ACL has always had a high opinion of itself, but this is a new one.
Best lyric of the day: “I can’t do the things I used to because I feel old,” Heartless Bastards. No shit.
Several friends and I were hoping Daniel Johnson got a fat check from ACL for letting them use his “Hi, How Are You?” frog on one of the giant banners flanking the AT&T Blue Room Stage. My friend Mark was working at Sound Exchange the day he painted it.
People who schlep their kids around ACL all weekend, either in backpacks or strollers: What the F were you thinking?
Even though it turned out to be totally untrue, a staffer told me Friday afternoon’s fire started when “some hippie laid his joint down.”
Every year, I always stumble across – and like – an artist I’ve studiously avoided for years. This year’s winner was Joseph Arthur & the Lonely Astronauts, Mellencamp-like roots-rock with gospel and Beatles flourishes.
Best tattoo: The rose from Depeche Mode’s Violator cover, on a girl in front of me at Blonde Redhead. The NYC trio drew the most unusual crowd of the weekend, including a skinny dude in shorts, suspenders, sunglasses and a fedora, and a bizarre hippie/goth we dubbed “Dead Can Dance guy.”
LCD Soundsystem leader James Murphy informed their crowd that post-ACL tourmates Arcade Fire “might” show up at the band’s afterparty Friday night at downtown club Red 7. They didn’t.
Reverend Horton Heat, clad in a sharp red coat, began his ACL debut with classics like “Big Sky,” “Baddest of the Bad,” “I Can’t Surf” and “Wiggle Stick.” It was one of the few times music at the Austin Ventures stage – the one stage not sequestered in a corner of Zilker Park – drowned out the surrounding stages instead of vice versa.
My friends and I started an over/under pool on how many costume changes Bjork would do during her set. Some guessed as high as nine, but she stuck to the same black-and-gold Flash Gordon gown the whole time.
The HEB Zilker Beach, a volleyball court the rest of the year, had the artists’ village and VIP grove beat hands down. By the end of the night, plastic chairs were plentiful and the sound coming over the slope from the AMD stage made it a perfect place to watch the Killers.
On my way out, I finally give in to nature and as I did my business, a mysterious banging began issuing from the Port-o-Let next door. I don’t even want to know.
Though Preservation Hall Jazz Band (who were great, as always) were the only explicitly jazz band to play ACL, several other sets had strong jazz overtones. Former Mavericks lead singer Raul Malo’s Cuban-spiced cover of “Besame Mucho” was one of the better ones.
One of the best times I had all weekend was at the HEB Austin Kiddie Limits children’s area, where I wasn’t technically supposed to be – one of the rules was “adults must be accompanied by a child.” But I snuck over to see the Sippy Cups, who were pretty psychedelic for a kids’ band: their songs were called “Drink from the Sky” and “Magic Toast” and they sounded a little like Steppenwolf and Cheap Trick. The kids were pretty into it, perhaps because the Cups shared the stage with a juggler.
On one of my few trips to the media compound, I met Tobi, the single-named “Dean of Music” on XMU, XM Radio’s college and indie-rock channel. XMU was broadcasting live from the festival Saturday and Sunday, and she was a little flustered from the heat: “Sorry, I can’t think straight.”
Town Lake, aka the Colorado River, was recently renamed Lady Bird Johnson Lake in honor of the late former First Lady. The breezes coming off the water were about the only thing keeping people conscious on Saturday afternoon. “When is it going to be nighttime?” a random voice cried from the crowd.
The line outside the AT&T Digital Oasis – the only place in the park with TVs – during the UT/Central Florida game was even longer than for the nearby misting fans. Someone came out of the tent every few minutes to announce the score.
The $6 plastic glass of wine I bought Saturday evening had the shortest, unhappiest life of any beverage I have ever consumed. First I splashed most of it all over my notebook holding it in my teeth trying to write something down, then when I set it down on the ground someone promptly stepped on it. I got about two swallows out of the whole deal.
I spent most of Saturday evening “grifting” with my friend Lauren, which meant hitting up her producer friend Sarah for wristbands to get into the artists’ village and, more importantly, the free drinks. Then we walked up the service road where all the tour buses, RVs, golf carts and Gators circle the park and slipped into the AT&T Stage’s hospitality area to see (well, mostly hear) Muse, who were phenomenal. My friend Shelli was tending bar and kept Lauren and I well-supplied with red wine, but our little grifting excursion still came at a steep price: we had to endure pretty much the whole Indigo Girls set while waiting for Sarah to get our wristbands, and on the way to Muse we both stepped in a very suspicious puddle outside a tour bus. Although we both knew exactly what we had just stepped in, we chose to tell ourselves it was only mud, and we were both so fatigued by then we actually believed it.
Unlike SXSW, ACL stays pretty localized. Judging by the part of town I stayed in – Sixth Street about four blocks east of I-35, an area of Hispanic bars and body shops slowly yielding to coffeehouses and lofts – you’d never know a huge music festival was in town. Sunday around noon, the streets were deserted except for a few transients, empty and broken beer bottles littered the untended sidewalks, and ACL felt a million miles away instead of maybe five.
Standing in line for the shuttle buses at Republic Square park, a singer-songwiter serenaded the people streaming through the roped-off line area. “How much time do we have left?” she asked. Since no one listening to her would be there in five minutes, did it even matter?
This year’s festival just didn’t feel quite as special after the amazing Rolling Stones concert in Zilker last October. For those who missed it, the entire show is available on their Biggest Bang DVD at your friendly neighborhood Best Buy.
Best rumor of the weekend was that Stephen and Ziggy Marley would perform their dad’s classic 1977 LP Exodus front-to-back during Ziggy’s Sunday-night set. It didn’t happen, but Ziggy did start singing the Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love” during his last song.
There were more dragonflies at Zilker this year than I’ve ever seen before, but they did get in free.
Easily misinterpreted overheard part of conversation (blonde sorority type to her brunette friend): “He likes his daddy but he doesn’t like me… I’m the one who rides his ass.”
Hot ACL styles this year: Folk-rock (Crowded House, Indigo Girls, Pete Yorn); hard rock (Queens of the Stone Age, Blue October, Back Door Slam, Rose Hill Drive); Eastern Euro-pop (Gotan Project, DeVotchKa, Andrew Bird, Regina Spektor) and the type of indie-rock I call ABC for Another Big Crescendo. Arcade Fire (who I missed) owns this particular subgenre, but the National, Bloc Party, Decemberists and Cold War Kids all practiced ABC to varying degrees.
During a pastoral steel-guitar passage in Wilco’s “Via Chicago,” drummer Glenn Kotche suddenly unleashed a thunderstorm of percussion before the whole band dropped off to near-silence. The bizarre interlude was jarring enough that several people in the crowd near me actually began looking around in confusion and alarm.
Ghostland Observatory’s laser show – which they may have borrowed from Bjork – reached all the way from the AT&T Blue Room stage to the edge of the ACL grounds, which my friend and I reckoned to be about 750 feet. Perhaps, we thought, they may be overcompensating for something, but it was still pretty cool.
Big ups to my friend Emily, an ACL stage ambassador, for walking me into the closing-night party in the artists’ village. Spinning R&B and reggae for the exhausted artists and crew was Austin fixture DJ Mel, who is also a super nice guy. Catch him the next time he hits Rock Box at the Proletariat. -- Chris Gray